They call it “Genocide Day”: about 200,000 Rohingyas demonstrated Sunday in a refugee camp in Bangladesh to commemorate the second anniversary of their exile from Burma.
Some 740,000 members of this Muslim ethnic group fled Rakhine State (west) in August 2017, following an operation to repress the army in Burma – a country with a strong Buddhist majority.
Whole families had joined in very difficult conditions 200,000 Rohingya persecuted and already settled on the other side of the border in Bangladesh.
In total, nearly one million people are now spread across some 30 refugee camps in the Bangladeshi district bordering Cox’s Bazar (south-east).
Under the sun, children, women wearing the veil and men dressed in colorful loincloths paraded Sunday shouting “God is great, long life Rohingya!”. They said they were commemorating what they call “Genocide Day”.
Gathered in what has become the largest refugee camp in the world, they sang a popular song as a sign of lamentation: “The world does not pay attention to the Rohingya’s misfortune,” say the lyrics.
“I came to ask for justice for the murder of my two sons, and I will continue to fight until my last breath,” Tayaba Khatun, 50, told AFP while wiping tears from his cheeks.
– ‘We want to go back’ –
The Rohingyas are not recognized as an official minority by the Burmese government. The latter, who considers them Bengalis, has also not given them Burmese citizenship, even though many families have lived in Rakhine for generations.
UN investigators have denounced a “genocide” of the Rohingya, calling for the prosecution of Burmese generals. Burma rejected the accusations, claiming to have defended against Rohingyas rebel attacks on police stations.
A Rohingya leader, Mohib Ullah, said on Sunday that members of this stateless minority want to return to Burma, but under three conditions: to have security guarantees, to obtain Burmese nationality and to be able to return to their villages of origin.
“We have asked the Burmese government to open a dialogue, but we have received no response so far,” Ullah said.
“We were beaten, killed and raped in Rakhine, but no matter, it’s still there with us, and we want to go back.”
Refugees organized Muslim prayers to honor the dead. Others wore large banners urging Burma to grant them Burmese citizenship.
About 200,000 Rohingyas participated in the peaceful rally, police officer Zakir Hassan told AFP.
– Murder by shooting –
Security has been strengthened in the Kutupalong refugee camp, the largest in the world, where more than 600,000 Rohingyas currently live.
“Hundreds of police, soldiers and border guards have been deployed to prevent any violent incidents,” local police officer Abul Monsur told AFP.
Bangladesh and Burma signed a refugee repatriation agreement in 2017. But two attempts in November and this week failed because they all refuse to leave.
The international human rights organization Amnesty International has estimated that the ongoing violence in Rakhine State “makes any immediate repatriation dangerous and unsustainable”.
On Saturday, Bangladeshi police said they shot dead two Rohingyas suspected of the shootings this week of a political leader of the ruling party.
Other refugees said that this series of violence spread fear in their community and led to increased security measures.