Entire Muslim Rohingya villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine state have been demolished and replaced by police barracks, government buildings and refugee relocation camps, a BBC report revealed on Tuesday.
On a government tour, the BBC saw four locations where secure facilities have been built on what satellite images show were once Rohingya settlements.
But Myanmar officials have denied building on top of the villages.
In 2017 more than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar during a military operation.
The UN has described it as “textbook ethnic cleansing”. Myanmar (also called Burma) has denied large-scale killings by its forces.
ALSO READ THIS: ‘Genocide card’: Myanmar Rohingya verification scheme condemned
Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country, continues to deny its troops carried out ethnic cleansing and genocide. The country has now said that it was ready to take some refugees back.
But last month, a second attempt to start repatriating Rohingya refugees failed, after none of the 3,450 people approved by Myanmar to return agreed to do so. They cited the lack of accountability for atrocities committed in 2017, and uncertainty over whether they would get freedom of movement or citizenship.
Myanmar blamed Bangladesh, and said it was prepared to receive large numbers of returnees. To demonstrate this they invited journalists, including the BBC, to see their facilities.
According to an official source, they were arrested in 2013 for illegally entering Manipur’s Churchanpur and convicted under the Foreigners Act. They had been lodged in Manipur Central Jail Sajiwa.
Manipur police department on Tuesday officially handed over four Rohingya men to Myanmar authorities at Moreh town bordering Myanmar.
The deportation took place at the immigration office of Myanmar near Indo-Myanmar Friendship Bridge wherein immigration officials from Tamu, Myanmar, took custody of the men after completing the formalities with their Indian counterparts and Manipur police.
Out of the four, two were from Buthidaung Mrone district and the rest from Mungdow Mrone district of Rakhine state, Myanmar.
According to an official source, they were arrested in 2013 for illegally entering Manipur’s Churchanpur and convicted under the Foreigners Act. They had been lodged in Manipur Central Jail Sajiwa. As their jail term expired, Home department issued an order on September 5 to deport the individuals to their country on September 10.
In an interview with DW, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen expressed disappointment over “inadequate” international pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingya refugees currently camped in Cox’s Bazar.
The Bangladeshi government wants the United Nations aid agencies to support its plan to relocate 100,000 refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.
Human rights organizations have expressed concerns over the plan as the island may not be suitable for the refugee settlement and is prone to cyclones.
In an exclusive interview with DW, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said that the UN has failed to put enough pressure on Myanmar to take back the refugees. Momen also said that Dhaka wants UN agencies to accept the Rohingya island relocation plan or leave the South Asian country.
DW: Most Rohingya refugees do not want to return to Myanmar. Is that why you want to relocate them to the Bhasan Char island?
AK Abdul Momen: I think it is time to relocate them to Bhasan Char. But the island cannot accommodate all of them; we can send only 100,000 refugees there.
We didn’t want to repatriate them forcefully. We had hoped it would be done voluntarily.
The island offers economic activities to the refugees. But the aid agencies working in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp don’t want to move to Bhasan Char. In Cox’s Bazar, they stay in five-star hotels, so they don’t want to go to another place.
We are also identifying international non-government organizations that are politicalizing the Rohingya issue.
Does that mean that you would relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char even if the UN agencies don’t support the plan?
Yes, possibly. We have seized many leaflets, CDs and videos that urge Rohingya not to go back to Myanmar if certain demands are not met. Myanmar authorities have agreed to one of these demands: provide safety, security and mobility to the Rohingya people. Demands such as granting citizenship to Rohingya, punishment for people involved in the Rohingya massacre, recognizing Rohingya as an ethnic group, and allowing them to return to their own homes have not been met.
Earlier this month, the Myanmar government embarked upon a new plan to begin repatriating Rohingya who had fled Rakhine State after waves of brutal violence there. It was the second time Naypyidaw tried to begin the repatriation process—the first attempt was in November—and this time the Myanmar government reportedly had approved some three thousand Rohingya to return, with the backing of Bangladesh for this action. None apparently voluntarily took up the offer, instead of fleeing back to the camps in Bangladesh or hiding out.
