This week marks the second anniversary of the Rohingya ethnic cleansing. Although international rights bodies such as the UN’s top human rights body defined this massacre as a textbook case of genocide, the global response was not only inadequate but also an outright abandonment.
At least 100,000 Rohingya refugees rallied in camps in Bangladesh on 25th August to remember and pray for the deceased two years ago from the genocide inside the Rakhine state of Myanmar that forced more than 730,000 to flee across the border.
This second anniversary of the genocide coincides with several significant events in the saga of the Rohingya people’s collective memory. On the one hand, the Bangladesh government is trying to repatriate the Rohingya people. On the other hand, the pro-government Bangladeshi media has initiated a smear campaign against Rohingya refugees based on unfounded stories of crime.
On top of that, the Myanmarese government has done nothing that could be taken as a signal that it has any genuine interest in taking back the Rohingya people.
This is, however, not the first time the Bangladesh government is trying to repatriate the Rohingya people. At the end of last year, Bangladesh previously attempted repatriation. That plan was delayed by the Bangladeshi government, after international concern over the idea of repatriating victims into the hands of the very same people who carried out the genocide.
The reason that attempt failed is precisely the same reason why it failed this year: nobody wants to go back. On the day of supposed repatriation, not a single registered Rohingya refugee showed up to be repatriated.
But why would the refugees want to go back to their lands? Is it that the promise of a prosperous new dawn awaits them in Bangladesh? Not really.
Bangladesh’s best offer yet to the Rohingya people is an uninhabited and muddy Bay of Bengal island ‘civilised’ as home. Threats and intimidations of even downgrading the current standard of living for the refugees are heard from top Bangladeshi government officials. Yet the Rohingya people do not want to go back simply because going back would mean suicide.
Life in the refugee camps is not easy, however, as one refugee has told the media that she at least does not have to fear for her life here. "If I go back there, I will die."
The Rohingya have been demanding basic demands such as citizenship, ensuring the security of their lives, a right to return their homes and farmlands -many of which are burnt to ashes.
Moreover, there has been no effort to rebuild Rohingya villages. Until the fundamental rights essential for any human existence are ensured, repatriation is simply a farcical drama. Anybody proposing a Rohingya repatriation before these conditions are met, is in other words, calling for or setting the stage of another episode of Rohingya genocide and ensuing wave(s) of refugee crises across the Naf river.
How could any responsible authority in Bangladesh or any international body forget that this is not the first time the Rohingya people faced genocide and had to flee their lands – they have been on the run for last four decades.
The only reason the Myanmarere government even agreed to take the Rohingya people back is due to the image crisis it faces internationally. In other words, this entire repatriation drama is simply “window dressing” or “cheap talk”.
The silence from the so-called international community is deafening. When the basic premise of a safe return is absent, the hope that any justice will be brought to Myanmar's generals and politicians such as Aung San Suu Kyi—who refused to call this a massacre—is nonexistent.
The repatriation efforts lack international engagement—apart from Turkish involvement—, and media coverage or pressure from major powers. The reason is simple: the region and the refugees lack any geostrategic or economic charm to be cared about, and most countries are more than happy not to poke the regional power: China.
If the concerned parties such as the European Union, fearful of another wave of refugee influx at their shores, wants to see a sustainable settlement it must take into account the simple fact that Rohingya people will not go back to the dungeons of a genocidal regime, which has yet to recognise them as citizens.
Any form of dialogue, rapprochement, or repatriation has to start from this point: Rohingya must be given back the citizenship which was stripped from them four decades ago.
Secondly, without an overseeing intuition, a UN-enforced safe zone might be the best option, there is a credible threat that the Rohingya will face yet another massacre at the hands of the same generals who are roaming free with total impunity.
Lastly, the homes and farmlands must be returned after restoration. All of this will not require much money or military might, just some political will and a moral stance in favour of human dignity.
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