Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen made the appeal to a five-member OIC visiting delegation led by Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Ambassador Youssef Aldobeay, who met him in the capital Dhaka on Monday evening. Help
“He [Momen] urged the OIC delegation to strengthen their efforts in relation to early repatriation of the Rohingya people who are currently taking shelter in Bangladesh,” said a statement by the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry, Anadolu Agency reported.
Bangladesh is now home to more than 1.2 million stateless Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled a brutal military crackdown in home country Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017.
Dhaka signed an agreement with Naypyitaw on the peaceful return of Rohingya in Nov. 2017, but in the last three years, several attempts have been made to begin the repatriation, all in vain.
After the Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar, uncertainty looms over the already delayed repatriation process.
Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md. Shahriar Alam also briefed the OIC delegation on the current situation of Rohingya refugees during the meeting.
In reply to the call from Bangladesh, the OIC delegation head Aldobeay, however, stressed “international consensus” for any move. He emphasized the peaceful and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya to their home country with their rights and dignity, and urged Myanmar “to move forward.”
On Sunday, the OIC delegation visited the remote island Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal to observe the condition of Rohingya refugees.
In reply to the call from Bangladesh, the OIC delegation head Aldobeay, however, stressed “international consensus” for any move. He emphasized the peaceful and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya to their home country with their rights and dignity, and urged Myanmar “to move forward., help help.
The Indian government was in discussions with Bangladesh to facilitate the safe return of the vessel, which was found drifting in international waters having left southern Bangladesh about two weeks ago with hopes of reaching Malaysia.
The boat had sailed on Feb. 11 from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh carrying 56 women and eight girls as well as 21 men and five boys, officials said.
Many of the survivors, according to Indian officials, were sick and suffering from extreme dehydration, having run out of food and water after the boat’s engine failed four days after leaving Cox’s Bazar, where refugee camps house hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled neighbouring Myanmar.
“The engine of the boat broke down earlier this week and we received an SOS from some Rohingyas, ” said an Indian coast guard official overseeing the search and rescue effort from New Delhi.
“It’s a humanitarian crisis and we are doing the best we can to save their lives,” he said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
“The foreign ministry is working towards sending them back to Bangladesh and India will repair or replace the boat’s engine to ensure they can travel back safely.”
The survivors were being provided with food supplies and medicine, and women and children have been given fresh clothes. It was unclear what arrangements were being made for the funeral rites of the people who died, the coast guard official added.
Announcing that the boat had been found, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday two Indian coast guard ships were dispatched to search for the vessel following urgent calls for help.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, had raised the alarm earlier this week over the missing boat.
“We understand that around 47 of the occupants of the boat are in possession of ID cards issued to them by UNHCR office in Bangladesh stating that they are displaced Myanmar nationals,” Srivastava said.
Of the 90 people that had set out on the voyage, eight were found dead, and one was missing, he added.
Human rights advocacy group Fortify Rights has received records of phone conversations of Rohingyas stranded in the sea, desperate for help.The regional governments in South and Southeast Asia should support safe disembarkation and humanitarian assistance for scores of Rohingya refugees on a boat reportedly adrift at sea, says human rights advocacy group Fortify Rights.
“Too many Rohingya lives have already been lost at sea due to the callous inaction or pushbacks of regional governments,” Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said on Tuesday.
Smith said regional governments in South and Southeast Asia should urgently protect those on board to prevent any further loss of life.
Fortify Rights spoke with Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, Bangladesh, and India, who made phone contact with passengers on the boat.
A Rohingya on the boat told a family member in Bangladesh by phone that there are 90 people on board, including 65 women.
Fortify Rights received taped phone conversations between Rohingya refugees, who claimed to be on the boat, and their relatives.
“More than five people died today,” a Rohingya man says in one recording. “Please try to send water by any means.”
In another audio recorded on Monday, a Rohingya man on the boat says: “The India Navy is helping us. They provided food to us. Please tell my mother to pray for us. We can drink water now.”
