Rohingya refugees attend a ceremony organized to remember the second anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar into Bangladesh, at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Aug 25, 2019. (MUNIR UZ ZAMAN / AFP)
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh — Thousands of Rohingya refugees marked the second anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar into Bangladesh on Sunday by rallying, crying and praying as they demanded Myanmar grant them their citizenship and other rights before they agree to return.
Myanmar had scheduled Aug 22 for the beginning of the process but it failed for a second time after the first attempt last November
Up to 30,000 joined a rally days after Bangladesh with the help of the UN refugee agency attempted to start the repatriation of 3,450 Rohingya Muslims. None agreed to go back voluntarily, citing fear for their safety and a lack of confidence in Myanmar. The UNHCR said on Thursday that building confidence was essential for repatriation.
Myanmar had scheduled Aug 22 for the beginning of the process but it failed for a second time after the first attempt last November.
The repatriation deal is based on an understanding that the return has to be "safe, dignified and voluntary." The refugees also insisted on receiving Myanmar citizenship and other rights. Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that her administration will not use force to send them back despite a huge burden on the South Asian country.
More than 1 million Rohingya live in Bangladesh.
In Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh’s southern district of Cox’s Bazar on Sunday, some carried placards and banners, some reading "Restore our citizenship."
This Aug 22, 2019 file photo shows a general view of Nayapara Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU / AP)
They raised their hands at a prayer session and cried, many loudly as an imam led the sermon with an emotional narration of their sufferings. The prayer was held for the victims of the killings, rape and arson attacks. Security was tight in the camps despite the Rohingya groups' pledge that they would protest peacefully.
"Oh Allah, how much blood we have to give to have peace in our life? We have been shedding our blood for decades and now we are here. Please help us, we want to go back," said the imam.
Myanmar has consistently denied human rights violations and says military operations in Rakhine state, where most of the Rohingya fled from, were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
On Thursday, the UNHCR in a statement said the agency and the UN Development Program had sought effective access in Myanmar.
HONG KONG NEWS