Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps protest demanding repatriation to Myanmar

DHAKA (Reuters): Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh protested on Thursday, demanding to be repatriated to Myanmar, so they can leave behind the squalid camps that they have lived in since fleeing a brutal military crackdown in their homeland in 2017.

More than a million Rohingya are crammed in the camps in southeastern Bangladesh, which have become the world’s largest refugee settlement.

During Thursday’s demonstrations across the sprawling camps, refugees, young and old, waved placards and chanted slogans.

“No more refugee life. No verification. No security. No interview. We want quick repatriation through UNHCR data card. We want to go back to our motherland,” the placards read. “Let’s go back to Myanmar. Don’t try to stop repatriation.”

Rohingya community leader Mohammad Jashim said he was keen to return to Myanmar but wanted citizenship rights guaranteed.

“We are the citizens of Myanmar by birth. We want to go back home with all our rights, including citizenship, free movement, livelihood, safety, and security,” he said.

“We want the United Nations to help us to go back to our motherland. We want the world community to help us to save our rights in Myanmar,” he added.

Attempts to begin repatriation in 2018 and 2019 failed as the refugees, fearing prosecution, refused to go back.

And a group of 20 Rohingya Muslims said they would not return to Myanmar to “be confined in camps” after visiting their homeland as part of pilot scheme aimed at encouraging voluntary repatriation. A Bangladesh official said the pilot scheme envisaged about 1,100 refugees returning to Myanmar, but no date had been set.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said every refugee had “an inalienable right” to return to their home country, but that returns also had to be voluntary.

Myanmar’s military had until recently shown little inclination to take back any Rohingya, who have for years been regarded as foreign interlopers in Myanmar and denied citizenship and subjected to abuse.

Densely populated Bangladesh says that the refugees’ repatriation to Myanmar is the only solution to the crisis. Local communities have been increasingly hostile toward the Rohingya as international aid agencies funding for the refugees has been drying up.

The World Food Programme recently cut the monthly food allocation to $8 per person from $10 earlier.

“Our situation is only deteriorating. What future do we have here?” asked refugee Mohammed Taher, as he stood with other protesters.