An armed Myanmar border guard patrols near a barbed wire fence between Maungdaw district of Rakhine State and Bangladesh on March 18. (Photo by Joe Freeman/AFP)
Myanmar authorities have moved to close four camps for internally displaced Rohingya refugees who were forced to flee their homes in the 2012 communal violence in religiously divided Rakhine State.
Mohammad Ami, a Rohingya resident at Khaung Doke Khar internally displaced persons (IDP) camp near Sittwe, said authorities have explained the camp's closure but residents do not know the exact timing of the resettlement program.
"Most people in the camp want to return to their homes rather than resettle in new places," Ami told ucanews.com.
He said residents have no jobs and restricted freedom of movement, so conditions in the camp are not improving.
Senior officials have met with people from Nidi camp in Kyauktaw township and from Khaung Doke Khar camp and explained the resettlement program, the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on April 9.
The government also plans to close Thetkaepyin camp near Sittwe and Taung Paw camp in Myaebon.
Thetkaepyin camp took in more than 6,000 refugees, while Khaung Doke Khar accepted 4,300, Nidi 546 and Taung Paw 2,700.
More than 120,000 Rohingya remain in often squalid IDP camps with little access to healthcare, education and employment since deadly violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims broke out in 2012.
Khin Mg Myint, a Rohingya from Thetkaepyin camp, said residents want to return to their homes and live a peaceful life.
"I don't think conditions for Rohingya will improve if we move to a new resettlement area as we will still have no job opportunities and no freedom of movement," he told ucanews.com.
He said he would prefer to take a risk in leaving for a third country rather than live in a camp like a prison in Rakhine.
"My parents don't want me to take a risky journey, so I have to stay in Rakhine," Khin Mg Myint said.
Cho Cho from Taung Paw camp, who identified herself as a Rakhine Muslim, said the new resettlement area is next to the camp and some houses are being built.
She said people had raised concerns about food, jobs and a proper living area as houses are being built in a paddy field.
"Equality, access to education, healthcare and freedom of movement are important for their lives rather than identifying them as Rohingya, Bengali or Rakhine Muslim," Cho Cho told ucanews.com
As a Rakhine inhabitant, she never thinks of fleeing to Bangladesh or taking a perilous boat journey to Malaysia.
"I want to live a harmonious and peaceful life in our homeland Rakhine," Cho Cho said.
More than 670,000 Rohingya were forced to flee Rakhine and take refuge in Bangladesh following a Myanmar military counter-insurgency campaign against Rohingya militants.
U.N. deputy emergency relief coordinator Ursula Mueller said more than 400,000 Rohingya still living in Rakhine continue to face hardship and marginalization due to movement restrictions.
"These restrictions severely compromise their rights and obstruct their access to healthcare, livelihoods, protection, education and other essential services," said Mueller, who visited IDP camps near Sittwe on April 5.
The Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine recommended that the government take concrete steps to end enforced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, closing down all IDP camps and providing unfettered humanitarian access through the state.
The government closed down three IDP camps that housed ethnic Rakhine, Kaman Muslims and Rohingya in April 2017.
The Myanmar government regards the Rohingya as Bengalis. By not recognizing the term "Rohingya," the government has implied that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh despite vast numbers of them having lived in Myanmar for decades.