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Rohingya refugees call for rights on 'Genocide Day'

200,000 hold rally and prayer service to Bangladesh to mark anniversary of Myanmar crackdown

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Rohingya refugees call for rights on 'Genocide Day'

More than 200,000 Rohingya refugees gather at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar to mark the second anniversary of their deadly persecution in Myanmar and their exodus to Bangladesh. (ucanews.com photo)

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Thousands of Rohingya refugees joined a mass rally and special prayer service in Bangladesh to mark what they called “Rohingya Genocide Day” — the second anniversary of a deadly military crackdown in Myanmar that forced them to become refugees.

More than 200,000 refugees gathered at Kutupalong camp, the largest among some 30 shelters for refugees in Cox’s Bazar district, on Aug. 25. Local officials said it was the largest Rohingya refugee rally in years.

Rohingya called for justice over brutal atrocities against them by Myanmar’s military and recognition of their basic rights including citizenship, freedom of movement, peace and security.

Their leaders say the rally forged better unity among refugees and they want the international community to put pressure on Myanmar to recognize them as an ethnic minority and citizens of the country.

“Rohingya have commemorated those killed and abused at the hands of the military and Rakhine Buddhists. Equivocally they have called for justice and recognition over violence. Every Rohingya will go back to Myanmar once their rights are realized there,” Muhib Ullah, coordinator of Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, told ucanews.com.

Rohingya people want to have dialogue with anyone including Myanmar’s government to make headway in the current crisis, he said.

The rally was peaceful and the local administration ensured security for the program, said Muhammad Nikaruzzaman, chief government officer at Ukhiya subdistrict of Cox’s Bazar, where most refugee camps are located.

“Rohingya were allowed to hold the rally and it was peaceful. They thanked Bangladesh for sheltering them and also sought international support for their survival as well as their return to Myanmar,” Nikaruzzaman told ucanews.com.

Although Rohingya demands are legitimate, no move to meet them and a protracted stay in Bangladesh might trigger unrest among refugees, according to Abu Morshed Chowdhury, a rights campaigner in Cox’s Bazar.

“There has been no concrete move to solve the Rohingya problem in the past two years. The international community needs to listen to refugees’ calls and make sure things change for the better for them. Otherwise, these peaceful people might lose patience and unrest could spiral out of control,” Chowdhury told ucanews.com.

James Gomes, regional director of Catholic charity Caritas Chittagong, shared those sentiments. “Bangladesh has done the maximum in supporting Rohingya refugees, and now the international community should take serious note of their demands so that the crisis can head to an acceptable solution,” he told ucanews.com.

Complex situation

On Aug. 22, the second attempt to repatriate more than 3,000 refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar failed as no refugees agreed to return until their key demands including citizenship, safety and return of properties were fulfilled.

On the same day, a local political leader from the ruling Awami League party was murdered due to purported political rivalry in Teknaf town of Cox’s Bazar. Rohingya refugees were allegedly hired to carry out the killing.

The murder sparked public outrage and thousands of people blocked a major highway for hours demanding justice.

On Aug. 23, two allegedly Rohingya men blamed for the killing were shot dead during a gunfight with police, triggering panic in the community.

“Rohingya men were accused of acting as contract killers and police wanted to arrest them. They fired at police and police fired back in self-defense when they were killed,” Prodip Kumar Das, police chief in Teknaf, told ucanews.com.

Bangladesh is now home to more than one million Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine State of Myanmar, most of whom fled a deadly military crackdown starting in Aug. 25, 2017.

Despite living in Myanmar for generations, Rohingya have been excluded from citizenship since 1982, rendering them stateless and viewed by many Buddhists as recent illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

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