Saturday, March 6, 2021

Rohingya refugees fear returning to Myanmar after coup

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Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in camps in Bangladesh condemned the military coup in their homeland and said it makes them more fearful to return.

A counterinsurgency operation by Myanmar’s military in 2017 involving mass rape, murders and the torching of villages drove more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has hosted them in crowded refugee camps, and is eager to begin sending them back to Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Several attempts at repatriation under a joint agreement failed because the Rohingya refused to go, fearing more violence in a country that denies them basic rights including citizenship.

Refugees said Tuesday they are more afraid now that the military is in complete control.

“The military killed us, raped our sisters and mothers, torched our villages. How is it possible for us to stay safe under their control?” said Khin Maung, head of the Rohingya Youth Association in the camps in Cox’s Bazar district.

“Any peaceful repatriation will hugely be impacted,” he told The Associated Press. “It will take a long time because the political situation in Myanmar is worse now.”

Officials from Myanmar and Bangladesh met last month to discuss ways to start the repatriations, with Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry seeming more hopeful of success and officials saying they expected to begin sometime in June.

But refugees said they totally oppose the military takeover.

“We strongly condemn the coup. We love democracy and human rights, so we are worried about losing them in our country,” Maung said.

“We are part of Myanmar, so we feel the same as Myanmar’s common people. We urge the international community to raise its voice against the coup,” he said.

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday that it hopes the coup will not hamper the repatriation.

“As an immediate and friendly neighbor, we would like to see peace and stability in Myanmar. We have been persistent in developing mutually beneficial relations with Myanmar and have been working with Myanmar for the voluntary, safe and sustained repatriation of the Rohingya sheltered in Bangladesh,” it said.

The United Nations has described the Myanmar military crackdown on the Rohingya as a form of genocide. In total, more than 1 million refugees are being sheltered by Bangladesh.

Monday’s coup was a dramatic backslide for Myanmar, which was emerging from decades of strict military rule and international isolation that began in 1962.

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