After locating the boat on Monday, the Indian Navy reportedly provided food, water, and first aid to the refugees on the boat, according to Fortify Rights.
On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – the UN agency mandated to protect refugees – called for the “immediate rescue of a group of Rohingya refugees in distress on the Andaman Sea.
” The statement said: “Many [of the Rohingya refugees] are in a highly vulnerable condition and are apparently suffering from extreme dehydration. We understand that a number of refugees have already lost their lives, and that fatalities have risen over the past 24 hours.”
Rohingya refugees are fleeing India or going underground amid fears that the government will arrest them for unauthorized entry into the country.In the past month, security forces have intercepted scores of Rohingya across India and sent them to jail, triggering a panic among the country’s Muslim refugee community who fled violence in Myanmar and took refuge in India.
“Some hundreds of Rohingya were living in West Bengal for few years. Almost all of them have disappeared in the past month after some Rohingya were arrested in the state. Many have gone in hiding in other Indian states. Others have entered Bangladesh,” said Rohingya refugee Nizam Uddin, who crossed to Bangladesh with his mother, wife and three children last month after living in a village in eastern Indian state of West Bengal for three years.
“If my family got arrested, Indian authorities would have sent us to jail, before finally pushing us back to Myanmar. Myanmar is still very unsafe for the Rohingya. We do not want to return to that hell. I got terribly scared of being arrested. So, I chose to flee India,” he told VOA.
An official at the Indian home ministry desk that handles issues related to refugees declined to comment on the claim of a crackdown on Rohingya refugees.
To escape discrimination and violence in Myanmar, minority Rohingya Muslims have for decades fled from the Buddhist-majority country to neighboring Bangladesh and other countries, including India. A year ago, it was estimated that 40,000 Rohingya refugees lived in India, scattered across different states.
Being stateless in their home country of Myanmar, the Rohingya are unable to travel to another country legally. India, which did not sign the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, treats all Rohingya entering the country as illegal immigrants. An estimated 300 to 500 Rohingya are currently being held in Indian jails on charges of illegal entry.
Bangladesh has confidence in China that it will continue to help repatriate the Rohingyas, despite the fact that the veto power at the UN Security Council on Tuesday blocked a Council statement condemning the military coup in Myanmar.
Also, Bangladesh has secured the border to prevent any Rohingya influx as feared by some of the Western countries or rights bodies.
“We still have confidence in China. We maintain friendship with all. China and Japan have advanced. China’s progress [on repatriation talks], to some extent, is on the way to implementation,” Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told reporters at his office yesterday.
The comment comes a day after China blocked the UN Security Council statement condemning the military coup in Myanmar and warned that sanctions or international pressure following the coup would only make things worse.
Both Russia and China have protected Myanmar against criticism at the UN regarding military crackdown on the Rohingya population in 2017 when some 750,000 Rohingyas fled a military crackdown that has been termed by rights bodies a genocide. Myanmar faces a genocide case at the International Court of Justice.
Three years after the influx, no Rohingya refugee has returned to Myanmar, saying there is no guarantee of safety, citizenship and basic rights back in Rakhine state. China, which has always wanted a bilateral solution, has been mediating the repatriation process and a tripartite meeting at DG level was scheduled Thursday.
Foreign Minister Momen said Dhaka has not been able to establish contact with Myanmar authorities in Naypyidaw. Therefore, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been trying to contact the Chinese and Myanmar ambassadors in Dhaka, but as of this afternoon it was not confirmed if a meeting was confirmed.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar military took control of the country, which gave rise to fears that the repatriation will be delayed.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have condemned the military coup in Myanmar but say they do not “feel sorry” for de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s removal from power.
Speaking to Al Jazeera at the sprawling Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, Rohingya community leader Mohammad Yunus Arman said the Myanmar military had killed th
“She remained silent about it. She didn’t even utter the word ‘Rohingya’. Once we used to pray for her success and used to treat her like our queen. But after 2017, we realised her real character,” he said.
