The reality is that the Rohingya refugees face a desperate humanitarian situation.
The decision by Bangladesh and Myanmar to consider a fresh attempt soon to repatriate a few of the thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled a military crackdown two years ago is a step in the right direction.
However, all sides should sincerely address the genuine concerns of those being sent back before the action is initiated.
The international community well knows that Myanmar’s army carried out mass killings and rapes with genocidal intent during the massive offensive that laid waste to hundreds of Rohingya villages in the western Rakhine state.
Instead of creating legitimate conditions for the return of Rohingya refugees, Myanmar launched a sustained campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment.
“Why are they sending us back? They may as well throw us into the sea,” one refugee had stated earlier, highlighting the plight of the victims.
A survivor of rape in Myanmar had told United Nations refugee agency special envoy Angelina Jolie, “You would have to shoot me where I stand before I would go back to Myanmar.”’
Such’s the fear of the refugees.
Though the two nations signed a repatriation deal earlier, virtually no Rohingya volunteered to return to Myanmar, where the group faced decades of repression.
So much so that a previous attempt in November 2018 to return 2,260 Rohingya on a repatriation list fell flat, with those earmarked to return refusing to leave without guarantees for their safety.
The reality is that the Rohingya refugees face a desperate humanitarian situation. It should not reach a situation where insecurity and hopelessness set in the minds of the victims. It is the duty of the rest of humanity to wake up and extend a helping hand.
Just last Friday, Head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Henrietta Fore highlighted how the daily struggle to survive for the Rohingya people in one of the world’s largest refugee settlements, has caused overwhelming despair and jeopardised the hopes of an entire generation.
In a report marking two years since the arrival of around 745,000 Rohingya civilians in Bangladesh, Fore rightly appealed for urgent investment in education and skills training.
For the Rohingya children and youth now in Bangladesh, mere survival is not enough, as she points out. It is absolutely critical that they are provided with the quality learning and skills development that they need to guarantee their long-term future.
The UN report has clearly warned that without adequate learning opportunities, youngsters could fall prey to drug dealers and traffickers who offer to smuggle desperate ethnic Rohingya out of Bangladesh.
In addition to Bangladesh’s Kutupalong camp, which is home to some 630,000 people, hundreds of thousands more have found shelter in another dozen or so camps in the Cox’s Bazar region close to the Myanmar border.
Living conditions are often described as perilous by UN humanitarians, including UNICEF, which have issued frequent alerts about the devastating effects of monsoon rains on flimsy bamboo and tarpaulin shelters.
Between April 21 and July 18 this year, refugee camp authorities recorded 42 injuries and 10 fatalities, including six children, because of monsoon weather, according to UNICEF.
The Rohingya have suffered for too long and deserve justice.
No refugees would agree to return without confirmation of their preconditions — safety, security and citizenship.
Any repatriation needs to be voluntary and it needs to be in line with the international standards.
One only hopes that all parties involved in the repatriation process would keep these points in mind.
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“We have not found anybody yet who has agreed to go back, but all our preparations are in place,” said Khaled Hossain, a senior official with the Refugee, Relief and Rehabilitation commissioner’s office.
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