'Ensure their safety, citizenship first'

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - Return of the Rohingyas without guaranteeing citizenship and safety in Myanmar will not be sustainable, says UK-based Rohingya rights activist on return of refugees

Return of the Rohingyas without guaranteeing citizenship and safety in Myanmar will not be sustainable, but will contribute to another cycle of exodus in the long run, says a UK-based Rohingya rights activist.

The Rohingyas have been fleeing atrocities in Rakhine since 1978. While many of them returned to Myanmar, they again fled to Bangladesh after being denied citizenship, safety and other basic rights.

Tun Khin, president of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, made these remarks while sharing his thoughts in an exclusive interview with The Daily Star at a city hotel during his visit to Bangladesh on February 11. 

“So, if the Rohingya are not provided citizenship, freedom of movement, education, healthcare, and ensure safety through UN in Rakhine, the cycle of exodus that has been in place for forty years will continue,” he said, terming the repatriation deal with Bangladesh a way to divert international pressure.

“Burmese authorities and ultranationalist Buddhist monks have always wanted to wipe out the Rohingya, and this time they are putting the final nail in the coffin,” he said, adding that the problem requires a comprehensive solution, not any eyewash. 

Tun Khin, whose grandfather was the parliamentary secretary of Burma during the brief democratic regime between 1948 and 1962, was rendered stateless, alongside a million other ethnic Rohingyas, through a 1982 citizenship law.

He moved to the UK in 2004 to study civil engineering but suspended his PhD to focus on Rohingya rights after mass violence was inflicted on them in 2012. Khin is a key figure coordinating over 20 Rohingya organisations across the world and lobbying world powers. 

He thinks the repatriation deal that Myanmar signed with Bangladesh without involving the international community is merely a tactic to divert international pressure, and warned that Bangladesh should not fall into its trap.

The deal was signed on November 23 amid global pressure after nearly 700,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh to escape atrocities unleashed by Myanmar's security forces.  Doctors Without Borders said at least 6,700 Rohingyas were killed between August and September last year.

Khin said the international community, including the UN, has condemned the atrocities by Myanmar, but has not taken effective steps for holding Myanmar security forces accountable, ensuring citizenship of the Rohingyas and their safety in Rakhine.

Meanwhile, he said the Rohingyas are still fleeing to Bangladesh everyday because mass arrests are going on in Rakhine using false allegations, while there is no food or access to local markets.

“The only thing that we had is our land. Now, our land has been taken away and houses burnt down...This is systematic destruction of the whole community intentionally,” he said.

Farcically, Myanmar is now building camps as shelters for the returnee Rohingyas, he said, adding: “These camps will be nothing but prison camps.”

The Rohingyas need a safe zone to be maintained by the UN. Otherwise, there will be no safety, security and protection for the Rohingyas and they will again face mass atrocities by the Burmese military, Tun Khin said.

“So, before we talk about repatriation, we need to hold the Myanmar security forces accountable for the atrocities they committed,” he said, demanding trial of the Burmese security forces in the International Criminal Court. 

There is no involvement of the UN or other international communities in the repatriation process, no mention of trying the perpetrators who killed and raped the Rohingyas and no guarantee of citizenship for the Rohingyas, he said.

U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson's resignation from an international panel set up by Myanmar to advise on the Rohingya crisis proves Myanmar's lack of willingness for finding a sustainable solution to it, he said. 

Tun Khin said there are 140,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Rakhine where there is limited aid, and they cannot get out of the camps, creating an utterly miserable situation that should not happen in 21st century.

“How can the Rohingya from Bangladesh return to the killing field?” he asked while urging the world community to not become a silent witness to the “genocide”.

He compared the persecution of Rohingyas by Myanmar to Nazi Germany's genocide against the Jews and said the Rohingya communities across the globe are uniting against it.

Khin thanked Bangladesh for providing shelter and humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas, but requested a stronger role from them, the UN and global powers for a sustainable solution.

“We want our identity, our culture to be protected. We want justice and accountability.”

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