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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps protest demanding repatriation to Myanmar

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps protest demanding repatriation to Myanmar
Bangladesh immigration police personnel check the papers of delegation members as they get ready to depart from the Teknaf-Myanmar transit jetty, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, 05 May 2023. A delegation of 27 people, including 20 Rohingya people from refugee camps in Bangladesh, will visit Maungdaw in Myanmar's Rakhine state to look at preparations for a planned move of 1,000 Rohingya refugees at the end of this month. The Human Rights Watch commented on the 'pilot repatriation' effort saying that Bangladesh authorities should suspend plans to send Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar 'where their lives and liberty would be at grave risk'. EPA-EFE/TANBIRUL MIRAJ RIPON

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. Most a crackdown by Myanmar’s military almost six years ago, though some have been there for longer.

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 told Reuters.

“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 told Reuters 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 U.N 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 towards 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.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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