On Monday, Myanmar’s powerful military seized power in a coup against the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other political leaders. The army in the Buddhist-majority South Asian nation also declared a state of emergency for one year.
“We don’t feel sorry that she [Suu Kyi] is overthrown from power now,” said Arman.
Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh is home to more than one million mostly Muslim Rohingya living in cramped, makeshift camps – the world’s largest refugee settlement – after they fled a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state which the United Nations said was carried out with a “genocidal intent”.
Myanmar said it was committed to the repatriation of the Rohingya as per a bilateral agreement, with Bangladesh expecting the process to start later this year.
Last month, Dhaka started relocating some of the refugees to Bhasan Char, an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal. So far, nearly 7,000 Rohingya have been sent to the flood-prone island.
Meanwhile, the coup in Myanmar following a landslide win by Aung San Suu Kyi’s governing National League for Democracy party in November 2020 has raised questions over the Rohingya repatriation.
“For the past four years, we have been talking about our safe return to our homeland in Myanmar, but no progress has been made on that front,” Arman told Al Jazeera.
Sayed Ullah, another Rohingya community leader at Thaingkhali camp, told Al Jazeera they are not concerned about the military takeover in their homeland.
“We have long been living under the military regime. The civilian government of Aung Sun Suu Kyi did nothing for us. They didn’t protest the genocide which on our community,” he said.
Hundreds of Rohingya are missing from a refugee camp in Indonesia and are believed to have been trafficked to neighbouring Malaysia, officials and sources said Thursday.Just 112 refugees remain at the makeshift camp in Lhokseumawe on Indonesia’s northern coast this week, well down from the almost 400 that arrived between June and September last year.
Neither local authorities nor the UN could account for the whereabouts of the refugees from the stateless Muslim minority from Myanmar, who are feared to have enlisted traffickers to help them cross the Malacca strait into Malaysia.
“We don’t know yet where they went,” said Ridwan Jamil, head of the Rohingya taskforce in Lhokseumawe. “But they’ll escape if they can find any hole to leave because that is their goal.”A Myanmar military crackdown in 2017, which UN investigators said amounted to genocide, forced 750,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into Bangladesh’s southeast coastal district of Cox’s Bazar, where many ended up in sprawling refugee camps.
Thousands have since paid smugglers to get them out of Bangladesh, enduring harrowing, months-long sea journeys punctuated by illness, beatings by traffickers and near starvation rations to reach Indonesia and Malaysia.
At least 18 Rohingya from the Lhokseumawe camp and over a dozen suspected traffickers were recently apprehended by police several hundred kilometres south in Medan city, a frequent staging point for illegal crossings into Malaysia, authorities said.
The refugees have been asked not to leave the camp, the UN’s refugee agency said, given the risks involved in making the journey.
“But (they) left despite our constant efforts to remind them about the danger and risks they could face by leaving, including if they used the services of smugglers,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Mitra Suryono.
“But we have to remember that many of (them) have relatives in other countries such as Malaysia. That may be one of the reasons why they continued their journey,” she added.
The Rohingya community must be taken on board in any repatriation process to Myanmar and problems concerning their basic rights including citizenship should be resolved beforehand, the community’s leaders demanded.
The persecuted community is also wary of China’s involvement in the process unless the Rohingya are consulted and Myanmar is pushed to prepare the grounds for their return.
“The Rohingya want to go home as early as possible… [However,] Myanmar did not create a conducive environment, nor is there any evidence that indicates a change of attitude,” Hla Myint, a senior member of the Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), told Anadolu Agency in an interview.
Last week, Myanmar agreed to calls by Bangladesh at a tripartite meeting facilitated by China to start the much-awaited repatriation of Rohingya in the second quarter of this year.
Bangladesh has pushed hard to begin the repatriation, but Myanmar has been delaying it, seeking time for logistical arrangements.
“Myanmar tries to foil the [repatriation] process through delaying tactics,” Myint confirmed, adding the Buddhist-majority country had assented in earlier agreements to repatriate the Rohingya refugees but failed.