That Rohingya would not want to return to Myanmar is hardly surprising. It has been only two years since the deadliest wave of violence against them in Rakhine State. Rakhine State, where most Rohingya in Myanmar live, remains a violent and unstable place.
In recent months, violence in Rakhine State has been rising again, as the army battles the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army. The military has resorted to its usual scorched earth tactics in response, and the UN’s human rights office has accused the Tatmadaw of launching attacks against civilians in this fighting. Amnesty International has further issued a report claiming that the Myanmar military is committing new atrocities in Rakhine State, against both ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya—including extrajudicial executions.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar government, while telling Rohingya that they can come back safely, has not exactly created a safe, trustworthy environment for their return. The ongoing violence in Rakhine State certainly does not indicate a strong prospect for safe return. Senior Myanmar government leaders continue to demonize the Rohingya and also refer to those still in Myanmar as illegals. A report released this week by Fortify Rights, a human rights and investigative group closely monitoring the situation for Rohingya, found that Myanmar authorities have continued to force Rohingya still living in Myanmar to accept National Verification Cards, which basically mark them as foreigners and preclude their getting citizenship rights. And the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities did not appear to consult with Rohingya who was put on a list for repatriation, or prepare anywhere for them to restore their lives in Myanmar. The UN fact-finding mission found that the Myanmar government has simply leveled portions of northern Rakhine State where Rohingya had lived. Naypyidaw has done little to rebuild to prepare for a return or offer infrastructure or social services of any kind in northern Rakhine State.
Human rights group says ‘citizenship scrutiny’ has gradually limited Rohingya rights in Myanmar and at the root of the crisis.
The National Verification Card (NVC) scheme targetting Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims is part of a systematic campaign by Myanmar authorities to erase their identity, according to a new report by Fortify Rights published on Tuesday.
The human rights organization says the NVC process and denial of citizenship fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in its probe into crimes against the minority group, which was initiated last year.
“The Myanmar government is trying to destroy the Rohingya people through an administrative process that effectively strips them of basic rights,” Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights, said in a statement by email.
“This process and its impacts lie at the root of the Rohingya crisis, and until it’s addressed, the crisis will continue.”
The report: Tools of Genocide: National Verification Cards and the Denial of Citizenship of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar examines the series of alternative identification documents given to the Rohingya in Myanmar over the past few decades, alleging “citizenship scrutiny” processes have progressively limited their rights including freedom of movement, access to education and livelihoods and freedom of expression.
“The NVC process is just another reiteration of discriminatory cards that have been given out over the years to the Rohingya,” John Quinley III, author of the report and a human rights specialist at Fortify Rights, told Al Jazeera.
Under Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, only people belonging to one of 135 national ethnic groups identified by the state are accorded citizenship.
The development reaffirms the sovereign right of any refugee displaced by force to decide whether to return to the country of origin, but questions remain about the community’s future.
On August 22, something significant happened in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh. A bilaterally-arranged plan to repatriate close to 3,000 Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar’s Rakhine state stalled as not a single one turned up to board the buses that were supposed to take them across the border.
According to a Reuters report, many of the refugee families designated for repatriation even fled their huts to go into hiding. This is the second time in less than a year that the refugees have responded to government plans to send them back with total dismissal.
What more, three days later, thousands of refugees gathered within the camps to mark ‘Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day’ – the day the last major anti-Rohingya drive began in northern Rakhine two years ago – and raised slogans demanding Burmese citizenship as a pre-requisite to repatriation. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is assisting Dhaka in the return process, not a single Rohingya refugee interviewed recently “indicated a willingness to repatriate at this time”. The refugees had also iterated their demand for citizenship when a high-level delegation from Myanmar visited the Kutupalong camps last month.
All of this is remarkable because it reaffirms the sovereign right of any refugee displaced by force to decide whether or not to go back to the country of origin – which is not something that we see very often in similar situations around the world. It also gives teeth to the principle of voluntary repatriation through informed consent (and not just ‘repatriation’) as a fundamental component of any process of refugee return. While this is a well-established norm in international law, states routinely bypass it while repatriating displaced persons.
