UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — When more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar in 2017, a Bangladeshi journalist, Sharif Azad, sympathized with the plight of those Muslim survivors of a campaign by their country’s military that the United Nations called genocide.
The journalist from the southern corner of Bangladesh, which has become home to the world’s largest refugee settlement, said he had written reports of shock and fatigue to the Rohingya and had done everything he could to help.
“All people did it,” Azad said in his office near a restless market outside Cox’s Bazar town.
“We provided food. We gave the land.”
Now two years later, Azad is running a campaign to force the Rohingya out of their camps and stay behind barbed wire until they can be returned to Myanmar.
“We will continue our movement until their return to their country is achieved,” said Azad, whose group now has 1,000 members and is one of several movements with the same goals.
Most Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where they are considered intruders and illegal immigrants from South Asia.
The Rohingya came out of their villages in Myanmar to Bangladesh in the 1970s and again in the 1990s to escape what they said was persecution by the Myanmar army.
But the recent wave of displacement was the largest.
Myanmar denies genocide charges and says its armed forces have carried out legitimate operations targeting militants who have attacked its security forces.
In Bangladesh, relations between landowners and new arrivals have deteriorated so rapidly that some now fear serious violence.
“I lived to see three waves of displacement, and this is the worst,” said Khader Hussain, 60, a Bangladeshi worker at a cafe in the border town of Teknaf. We are a minority in our land. ”
– Measures –
Many Bangladeshis accuse the Rohingya of crimes, seizure of jobs and wages to fall.
Green forests have been cleared for camps and aid trucks are blocking the road to Cox’s Bazar, the nearest major city. A one-hour journey can now take up to four hours on boring roads.
Recently, several hundred roads were blocked and smashed shops frequented by Rohingya and some UN offices in protest against the killing of a young Bangladeshi ruling party leader.
Several Rohingya suspects were later shot dead in what police described as gunfire.
Iqbal Hussain, a senior police official at Cox’s Bazar, said crime rates had risen, although the rate among refugees was not higher than among Bangladeshis.
He recognized the growing hostility towards refugees.
“It will be difficult to control so many. The Government is taking measures to prevent any unforeseen situation.”
At a shelter in a bamboo camp, four refugees, who asked not to be named, said they had fled their homes after the latest attack by hundreds, hastily gathering their children and belongings in a panic, resembling their flight from Myanmar.
“When we came there, we came to save our lives,” said one refugee. But we are not safe here. We are very scared.”
Bangladesh said all Rohingya should return home but no one agreed last month in the second attempt to start the process of returning to Myanmar. Refugees fear fear of violence and persecution if they return as grounds for refusing to return.
– “Corrupt elements” –
As tensions mounted, the government launched a campaign that cut off the Internet from the camps and tried to seize mobile phones based on security concerns.
Authorities prohibit the sale of mobile phone cards to refugees.
Hussein Tawfiq Imam, an adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, accused “external forces” of mobilizing the Rohingya to harm Bangladesh’s interests. He described the role of international relief agencies as “ambiguous”.
“It has become clear that there are undesirable individuals and corrupt elements among the Rohingya. They have been exploited by outside forces … The camps must be surrounded by barbed wire to stop all … criminal activities.”
“We will recommend the adoption of security measures that do not affect the refugees’ ability to access basic services, their rights and their safety,” UNHCR spokeswoman Caroline Gluck said in an e-mail.
“Technology is an important means for refugees to communicate with their families, friends and humanitarian agencies to transmit and obtain information,” she added.
But technology has also been used to stir fear and distrust.
A series of rumors about the Rohingya and international aid agencies have appeared on Facebook and in the newspapers.
In August, Azad posted a Facebook picture of a pile of sharps and accused a non-governmental group of renting the workshop it had built to arm the refugees. Others published this image hundreds of times.
But workers at the workshop told Reuters the tools were not weapons and a Bangladeshi NGO charged with the charges said the tools were for farmers to use for weeding.
“They have the pen, they have guns and they have a country,” a Rohingya member told Reuters. I have nothing.”
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