Rohingya at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Photo: AFP
Rohingya at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Photo: AFP

Some high-level officials of the Bangladeshi government have recently expressed concern that the Rohingya refugees residing in their country represent a security threat to Bangladesh and the wider region. Under this premise, they have implemented a series of restrictions on the Rohingya communities in the refugee camps. But there no facts to back up their claim. We Rohingya believe the restrictions have been put in place mostly to try to persuade us to go back to Myanmar before adequate safety measures are in place there.

Historically Rohingya have not been the perpetrators, but rather the victims of persecution and genocide. In order to rebuilt positive and safe communities, we need access to our rights – not to be treated as criminals.

Syed Muazzem Ali, Bangladesh’s high commissioner to India, addressing a conference on “Tackling Insurgent Ideologies,” stated that the Rohingya crisis could create a threat to peace and security in region and pressed for its early resolution through the repatriation of refugees to their home country. He said the Rohingya people could become an easy target for radicalization, so the sooner they are settled back in their homes in Myanmar, the better.

The fact is, we have come from the killing fields to escape persecution, not to settle in Bangladesh, which is not our country. We are reliant on others to secure sustainable solutions for us in Myanmar in order to return. We are waiting until that time.

Recently Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina underlined the need for the quick repatriation of displaced Rohingya to their country of origin in Myanmar. She said, “It will be better for Bangladesh if they go back as early as possible.” While her statement is correct, the situation and conditions do not allow us to repatriate yet, as there are no guarantees for our security, our safety and our citizenship rights. Further, fighting has broken out between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar Army, causing the security situation in Rakhine state to deteriorate further. There will be no safety for Rohingya without peace between the AA and the Myanmar military.

Security is another major concern for those living in the camps. The Bangladeshi government has said that it plans to place fences around the camps, under the premise that this will help to protect them. We Rohingya are doubtful about the effectiveness of this measure. We feel the fences will not make us safer, but rather will create further restrictions on our lives.

Bangladesh is not our country, and we are not citizens here. Nonetheless, we are entitled to basic human rights

Bangladesh is not our country, and we are not citizens here. Nonetheless, we are entitled to basic human rights. We need access to education, security and health, like all human beings. These things also help us to build supportive communities that are less vulnerable and less likely to resort to crime.

The Internet has been blocked since September and Rohingya face the confiscation of their mobile phones by security personnel. Blocking Internet services in the camps, as though we are a threat in Bangladesh, has many negative consequences. The communication blackout will isolate us from our families in Myanmar. And if we face security threats in the camps, we are unable to inform the police.

In order to stop criminal activity, we need a greater presence of security forces and law enforcement inside the camps and continued access to communications. Criminal activities such as kidnapping and trafficking will increase day by day if we cannot inform the authorities in time. We need to be protected as survivors of genocide, not vilified as criminals.

Recently, we Rohingya have had other new restrictions imposed on us. It is not only the shutdown of mobile-phone services in the camps, but also restrictions on working voluntarily for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing services to our own communities. There are increasing restrictions on our access to basic education and freedom of movement within the refugee-camp areas and to the Cox’s Bazaar area to access medical treatment and training opportunities. In short, our human rights are increasingly being curtailed and we are being treated as though we are all criminals.

On August 25 every year, Rohingya commemorate the day on which the Myanmar military resumed its genocidal campaign that drove around 700,000 of us into Bangladesh in 2017. This year we came together to remember those who lost their lives as a result of the genocide. The gathering of Rohingya people was misunderstood as a threat by the local community. A lot of hate speech spread in Bangladesh and tensions increased between Rohingya and the local communities.

The local media were implicated. No measures were taken to prevent hate speech. Instead, further restrictions were imposed on us and our rights were further limited. Also, the NGOs that provided funds for us to commemorate the Rohingya victims of Myanmar’s genocide faced restrictions. As a community rebuilding after the devastating events of genocide, we have a need to remember the victims and mark the atrocities perpetrated against us. Restrictions will not curtail that inherent need in the years to come.

We can never forget the humanity Bangladesh showed in our time of need in 2017, when the borders were opened to us as we fled for our lives. Our gratitude to Bangladesh is also reflected on as part of our commemoration events. We are not a threat to our Bangladeshi brothers and sisters. Please allow us to continue to live in dignity in your country, until safety is restored in Rakhine, and conditions allow us to return to our country and to our homes.

Khin Maung

The writer is coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition and founder and executive director of the Rohingya Youth Association.

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