In the middle of the night in a town in south-eastern Bangladesh, a Rohingya boy is found bound and blindfolded and dumped in the marketplace. He is pale and skinny, but he is alive. And nearly four months after he went missing, that is enough for his parents.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen today said 41 non-government organizations (NGOs) have been withdrawn from all kinds of activities in Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camps for their wrongdoings.
A total of 139 NGOs have been operating in the Rohingya camps since the Rohingya crisis began in August 2017, he said.
The Foreign Minister came up with the information while inaugurating waste management activities at Dakshin Surma under Sylhet City Corporation.
Dr. Momen also said actions will be taken against NGOs if they do something going beyond their terms and references.
The NGO Affairs Bureau on Thursday suspended six different projects being run out of the Cox’s Bazar branch of an NGO called Mukti – on allegations of making sharp weeding tools for distribution among Rohingyas.
Some 600 of these tools were allegedly made. An official suspension order signed by the Assignment Officer of NGO Affairs Bureau Sirajul Islam Khan was issued on Wednesday.
On August 29, the Foreign Minister said action will be taken against the NGOs operating in Rohingya camps if the evidence is found about their activities that go beyond the terms and references.
“We’ll surely take action against those NGOs if we get evidence or proof that they’re involved in any political or instigative activities (inside Rohingya camps),” he told reporters at state guesthouse the Padma after briefing diplomats over the latest Rohingya situation.
‘A child is a gift from Allah, and we wanted it so that we can forget our sorrow’
After being forcibly displaced from Myanmar, 25-years old Sulaiman got married to teenager Nure Kayda last year in the refugee camp. Now they have a three month old daughter.
Sulaiman, teacher of a learning centre at camp 15, said: “A child is a gift from Allah, and we wanted it so that we can forget our sorrow.”
Health care professionals working at the camps in Cox’s Bazar said ‘‘Although there are multi – level approaches to generate awareness among these people about birth control methods, it seems like we have failed to some extent.’’
In a recently published population report on displaced Rohingyas in Bangladesh, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said some 91,000 children were born inside the camps after the latest Rohingya exodus in 2017.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 723,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August 2017. On 28 September 2018, at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said there are 1.1 million Rohingya refugees now in Bangladesh.
According to Inter-sectoral coordination Group (ISCG), some 911,566 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar while 905,754 refugees were identified in camps according to Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission- (RRRC-UNHCR) Registration exercise (including 34,172 registered before 31 Aug 2017).
Additional Commissioner of the (RRRC) Office Shamsuddoja Nayan said UNHCR reported that some 91,000 children were born in Rohingya camps in the last two years.
Around 30,000 of them are under the age of one. And some 61,000 children are under two years, he added.
Bangladesh will brief the diplomats stationed in Dhaka about the latest situation over the Rohingya issue tomorrow as two consecutive efforts to begin the repatriation of the displaced people failed amid their unwillingness and trust-deficit among them.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen will brief the diplomats and representatives of the UN agencies at 4:00pm at State guesthouse Padma in capital Dhaka, said an official.
UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka Mia Seppoon Tuesday said now it is up to the world to help keep it that way by making sure Bangladesh does not shoulder this burden alone as Bangladesh has “certainly done its part” when it comes to the Rohingya crisis.
She said Bangladesh responded with empathy to a group of people who fell victims to hatred, and now the global leadership needs to act.
UN Resident Coordinator said the UN is committed to getting the right for both the Rohingyas and the people of Bangladesh as they deserve the world’s support in confronting problems related to Rohingyas.
“Any solution has to be sustainable. Sustainability is not something that can happen overnight. It takes time and thoughtful consideration for how everything we do today will set the stage for what is possible tomorrow,” she said.
Despite all the preparations, no Rohingya turned up on August 22 to avail of the “voluntary” repatriation offer given to them to go back to their place of origin in Rakhine State of Myanmar prompting the authorities to suspend the repatriation process.
Meanwhile, a meeting of a taskforce was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here today that discussed the current challenges and what steps need to be taken in the coming days, an official told UNB.