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Bangladesh: Rohingya refugees commemorate the "genocide" of their people in Burma

With a lot of banners and slogans, this mostly Muslim community gathered in the maze of Cox's Bazar, the largest refugee camp in the world.

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Bangladesh: Rohingya refugees commemorate the "genocide" of their people in Burma

With a lot of banners and slogans, this mostly Muslim community gathered in the maze of Cox's Bazar, the largest refugee camp in the world.

Many took the opportunity to demand the repeal of a Burmese law of 1982, which deprived them of their citizenship in their country of origin, which is predominantly Buddhist.

"As soon as we have regained our rights (in Burma), we would like to return home", wishes Zahid Hossain, 65 years old.

About 750,000 Rohingyas fled a brutal military offensive in Burma exactly five years ago on Thursday and found asylum in neighboring Bangladesh, where more than 100,000 refugees from previous violence were already there.

These thousands of Rohingyas, mostly dressed in a traditional Burmese shirt and longyi (sarong), lined up peacefully for this "Genocide Remembrance Day".

"Generations could be affected if we fail in our obligation to defend the Rohingyas and all the inhabitants of Burma, their fundamental rights and their dignity", declared Thursday Noeleen Heyzer, envoy of the United Nations for Burma, after a visit to the fields.

- "slaughtered" -

In March, the United States for the first time acknowledged that Rohingyas had been victims of a "genocide" perpetrated by the Burmese army.

“Only Rohingyas can understand the pain of August 25. Five years ago, on this day, nearly one million Rohingyas were displaced. On this day in 2017, more than 300 of our villages were displaced. burned to ashes," said Maung Sawyedollah, a young community leader, leading the procession in Kutupalong.

The Rohingya survive, crammed into unsanitary camps, and refuse to return to Burma until they are granted citizenship rights and security guarantees.

"All we want is a safe and dignified return to our homeland," said Sayed Ullah, a senior Rohingya community official. "Unfortunately, our appeals go unheeded."

"The international community is doing nothing. Here, in the camps, we are rotting under shelters of tarpaulins and bamboo, we are barely surviving thanks to social assistance," he laments.

Widows, mothers who have lost their children, victims of rape, cry at the memory of the horrors suffered.

"They burned our house. My mother was holed up in the house. They dragged her out. They first cut off her hands, then slit her throat," recalls Sufia Khatun, 42.

Bangladesh refuses to perpetuate the presence of these hundreds of thousands of refugees.

To relieve congestion in the camps, Dhaka has already had some 30,000 refugees transferred to Bhashan Char, a desert island with hostile natural conditions in the Bay of Bengal.

Bangladesh's Foreign Minister, A.K. Abdul Momen, citing "environmental, social and economic problems" caused by the influx of Rohingyas, believes that "voluntary and sustainable repatriation is the only solution to the crisis".

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, however, warned last week that "the conditions are not met for returns" to Burma, governed since last year by a military junta following 'a coup.

But the health situation is deteriorating in the camps, according to a survey published Thursday by Médecins sans frontières (MSF), where cases of dysentery have increased by 50% compared to 2019 and cases of skin infections, such as scabies, are exploding. .

Fire outbreaks are also frequent. In 2021, fifteen people lost their lives in a gigantic fire. Some 560 people were injured and up to 10,000 families, or more than 45,000 people, were displaced.

The Rohingyas are also worried about the ever-increasing crime. More than 100 murders have been committed in five years, including recently gunned down community leaders, likely targeted by insurgent blood feuds.

The young people, without prospects for the future, not having the right to leave the camps or to work, are given over to boredom. They are easy recruits for all kinds of trafficking and criminal activities with dramatic consequences.

Under cover of anonymity, fearing reprisals from the Bangladeshi police, a young community leader complains about their confinement in these camps "surrounded by barbed wire".

"It's a prison for Rohingyas."

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