Rohingya jailed over repatriation protests in Bangladesh

Refugees uneasy over returning to Myanmar as US diplomat quits Aung San Suu Kyi-led panel over 'absence of moral leadership'
Rohingya jailed over repatriation protests in Bangladesh

A Rohingya refugee family in Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar on Dec. 6, 2017. The family fled their home in Rakhine in Myanmar to escape a military crackdown last August. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

Bangladeshi police arrested and jailed two Rohingya refugees for protesting against a plan to repatriate thousands of the Muslim minority group back to their home in strife-torn Rakhine State of Myanmar.

Abdul Jabbar and Ali Hossain, both 60, were arrested Jan. 23 at Ukhiya in Cox's Bazar. They were charged with creating public nuisance in refugee camps and sentenced to a week in prison.

"We arrested three men and two of them were directly involved in repatriation protests. One of them was released on condition of not engaging in any anti-government activities or protests. The court ordered them to be sent to jail," Abul Khair, officer in charge of Ukhiya police station, told ucanews.com.

The official said most Rohingya are positive about repatriation but a "vested quarter" is trying to "catch fish in mud water."

"The protests are isolated and most Rohingya don't endorse it. A group that sees potential economic interests in keeping the Rohingya in the camps might be backing protests and opposing the repatriation scheme," he added.

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On Jan. 22, Bangladesh said Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar would not start on Jan. 23 as planned because vital arrangements remained incomplete.

Sporadic protests have been ongoing in squalid refugee camps in Cox's Bazar against a bilateral deal to repatriate about 770,000 Rohingya who fled deadly persecution by Myanmar's military and extremist Buddhists.

Refugees have erected banners, chanted slogans and staged protest rallies in camps since the deal was signed on Jan. 16.

Muhammad Noor, 48, a community leader from Kutupalong refugee camp, said most Rohingya are frustrated on repatriation deal.

"There are small, sporadic protests in the camp because 98 percent of Rohingya are aggrieved over the deal. The Rohingya want to go back home only if the repatriation is done with international monitoring and guarantees of citizenship, safety and land and property ownership. These are missing in the deal," Noor, who came to Bangladesh in 2008, told ucanews.com.

"The Rohingya don't want to go back to Myanmar to be persecuted, killed and become refugees again."

Abdul Kalam, 45, a refugee from Balukhali camp who moved to Bangladesh in December 2016, said the Rohingya in the camp have no confidence in the deal.

"The Rohingya don't support protests but they also don't accept the current plan. They don't want to go back to Myanmar unless their demands are met regarding citizenship, safety and ownership of land and property," Kalam said.

"It's better to die in Bangladesh than go back to Myanmar to die from abuse and persecution."

Theophil Nokrek, secretary of the Bangladeshi bishops' Justice and Peace Commission, said Rohingya concern is legitimate.

"The Rohingya are in panic as they think the situation in Rakhine is not yet favorable for a return and they fear persecution there. Also, there is no mandatory international oversight of the repatriation process, no deadline when Rohingya can get back home from temporary camps, and all these things make the deal murky," Nokrek told ucanews.com.

The Rohingya crisis is a "double-edged sword" for Bangladesh, he said.

"The government does not have the ability to take care of the Rohingya for long, so the arrest and jailing of Rohingya mean the authorities are trying to avert further protests. Bangladesh is in a delicate situation whether the Rohingya go back or stay put here opposing the deal," he added.

Conditions in Myanmar   

Myanmar's senior officials and Surakiart Sathirathai, the former Thai deputy foreign minister, led an advisory board to visit Taung Pyo Late Wae and Nga Khu Ya camps and Hla Phoe Kaung village in Maungdaw, northern Rakhine, on Jan. 24.

State-run The Global New Light of Myanmar reported on Jan. 24 showing camp photos of long plywood houses built on a rocky field and surrounded with a wire mesh fence topped with barbed wire.

Win Myat Aye, Myanmar's social, relief and resettlement minister, said Myanmar was ready to begin the repatriation on Jan. 23 and a list of 750 Muslims and 500 Hindu was sent to Bangladesh on Jan. 16 to begin repatriation.

"The reason why they (Bangladesh) were not ready to begin the repatriation is due to delays to the repatriation process on their part. We just need to wait for the day they will send the list of returnees to us," Win Myat Aye told state-run media on Jan. 24.

 

A Rohingya girl carries firewood for cooking from a nearby forest in Cox's Bazar on Dec. 6, 2017. Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a deal to repatriate about 770,000 refugees to Myanmar. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

 

Khin Mg, a Rohingya from Buthidaung in Rakhine, said he had heard people were still fleeing into Bangladesh due to insecurity and the difficulty of daily survival inside Rakhine.

"I don't think many Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh will return to Rakhine as they see the obstacles of insecurity, uncertainty in returning to their homes and not getting citizenship lie ahead," Khin Mg told ucanews.com.

Numar, a Rohingya from Pan Taw Pyi village, south of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine, said things are not yet normal despite no violence.

"Many Rohingya houses were burned, so they have much concern on where they will be staying after coming back to Rakhine. I think a small number of refugees will return," he said.

The government has reconstructed 22 houses from about 150 villages set alight by Myanmar's military during violence, according to Rohingya residents.

Diplomat resigns

U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson has resigned from an Aung San Suu Kyi-appointed panel set up to ease communal tensions in Rakhine State and hit out at the Nobel laureate for an "absence of moral leadership" over the crisis.

In a statement that pulled few punches, the former U.S. governor and one-time Suu Kyi ally said he could not in "good conscience" serve on the committee that would likely serve only to "whitewash" the causes behind the Rohingya exodus.

Richardson also accused Suu Kyi of a "furious response" to his calls to help free two Reuters journalists arrested while reporting on the Rakhine crisis.

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested in December and face up to 14 years in jail under the Official Secrets Act over the alleged possession of classified documents, purportedly relating to the army campaign in Rakhine that sparked the exodus.

Khin Zaw Win, director of Tampadipa Institute in Yangon, said Richardson's resignation is not good for Suu Kyi or the image of Myanmar.

"While Myanmar is under growing criticism over handling the Rakhine crisis, the move is not good and it shows more difficulty in the lead-up to implementing the Kofi Annan commission's recommendations," Khin Zaw Win said.

Zaw Htay, Myanmar's government spokesman, told AFP that Richardson should look at himself over his personal attack on Suu Kyi.

"We understand his emotion about the two Reuters correspondents. However, he needs to understand rather than blaming the Myanmar nation and the state counselor," he said.

Nyan Win, central executive committee of the ruling National League for Democracy, declined to comment as the appointment of Richardson to an advisory board was done by the government.

Richardson was one of five foreigners handpicked by Myanmar's government to serve on the committee that was established in December 2017.

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