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Myanmar set to close Rohingya camp near Sittwe

Refugees urge authorities to resettle them in their former homes rather than new places

Myanmar set to close Rohingya camp near Sittwe

Abdul Marche with his daughter and other children at the Thetkaepyin internally displaced people camp, on Sept. 12. (Photo by ucanews.com)

Myanmar authorities have moved to close a camp for internally displaced Rohingya refugees who were forced to flee their homes in the 2012 communal violence in religiously divided Rakhine State.

Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, and senior officials from Rakhine State recently held a meeting with committee members from Thetkaepyin camp to discuss closing the camp and resettling refugees in an appropriate place.

“Rakhine State IDP (internally displaced people) camps set up in 2012 were meant to be temporary camps but have been in existence for more than five years now,” Win Myat Aye was quoted as saying by the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Jan. 3.

The report added that Nyi Pu, a Rakhine State minister, met with committee members from Thetkaepyin camp and discussed the camp, requirements to resettle camp inhabitants and matters relating to freedom of movement.

Abdul Marche, a committee member of the camp near Sittwe, said authorities explained about closing the camp and resettlement with new houses.

He said many people in the camps wanted to return to their homes rather than resettling in new places.

“We explained to the government’s ministers about our wish to return to our original homes as people fear there will be no job opportunities at new resettlement places and that they may lose humanitarian assistance from WFP and other NGOs,” said Marche, who took refuge at the camp in 2012 after his house was burned down.

Thetkaepyin camp has taken in more than 6,000 people from 1,000 households since violence erupted between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine that left more than 200 dead and displaced more than 140,000.       

Around 5,000 Rohingya are from Nazi village near Sittwe and the other 1,000 are from villages such as Aungmingalar and Yapa Taung.

Kyaw Hla Aung, a Rohingya resident at the camp, said the government’s plan has no transparency and no rule of law because it plans to resettle people in new places instead their original land.

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“Why don’t we, Rohingya, get a right to return to our homes? We feel that we are discriminated against as the government plans to resettle us in new places by segregation from Rakhine communities,” Kyaw Hla Aung, a former INGO worker, told ucanews.com.

Furuk, the leader of Dar Paing IDP camp near Sittwe, said refugees had not been informed about the closure of their camp but really wanted to return to their homes.

“We have taken refuge at the camp for more than five years and yearn to go back to our homes so that we may not need humanitarian assistance and will work ourselves for daily survival,” said Furuk, who has been displaced since 2012.

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.

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi established the independent commission in September 2016 to help social and economic development and peaceful coexistence and reconciliation in Rakhine.

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.

The US Department of State on Jan. 4 announced that the Secretary of State had redesignated Myanmar, Iran, China and North Korea as “countries of particular concern.”

In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.

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