The Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar's refugee camps yesterday recalled the horrors of killings, rapes and torching of their houses by the Myanmar military exactly a year ago.
Holding banners and placards, Rohingya men, women and children in their thousands marched through the camps in Ukhia and Teknaf as they observed August 25 as “Genocide Day” and “Black Day”.
The placards, which bore drawings of four hands with English words “justice, rights, Rohingya and back home” projected their demands on the first anniversary of the crackdown in Rakhine which forced 720,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh.
“On this day last year, we left behind all the belongings and fled our homes in Rakhine to save our lives as the military burned our village and killed our people. The memories are still vivid in my mind,” said 50-year-old Maulana Manjur Alam, who came out of his camp at Madhurchhara in Kutupalong to join demonstrations.
“We don't want to live in these camps. We want justice and to return home with citizenship,” he said.
Since 9:00am yesterday, Rohingyas in large numbers kept coming out of their makeshift houses in the camps. They marched through the camps, chanted slogans and called for urgent action from global leaders to pave the way for their return home.
According to Doctors without Borders, at least 6,700 Rohingyas were killed in a month since the military crackdown began on August 25 last year following an attack by Rohingya insurgents on police posts in Rakhine.
Rohingya activists said rape was used as a weapon in violence that was described by the US as ethnic cleansing having hallmarks of genocide.
Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace & Human Rights, a group of Rohingya activists, drew up a list, saying 10,000 Rohingyas were killed in the crackdown.
A consortium of academics, practitioners and organisations from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Norway and the Philippines estimated that 25,000 Rohingyas were killed, and 19,000 Rohingya women and adolescents were raped during the military crackdown.
Over the last few months, high-profile UN officials including Secretary-General António Guterres, global leaders, Nobel laureates and celebrities visited the camps in Cox's Bazar where the refugees made their demand for justice.
Many rights bodies have demanded that Myanmar be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). But this has not been possible so far because of division in the UN Security Council.
Amid global pressure, Myanmar signed a bilateral repatriation deal with Bangladesh in November last year, but repatriation is yet to begin.
The UN Refugee Agency and the UNDP signed another deal with Myanmar on June 6 this year. The UN said the conditions for Rohingya return are not appropriate in Rakhine.
Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week said it was up to Bangladesh "to decide how quickly" repatriation of the refugees can be accomplished.
She said the "terrorist threat" posed by Rohingya militants remains "real and present", according to an AFP report.
The Rohingyas have been denied citizenship and other basic rights since 1982.
LOCAL NGOS DEMAND JUSTICE
Marking a year of the Rohingya influx, around a hundred civil society members and NGO officials yesterday formed a human chain in front of the Jatiya Press Club in the capital, demanding justice for "genocide" of the Rohingyas.
They also urged the UN to be vocal about the atrocities against the Rohingyas and help the victims get compensations.
The programme was jointly organised by COAST Trust, and Cox's Bazar Civil Society Organisations - NGO Forum (CCNF).
In a joint statement, they urged the international community, especially China, India and Russia to put pressure on Myanmar for a sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis.
In the sprawling camps, the refugees face an uncertain future with the children not getting education.
“We thank Bangladesh for giving us shelter and emergency needs, but we don't want to remain as a burden. We want to return to Myanmar,” said Abul Kalam, 55, at Kutupalong No-3 refugee camp.
"We are Rohingyas, we want justice," they chanted in Kutupalong, where a giant banner read: "Never Again: Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day. 25 August, 2018", reports AFP.
A huge poster was put up in another part of the camp. It said: "365 days of crying. Now I am angry."
Mohammad Hossain, a 40-year-old demonstrator at Kutupalong, said, "We are here to remember August 25. We want justice."
"We want them [Myanmar] to recognise us as Rohingya. We are very sad because we are not in our native land."
International Red Cross Committee president Peter Maurer, who visited the camps and Rakhine in July, said in an anniversary statement that Rohingyas were "living in misery" in both places.
"Unfortunately, since my visit we have not seen tangible improvements for those displaced or the few who remain in Rakhine."
The Red Cross chief called for urgent "sustainable solutions" for "safe, dignified and voluntary returns as soon as possible."
He said this must include "political steps" in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
In a statement, Pavlo Kolovos, head of mission of Doctors without Borders in Bangladesh, said, "It may be decades until they [Rohingyas] can safely return to Myanmar, if ever."
Humanitarian agencies spearheading the relief effort in Bangladesh say just one-third of the roughly $1 billion needed for the refugees has been raised so far.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), whose attack is blamed for prompting the military crackdown, said yesterday it had acted to "defend" the Rohingya Muslims from persecution.
It is unclear whether ARSA has any broad support after its role in sparking the humanitarian calamity that has befallen the Rohingyas, reports AFP.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the militant group said it had "the legitimate right" to protect the Rohingyas and ensure their "return to our ancestral land with safety and dignity".
The Myanmar army maintains that their reaction was proportionate to the terrorist threat posed by ARSA, a stance reiterated on August 21 by Suu Kyi, who blamed the group for the crisis and spoke in praise of the military.
Myanmar also alleges that ARSA massacred scores of Hindu villagers on the same day the military crackdown began, an accusation the militants have "categorically" denied.
But they have claimed responsibility for other attacks, including a January ambush which wounded two police officers and their driver.
ARSA also urged refugees to refrain from "indulging and trading in drugs, human trafficking and violence".
Drug smuggling and human trafficking have plagued Cox's Bazar as its population has ballooned, with gangs preying on desperate refugees, selling young women into the sex trade and recruiting mules to move methamphetamine, added the AFP report.