Rohingya refugees return to Rakhine, search for loved ones

They left Bangladesh to locate family in Myanmar's Rakhine State that had been subjected to a military crackdown
Rohingya refugees return to Rakhine, search for loved ones

Rohingya refugees at Leda unregistered camp in Cox's Bazar in December 2016. Bangladesh is home to 32,000 registered and some 300,000-500,000 undocumented Rohingya who fled to avoid persecution in Myanmar's Rakhine state. (ucanews.com photo)

Hundreds of Muslim Rohingya refugees have returned home to Myanmar from refugee camps in Bangladesh to bring back loved ones after tens of thousands fled a four-month persecution.

The Myanmar military, that operates separately from the civilian government led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, ended its bloody crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine State on Feb. 15 after declaring the situation stable.

The killing of nine police officers at three border posts in northern Rakhine on Oct. 9 caused the crackdown that saw more than 73,000 Rohingya flee to neighboring Bangladesh, according to the United Nations.

Bangladesh already hosts 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees in two official camps but there are also between 300,000 and 500,000 undocumented refugees in several informal camps and settlements, all of whom fled violence in Rakhine.

 

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A temporary return?

Abu Sayed, a Rohingya refugee community leader in Kutupalong unregistered camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, said that hundreds of refugees, mostly new arrivals, returned to Rakhine recently.

"About 500 Rohingya [from camps in Cox's Bazar] have returned to Myanmar to collect family members left behind when they fled violence. Some have returned but most have yet to come back," Sayed told ucanews.com. 

Sayed, who moved to Bangladesh from Maungdaw township in Rakhine state in 2007, said that those refugees face challenges when the come back to Bangladesh. 

"Bangladeshi border patrols are strict so they might face problems coming back to Bangladesh. But I'm sure they will come back even if it takes time because as far as we know Rakhine is not yet safe and peaceful for Rohingyas to live," added Sayed.

 

Abu Siddique, a Rohingya refugee, seen at Boroitoli village in Cox's Bazar district in December 2016. Siddique fled to Bangladesh with his brother, Mahmud Siddique, from their village in Rakhine state after a military crackdown started in October 2016. (ucanews.com photo)

 

Lieutenant Colonel Abujar-Al-Jahid, commander of Border Guards Bangladesh in Cox's Bazar district said he was aware that hundreds of refugees have returned to their home over the past weeks. "It is a good sign showing that situation in Myanmar has improved," said the officer. "We are always vigilant to maintain border security and resist any attempt to trespass in our country," he added.  

Shamsur Noor, who arrived at the unregistered Kutupalong camp on Jan. 3 with his 9-member family, said that he knows some refugees who came to Bangladesh on their own and have returned to fetch their loved ones.

"They were worried about the fate of their family members and relatives so they went home to know about their conditions and to see whether it's possible to bring them back," he said.

Noor said that he knows a man named Ali Hossain from Kearipara village in Rakhine, who went home to bring his family to Bangladesh. 

"He came to Bangladesh in the last week of December with his 5-year-old son. He left his son with a family here and went to bring back his wife and four other children," Noor told ucanews.com.

Noor said that all refugees want to go back home to Myanmar but fear their lives would be in danger.

"Everyone will go back home once the international community helps solve our problems and ensures our peaceful existence in Myanmar. Nobody wants to stay in another country like a burden, but we have no choice," he added.

 

­­Rohingya refugees offer funeral prayers for Alam, a six-month-old child, who died in a refugee camp in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district on Nov.26. Alam died hours after arriving at the camp after his family fled Myanmar. (Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)

 

Rohingya forced to carry verification cards

U Sultan, a Rohingya Muslim in the Myanmar town of Maungdaw, told ucanews.com that he heard some 300 refugees have returned to Rakhine to find their relatives despite ongoing tensions and a heavy military presence in the restive region.

Rohingya people in Maungdaw face continuing restrictions and local authorities recently pressured them to apply for a National Verification Card, said Sultan, a retired schoolteacher.

"People can't go fishing or farming due to the new restrictions and many Rohingya villages refused to accept the verification card as it seems to declare them illegal immigrants," he said.

He added that local authorities gave 15 days from Feb. 22 to think about accepting the cards.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a Rohingya advocacy group, said that scores have returned in the past few days but many them have already gone back to Bangladesh.

Lewa added that the main issues for the Rohingya are to rebuild burnt houses and threats of relocation if they oppose the verification cards.

 

A Bangladeshi border guard stands watch at a common transit point for the illegal entry of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar on the banks of the Naf River, near Teknaf in southern Cox's Bazar district, on Nov. 25. (Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)

 

In recent weeks, the authorities have resumed the process of issuing verification cards to Rohingya villages in Maungdaw Township in Rakhine, identifying carriers as residents of Myanmar whose citizenship status is under scrutiny.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee visited several registered and unregistered Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh during her four-day trip on Feb 20-23. She earlier visited Myanmar on Jan. 9-21.

"Having access to these affected communities [will] help give me a better understanding of their human rights situation in Myanmar," Lee said in a Feb. 17 statement.

Lee is likely to issue a statement after the Bangladesh visit and will present a report on Myanmar at the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 13 and give recommendations to the Myanmar government.

In their latest annual report published on Feb. 21, London-based, Amnesty International slammed the Myanmar government for failing to protect the Rohingya.

"Elsewhere in Rakhine State, the situation remained serious, with Rohingya and other Muslim people facing severe restrictions to their freedom of movement. They were confined to their villages or displacement camps and segregated from other communities. Access to their livelihoods, to health care including life-saving treatment, food security and education were greatly restricted," the report said.

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