To mark the third anniversary of the clashes between Rohingya insurgents and Myanmar security forces that resulted in their dislocation into Bangladesh for safety, Rohingya Muslim refugees held a “silent protest” on Tuesday.
Refugees said the novel coronavirus did not allow them to hold a mass gathering to mark what they call “Remembrance Day”.
Authorities said 88 cases of the virus have been found in the camps and six people have died.
Bangladesh hosts more than a million Rohingya in the world’s largest refugee settlement.
The refugees have little prospect of returning to Myanmar, where they are mostly denied citizenship and other rights.
Three years ago, Rohingya insurgents raided 30 police posts and an army base in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, killing at least 12 members of the security forces.
The Myanmar military crackdown that followed forced more than 730,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, joining more than 200,000 already there.
Three years later and with no work or decent education for their children, there is little prospect of a return to the country, where members of the mostly Muslim minority have long been treated as inferior intruders.
Myanmar’s military “killed more than 10,000 of our people. They carried out mass murders and rapes and drove our people from their home”, Mohib Ullah, a Rohingya leader in the camps, told AFP.
For the second anniversary last year, Ullah led a rally of about 200,000 protesters at Kutupalong, the largest of the network of camps in southeast Bangladesh, where 600,000 people live in cramped and unsanitary conditions.
But the Bangladeshi authorities, increasingly impatient with the Rohingya and who a year ago cut Internet access in the camps, have banned gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The sprawling camps have been cut off from the rest of Bangladesh, with the military erecting barbed-wire fences around the perimeters. Inside, movement has been restricted.
In some rare good news for the refugees, Bangladesh said on Monday it would soon lift the ban on high-speed mobile Internet in the camps that authorities imposed last year citing concern that social media would be used to stir panic.
Bangladesh has signed an agreement with Myanmar to return the refugees. But the Rohingya refuse to go without guarantees for their safety and proper rights.
About 600,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar, but most are not regarded as citizens, living in what Amnesty International describes as “apartheid” conditions.
The Rohingya are not convinced of the “sincerity of the Myanmar authorities”, Bangladesh foreign secretary Masud bin Momen said.
Brad Adams from Human Rights Watch said “Myanmar needs to accept an international solution that provides for the safe, voluntary return of Rohingya refugees, while an understandably stretched Bangladesh should not make conditions inhospitable for refugees who have nowhere to go.” (Source: CNA)