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
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.
Thousands of people have protested in Okinawa against a controversial US marine airbase in the southern Japanese island, as a two-decade-long row over the relocation of the site deepens.
The massive demonstrations on Sunday aimed to pressure Tokyo to halt building work for the military base that has continued despite vehement opposition from the local government in Okinawa.
Okinawa is home to more than half of the 47,000 US service personnel stationed in Japan as part of a defence alliance, a proportion many of the island’s residents say is too high.
Washington announced plans to move the Futenma airbase in 1996, hoping to ease tensions with the host community after the gang-rape of a schoolgirl by servicemen.
But locals have pushed to block the relocation of the base within the island, insisting the facility should be fully removed instead. The demonstrations have soured relations between Tokyo and Okinawa – a once independent kingdom that was annexed by Japan in the 19th century. More…
One of the world’s most beautiful regions, the seas of Southeast Asia — home to sparkling white beaches and $7,000-a-night beach villas — is becoming a scene of a mass atrocity.
Thousands of refugees from the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar, fleeing modern concentration camps at home, have fled to sea in boats, and many have drowned. Fearing a crackdown, smugglers have abandoned some of those boats at sea, and neighboring countries are pushing the boats back to sea when they try to land.
The Obama administration, which has regarded Myanmar as one of its diplomatic successes, is largely unhelpful as this calamity unfolds. More…
by Shingo Ito HIROSHIMA, Japan – Sixty-five years after a mushroom cloud rose over Hiroshima, the United States will for the first time send an envoy this Friday to commemorate the bombing that rang in the nuclear age.