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More Rohingya flee with repatriation in limbo

Finger pointing by Bangladesh and Myanmar stalls attempts to safely repatriate refugees

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More Rohingya flee with repatriation in limbo

Rohingya refugees enter Bangladesh through Shah Porir Dwip island on Sept. 9, 2017. They are still awaiting repatriation to Myanmar. (Photo by Piyas Biswas/ucanews.com)

One year after a deadly crackdown on ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine State and their mass exodus to Bangladesh, members of the beleaguered community await repatriation.

But it has been delayed amid tussling between the neighboring nations while more Rohingya flee their homes.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Muslim-majority Bangladesh since the military crackdown began in August 2017 in response to attacks on security posts by Rohingya insurgents.

The United Nations dubbed the crackdown a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

About one million Rohingya, including those who escaped earlier bouts of violence inflicted by Myanmar's military and Buddhists, now shelter in overcrowded and unsanitary refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, just across the border from largely Buddhist Myanmar.

Abdul Hamid, 29, a Rohingya father of two from Maungdaw township in Rakhine, moved to the sprawling Balukhali refugee camp in late July.

A food supply crisis, lack of personal security and unemployment forced the family to flee, Hamid said. Food stores and crops were destroyed during army attacks and members of the Rohingya minority feared arrest.

"Before we decided to move, three men from our village were arrested by a military patrol team," Hamid told ucanews.com. "We were scared and took the decision to leave. Now, we feel safe here. We had no option other than crossing the border into Bangladesh."

Three days after moving to the camp, Hamid received a ration card giving the family access to aid from humanitarian groups.

Rohingya continue to trickle into Bangladesh, said Abu Morshed Chowdhury, president of Cox's Bazar Civil Society, a local anti-trafficking watchdog. On average, 15-20 Rohingya arrive at the camps each month. Rakhine remains a volatile and unstable region not conducive for repatriation, he said.

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, during a recent visit to Singapore, said timing was dependent on Bangladesh, adding that repatriation sites had been mapped out.

But Abul Kalam Azad, commissioner of the state-run Refugee Relief and Repatriation Committee of Bangladesh, said Myanmar is not sufficiently ready. "I am surprised and disappointed over Aung San Suu Kyi's statement, which is devoid of reality," Azad told ucanews.com.

Until now, Myanmar has set up just two reception centers and a transit camp for would-be returnees.

The repatriation agreement clearly stated that Rohingya needed to be resettled safely in their homes or as close as possible to them, he added, but there was no visible progress on achieving this.

Rohingya wanted to return only if guaranteed basic rights and a peaceful life in Myanmar, said Muhammad Kalam, a Rohingya community leader at the Balukhali camp.

"We know that the Myanmar government does not want to take us back and continues playing tricks to delay the process of repatriation," Kalam said.

Why Rohingya continue to flee is matter requiring further investigation, noted James Gomes, regional director of the Catholic charity Caritas in Chittagong in southeast Bangladesh.

"Apparently, there is no conflict in Rakhine, yet Rohingya continue to flee," he said. "It must be investigated thoroughly."

Despite the odds and the ongoing fiasco, he believed the U.N. and the intentional community would assist to help to try to make repatriation a sustainable reality.

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