Rohingya refugees take a bath at their temporary shelter provided by Aceh local Goverment in Pidie, Aceh, Indonesia, 28 December 2022. EFE/FILE/HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK

Rohingya refugees despair in Bangladesh as repatriation hopes dwindle

By Azad Majumder

Dhaka, Aug 24 (EFE).– Rohingyas in Bangladesh’s crowded refugee camps are growing more frustrated with no hope for their return home, marking six years since their escape from alleged genocide in Myanmar.

Despite two failed repatriation attempts, memories of the Myanmar military’s brutal crackdown in 2017, forcing 774,000 Rohingyas to flee starting August 25 of that year, continue to haunt the refugees.

The repatriation process has plunged into further uncertainty as Bangladesh shifts its focus to defending its human rights record in light of global aid cuts and the impending general elections due in January 2024.

Amid tensions with Western nations, particularly the United States, over allegations of media restrictions and limited space for opposition parties, the Bangladeshi government’s shifting priorities add to the Rohingya’s frustration.

“This is the election year. Due to the uncompromising attitude of political parties, there is a concern among the people about how the election will be conducted,” said Nur Khan Liton, head of local rights group Ain o Salish Kendra.

“Those who have helped us on the Rohingya issue so far are also divided in opinion about the election. So, obviously, a gap is being created. And as a result, the Rohingya issue is being neglected, though it is very important for us,” he said.

Following two failed attempts, Bangladesh initiated a China-backed pilot project to repatriate 1,176 Rohingyas this year. However, the refugees declined the offer, awaiting assurances of their security.

Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mizanur Rahman said Myanmar conditionally agreed to take some Rohingyas back.

“We will let the Rohingyas know about the condition at an appropriate time. Hopefully, we will be able to proceed with the repatriation then,” Rahman told EFE.

Touhid Hossain, an ex-foreign secretary, dismissed the move as mere “eyewash,” claiming China wanted to alleviate international pressure on Myanmar, its ally.

“Myanmar has no desire to take Rohingyas back, and Chinese support is always (there),” he said.

Rohingyas also remain skeptical of the project.

“It is very frustrating to see there was no talk of broad repatriation,” said Rohingya Youth Association spokesperson Ali Janah.

Janah said the refusal to participate might result in Rohingyas being permanently unwelcome in Myanmar as those who say no “may never be welcomed.”

Still, the immediate concern of the refugees is day-to-day life in the crowded camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

“The camp situation is dire and the ordinary Rohingya refugees are feeling insecure,” said Rohingya rights activist Kyaw Win.

Kwah Win urged the government to look at the ground situation in the camps. “Until we return home, we should be able to sleep and eat as humans.”

Despite the stagnating six years, neither the Rohingyas lose hope of returning nor does Bangladesh have the capacity to house a million refugees permanently.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said the Rohingyas wanted to return, and Myanmar was also ready.

But, he said, foreign governments asked Bangladesh to train them with skills, teach them Bangla, and, if possible, give them work.

“We told them we do not have enough work. Every year, over two million Bangladeshi people enter the job market, and we cannot give them work. So it is not possible for us to absorb Rohingyas,” Momen told EFE.