Dhaka – Rohingya refugees living in squalid camps have demanded justice for the brutal military crackdown by Myanmar military a year ago that forced them to flee to Bangladesh.
Several hundred Rohingya Muslims held peaceful marches on Saturday on a highway in south-eastern Bangladeshi district of Cox’s Bazar on the first anniversary of the military crackdown, which the United Nations described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.
“We want justice” chorused the marchers that included men, women and children as the refugees mark the day as “Black Day”.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed into Bangladesh after the Burmese military launched the clampdown in response to what the military says attacks on security posts by Rohingya insurgents on August 25, 2017.
Unknown number of Rohingya were killed as the crackdown continues for months. Numerous others arrived in Bangladesh with stories of torture, looting, rape and arson attacks on villages after village inhibited by the Rohingya Muslims in the Buddhist-majority Rakhine state of Myanmar.
Bangladeshi government and international agencies came in aid of the refugees to settle down in sprawling camps in the hilly terrain of Bangladesh’s Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts bordering the Rakhine state.
The new arrivals of the refugees joined yet another group of undocumented refugees making the total number of Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh to nearly 1.1 million, according to the government estimate.
The Rohingya, who always say that they want to go back to their homes, now asked the international community to bring to justice those who killed the members of the ethnic group, raped Rohingya women and are responsible for looting and arson attacks in the Rakhine.
The marchers on Saturday also demanded safe and dignified repatriation under the supervision of the United Nations.
Bangladesh and Myanmar in November signed an agreement for voluntary return of the refugees, but the authorities could not start the process in the last nine months thanks to a complex verification of identity of the Rohingya, lack of infrastructure in the Rakhine state and a dilly-sally tactic by the Myanmar government.
“We expected that the process could be started soon. But unfortunately, it was delayed. But we are still hopeful for a start,” said Abul Kalam, head of Refugee Relief and Repatriation commission.
A significant progress has been made over the past month, he said referring to the recent visit by Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali to Myanmar. The Myanmar authorities have embarked projects for rehabilitation of the possible returnees, he said.
Medicine san Frontier, an aid agency reported that one year on, Rohingya refugees live in dire camps, facing an uncertain future and legal limbo.
In the 12 months since, MSF has provided over 656,200 consultations, equivalent to more than two-thirds of Rohingya refugees, in 19 health facilities or mobile clinics.
At first, more than half of MSF’s patients were treated for violence-related injuries, but other health concerns soon emerged that were linked to the overcrowded and unhygienic conditions in the camps.
“It is unacceptable that watery diarrhoea remains one of the biggest health issues we see in the camps,” says Pavlo Kolovos, MSF head of mission in Bangladesh.
“The infrastructure to meet even the most basic needs of the population is still not in place, and that seriously affects people’s wellbeing.”