No country for Rohingya people

As the rights groups mark the first anniversary of the Rohingya exodus, Bangladesh and Myanmar are continuing their talks to open a path for the repatriation of the refugees.

Updated - November 28, 2021 08:24 am IST

Published - August 25, 2018 07:42 pm IST

Rohingya refugees in Palang Khali, Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar through the Naf river.

Rohingya refugees in Palang Khali, Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar through the Naf river.

Sorat Alam, a Rohingya leader, yearns for home, but the trauma of being brutalised in Myanmar deters him from going back to the Rakhine State. Mr. Alam and his parents fled to safety in Bangladesh after Myanmar’s Army launched widespread assaults on the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, in August 2017 in retaliation against armed attacks on security forces.

“We won’t go back if the Myanmar government doesn’t grant us citizenship and if the UN doesn’t provide safety,” said Mr. Alam, a 35-year-old man who supervises a cluster of Rohingya families in Cox’s Bazar, home to the world’s largest refugee camp. Mr. Alam has been working as a headman for 140 Rohingya families since he arrived in Cox’s Bazar with his 65-year-old ailing mother and 70-year-old father. “Bangladesh has provided us with food and shelter, but nothing has changed in Rakhine. We don’t want to go back.”

Mr. Alam’s conditions mirror the plight of about one million refugees stuck in overcrowded camps in and around the southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar, an economically disadvantaged district. More than 7,00,000 Rohingya women, men, and children have crossed into Bangladesh since August 2017, and ended up in refugee camps here.


The influx added to the existing vulnerabilities of the host community and put enormous pressure on scarce resources and food prices. Much of the land occupied by the refugees is prone to flooding and landslips. About 2,00,000 people are at risk as their shacks are perched on the clay hills. A large swathe of the area is scarred by widespread deforestation. As the rights groups mark the first anniversary of the Rohingya exodus, Bangladesh and Myanmar are continuing their talks to open a path for repatriation of the refugees.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali recently visited Myanmar to discuss the repatriation of the “forcibly displaced nationals” with officials there. Myanmar highlighted the setting up of two reception centres, one transit camp and engagement with UNHCR and UNDP and other initiatives as proof of its readiness to receive the returnees. Myanmar says houses are being built for the returnees and identified 42 sites for their resettlement. Mr. Ali also visited the Shwe Zar village, where 148 prefabricated houses for returnees are being built with assistance from the Indian government.

‘Bangladesh’s responsibility’

There was a twist on August 21, when Myanmar government leader Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at an event in Singapore, suggesting that the onus was on Bangladesh to get the repatriation process started. “The returnees have to be sent back by Bangladesh. We can only welcome them at the border,” she said.

As the two parties continue talks, Rohingya people from the Rakhine State are still making border crossings into the cramped camps in Cox’s Bazar. Myanmar authorities have tortured and imprisoned Rohingya refugees who returned to Rakhine from Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch said in a report. It cited six Rohingya people as telling that they were forced into stress positions; beaten with fists, sticks, and rods; and subjected to electric shock. This was to force them to confess to an affiliation with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a militant group that attacked security forces in 2017. With hopes for an immediate repatriation dimming, Mr. Alam and countless other refugees fight their own battle every day — for food. Mr. Alam said he struggled to provide beef to about 700 people during Id-ul-Azha. “There’s no hope. People are desperate.”

Arun Devnath is a journalist based in Dhaka.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.