Referring to China’s recent steps to facilitate the repatriation, he said the economic ties between China and Myanmar mean that “international crimes can continue unabated because profit is placed before people.”
“China is a regional superpower, economic tiger and neighbor of Myanmar. It has invested heavily in Myanmar. Its projects in Myanmar are not only economically important, but it is geo-politically very crucial,” he said.
However, he said “China can play a role in a transparent and inclusive mediation process and it can also address the Rohingya citizenship issue. But that is a big ‘if’.”
Kyaw Win, executive director of the Burma Human Rights Network, described the current steps taken for repatriation as a “very bad tool for resettlement.”
“We are concerned that some Rohingya feel pressured to return because the conditions of the camps are inadequate or because they fear Bangladesh may force them to go to the camps on Bhasan Char island,” Win said.
A collective of rights groups and civil society organizations has called for greater focus on education of Rohingya refugees and rehabilitation of academic institutes in areas where they are being hosted in Bangladesh.
“Although Rohingya children aged 6-14 years have been included in the non-formal education program initiated by the government of Bangladesh and various organizations, 83% of adolescents and youth aged 15-24 years do not participate in any education program,” Cox’s Bazar CSO-NGO Forum said in a statement on Saturday.
The southeastern Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazar is home to over 1.2 million Rohingya refugees fled from the military brutality in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The forum, a network of 50 local non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, also stressed the need for a Myanmar-centric curriculum “to make Rohingya repatriation sustainable.”
“There is a sense of frustration among students and their parents about the lack of educational opportunities for those over 15 years of age and the lack of education in the Myanmar curriculum,” read the statement issued to mark the International Day of Education on Jan. 24.
It also called for “special rehabilitation programs for local educational institutions and students in Cox’s Bazar affected by the Rohingya influx.”
According to the forum, local educational institutes were “used as temporary barracks for military personnel at the beginning of the Rohingya influx in 2017.”
Some were also designated as shelters for Rohingya refugees, leading to suspension of academic activities for months.
“Many students stopped going to school because of the increasing number of people and the huge congestion of vehicles used in relief programs,” read the statement.
“From one school, seven out of 10 teachers left school and joined another job. The entire education system is under threat,” it warned, adding that allocation for education from relief programs was “only 2.6%.”
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women, and children fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.
The Arakan Rohingya Union has said Tripartite meeting among Myanmar, Bangladesh, and China, is bringing some optimism to the forcefully displaced Rohingya people that they could return to their homeland.
However, they also mentioned that the meeting could only be fruitful if Myanmar is genuinely willing to honour the repatriation agreement that states “voluntary and dignified return to their original homes”, according to a statement on Sunday.
Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen will meet his counterparts from Myanmar and China virtually in a meeting initiated by China at 2pm on Tuesday.
The ARU said the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the international community to make sure the government of Myanmar takes part in the tripartite meeting with Bangladesh and China with utmost sincerity.
The organization also said in its report that the government of Myanmar took an initiative to resettle some internally displaced Rohingya families that are taking shelter in nearby Rohingya villages in Maungdaw Township.
There are over 15,000 displaced Rohingyas in the region. However, after three years of delay, a few hundred Rohingya people will be relocated as part of the initiative.
ARU said despite the government’s frequent claims of plans to repatriate the displaced Rohingya from IDP camps, there is no visible movement.
It called for immediate implementation of the repatriation plan for Rohingya in IDP camps to their original homes.
Meanwhile, new incidents of trafficking of Rohingyas, in small and large groups, through land routes in Myanmar have increased, ARU said citing sources in Yangon.
As many as 26 Rohingya men and 73 women were detained by the police following an investigation that led to the identification of a suspected trafficker.
The Arakan State assemblymen pushed a motion to rescind the designation of the United League of Arakan or Arakan Army as a terrorist group.
On January 11, they submitted a motion to the State Assembly which was approved on January 14.