The Rohingya refugees living in the no man’s land between Myanmar’s Tambru and Bangladesh’s Konapara border areas and protesting the repatriation process have found renewed justification for anxiety.
Demonstrating in Tambru’s no man’s land on Saturday and Sunday, the refugees said they want the Myanmar government to accede to their demands, including ensuring their safety and rights, before they are sent back.
Dil Mohammed and Arif Hossain, two Rohingya leaders of the area, claimed that Myanmar army and Mogh extremists were still bulldozing Rohingya houses, villages, and markets, as well as torturing those who are still living in the Rakhine state.
They said: “The Rohingyas of no man’s land feel threatened and concerned that putting their names in the repatriation list will put them at risk again.”
The protesters demanded deployment of UN peacekeeping force in Rakhine’s Rohingya majority areas and recognition of the Rohingyas as citizens of Myanmar.
They also want international organisations and media to be engaged in the repatriation process and monitor the overall situation, along with the full implementation of the recommendations made in the report of the Kofi Anan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State and the five-point proposal of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Dil Mohammad said the refugees would not go back to their homeland until their demands are met.
Threats and intimidation
Over 6,500 Rohingya protesters from Tambru’s no man’s land are reportedly among the 8,032 named in the initial repatriation list, which the Bangladesh government handed over to Myanmar on Friday.
Dhaka Tribune could not independently verify the reports, but repatriating the Rohingyas living in this area first was discussed during the home minister-level meeting of both countries Friday.
The Rohingyas in the no man’s land have been subjected to intimidating efforts by Myanmar security forces over the past few months. But the situation worsened after Myanmar’s Deputy Home Minister Major General Aung Soe visited the Tambru border area on February 8.
Since that visit, the Myanmar army and Border Guard Police, using loudspeakers, have asked the Rohingyas to return to Rakhine from the no man’s land. But at night, the Myanmar army reportedly fires blanks to scare them and stop them from going back.
“We used to escape to Bangladesh territory at night and return at day. But now the army and BGP [Border Guard Police] are giving warnings over loudspeakers every hour,” said Siddique Ahmad, an old Rohingya man living in the no man’s land.
On Saturday night, Myanmar security forces issued instructions about repatriating the Rohingyas from the no man’s land, prompting at least 50 of them to cross over into Bangladesh, where they were detained by Border Guard Bangladesh. They were later sent to a refugee camp with basic provisions.
“The Rohingyas of the no man’s land are under strict BGB [Border Guard Bangladesh] surveillance,” Lt Col Khalid Hasan, director (operations) of Border Guard Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar Ad-hoc Region, told Dhaka Tribune.
After a Myanmar army crackdown in Rakhine started in August 25 last year, over 6,500 Rohingya people from Tambru, Medipara, Raimongkhali, Deybuinna, Laipuiya, Ponduiya, Khuyangcipong villages and Maungdaw’s Panirchora had moved to that no man’s land and have been living there, a place that is adjacent to Naikhongchhari’s Ghumdum border in Bandarban.
Since then, more than 10,000 Rohingyas have sought shelter in the no man’s land bordering Ghumdum union’s Konarpara area, Sadar union’s Sapmara Jhiri, Boro Chonkhola, and Dochhari union’s Bahir Math area under Naikhongchhari.
In January, all the Rohingyas living in the no man’s land were taken to the Rohingya camps at Ukhiya’s Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar. However, the refugees living in the Konarpara bordering areas, despite promises that they would be taken too, are still living in Tambru.
The government’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission said nearly 700,000 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh till February 11 fleeing the brutal persecution termed as “ethnic cleansing” by the UN. They joined the several hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who had been living in two upazilas of Cox’s Bazar for years.
Dhaka and Naypyidaw have signed an agreement to send the Rohingyas back to their homeland. After signing a bilateral deal in November last year, the repatriation process was scheduled to begin last month, but got delayed.
This article first appeared on Dhaka Tribune.
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