In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Nov 29 2017 (IPS) – Parul Akhtar,* a Rohingya woman in her mid-twenties, may never wish to remember the homeland she and her children left about three weeks ago.
Too scared to speak out, Parul, the mother of two young children, rests inside the makeshift tent she now calls her home in Kutupalong in southeastern Bangladesh, which is hosting thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.
But it is still fresh in her mind as she recalls the violence she and her family endured day after day when truckloads of army soldiers, along with local Buddhist men, came to violate women, loot valuables and burn homes while picking up young men in her village in Rajarbil in Maungdaw district in Myanmar.
“My body shivers when I recall those days,” says Parul, visibly upset by the horrifying memories.
Standing in front of her tent in Modhuchhara camp in the vast and so far the biggest Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, about 35 kilometers from the nearest city of Cox’s Bazar, Parul, narrates the ordeal of escaping the atrocities.
“It was a nightmare trying to escape and dodge the embedded informers, army and of course, police,” Parul says.
“When I came back to consciousness, I found my brothers and husband missing. My children were also not spared.” –Nasima Aktar
Thank you to Sr. Marie André Mitchell, SNDdeN (from the Zimbabwe-South Africa Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur) for sending this article and site.
Please continue to keep Zimbabwe in your prayers.
The Jesuit Institute is passionate about building bridges between faith and the broader society. Each week we offer a reflection on something topical. Feel free to reproduce or distribute but please credit the Jesuit Institute and the writer.
Robert Mugabe’s resignation on 21 November 2017 after 37 years as President of Zimbabwe is the end of an era. It is also a relief for many – perhaps most – Zimbabweans, whose country has undergone political, economic and social turmoil for so long. For many the events of the last week or so culminating in Mugabe’s peaceful deposition is a sign of hope. It will almost certainly have consequences wider afield.
The last twenty years have been tragic for Zimbabwe. Instead of improving the people’s lot, chaotic land reform, whatever it’s symbolic and social necessity, damaged the nation’s economy and reduced its agricultural output. The once-strong Zim Dollar collapsed and its replacement by the U.S. Dollar and the Bond Notes has crippled the economy and reduced the majority of citizens to poverty. Beyond that, there have been constant claims of corruption, electoral irregularities, political intimidation and increasingly authoritarian state power. As one who has visited Zimbabwe regularly since the 1980s, I have noticed over the years how behind the warmth of the Zimbabweans I met there has been an increasing sense of fear, uncertainty and even pessimism about the country’s future.
This week that changed. This is all to the good. One can only hope and pray that things will improve.
There are questions, of course, about Mugabe’s successor. Emmerson Mnangagwa has a reputation among political observers as a ‘hard man’. He was minister of State Security during the Gukurahundi massacres in the south during the 1980s. Combatting guerrilla dissidents led to well-documented atrocities. Similarly, he was implicated later by the United Nations in mineral trafficking and using the Zimbabwe Defence Force for personal gain during the country’s intervention in the civil war in the Congo. To deliver on the hope this week has generated, Mnangagwa will have to restore national confidence in democracy and introduce policies to revive the economy.
Is this possible? While cynical political observers may doubt it, the Christian vision says it is possible. At the heart of faith is metanoia – conversion of heart. But there must be the will to do it.
Looking beyond Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s deposition may have wider, perhaps unexpected, consequences. The sense that a seemingly untouchable figure can be forced to resign could have a ripple effect in countries across Africa, where once-popular leaders have overstayed their welcome.
While the blunt instruments of mass protest and ‘coups’ are not the ideal way to change governments, particularly in constitutional democracies, they may occasionally be the only way to remove folks in power past their sell-by date. The events this week may be an impetus and inspiration in some countries to encourage unpopular leaders to consider other gainful employment.
I would not be surprised, too, that, in South Africa, Mugabe’s resignation has not been watched with unease. Though there is no exact correlation (yet) between the Zimbabwean and South African situations, widespread discontent with Jacob Zuma’s government grows. This should be particularly apparent to the ruling party as its party congress approaches. Could events in Zimbabwe be the catalyst for the end of yet another era…?
Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a deal for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, who have taken shelter in the border town of Cox’s Bazar after a brutal crackdown by the military.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry confirmed the signing of the agreement on Thursday, without releasing further details.
“I didn’t find any clear statement how these refugees will be repatriated. I’m not sure whether they will be allowed to return to their original village,” Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin told Al Jazeera.
“It looks like they will be placed in the temporary camps, and later the refugees will be locked up in the camps for a long time like the Rohingya in Sittwe for more than five years now.
“Myanmar minister for resettlement and welfare said they will repatriate maximum 300 refugees a day. So it can take up to two decades to repatriate all those refugees.”
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Yangon, said the deal was the result of international pressure which has been mounting steadily on Myanmar.
“For Myanmar, it’s very important because it is showing some progress on this Rohingya crisis,” Heidler said.
San Lwin said refugees should not return if their citizenship and basic rights are not guaranteed.yanmar minister for resettlement and welfare said they will repatriate maximum 300 refugees a day. So it can take up to two decades to repatriate all those refugees. — Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin
“Bangladesh should not send back any Rohingya refugee to Myanmar unless citizenship and basic rights are guaranteed. The people who fled to Bangladesh lived in the open air prison for almost three decades, now it looks like they will be sent back to concentration camps.”
The agreement comes after Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Bangladesh’s foreign minister to resolve one of the biggest refugee crisis of modern times.
More than 620,000 people have poured into Bangladesh since August, running from a Myanmar military crackdown that the US said this week clearly constitutes “ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya”.
The talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and her Bangladeshi counterpart come in advance of a highly anticipated visit to both nations by Pope Francis, who has been outspoken about his sympathy for the plight of the Rohingya.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which denies committing atrocities against the Muslim minority, has agreed to work with Bangladesh to repatriate some of the Rohingya piling into desperately overstretched refugee camps.
But the neighbours have struggled to settle on the details, including how many Rohingya will be allowed back in violence-scorched Rakhine, where hundreds of villages have been burned.
Last week Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing said it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh”.
Rendered stateless, Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment for years.
They have also been systematically oppressed by the government, which stripped the minority of citizenship and severely restricts their movement, as well as their access to basic services.
The latest crisis erupted after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts on August 25.
The army backlash rained violence across northern Rakhine, with refugees recounting nightmarish scenes of soldiers and Buddhist mobs slaughtering villagers and burning down entire communities.
The military denies all allegations but has restricted access to the conflict zone.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has also vowed to deny visas to a UN-fact finding mission tasked with probing accusations of military abuse.