Bangladesh’s priority is returning to Myanmar more than 1 million Muslim Rohingya refugees, not a small group of Hindus among them, Dhaka said Monday in responding to Naypyidaw’s demand that some 500 Hindu Rohingya be included in the first phase of repatriation.
Meanwhile, Hindu refugees living in a camp designated for them in Cox’s Bazar district said they wanted to return to Myanmar with the consent of both countries. They had fled across the border, after Rohingya Muslim militants killed nearly 100 Hindus while attacking police and army outposts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017.
“The number of Hindu Rohingya is close to four hundred. Their repatriation is not our priority,” Muhammad Delwar Hossain, director general of the Myanmar Cell of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
“The number of Muslim Rohingya who have taken refuge in this country is more than 1 million. It will not make much difference whether a small number of Hindu Rohingya return or not,” he said.
Alluding to the Hindu refugees, he said it was “easy for them to go back” as he alleged that Myanmar government forces were “on their side.”
“The return of the Hindus and the return of the Muslim Rohingya, who fell victim to brutality by Myanmar forces, is not the same. When the Muslim Rohingya return, the Hindus will also go. We have no objection in this regard,” Hossain said.
There are 550 Hindu Rohingya, divided into 115 families, in the Hindu section of the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, according to a BenarNews reporter who conducted a tally at the camp during the weekend.
Last week, Myanmar’s foreign office had demanded that Bangladesh send back the Hindu refugees in the first repatriation phase, during an online meeting with Bangladeshi and Chinese officials, according to a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews.
The two neighbors had tentatively discussed a fresh attempt to begin repatriation in the second quarter of 2021, although it was not immediately clear what guarantees Rohingya would receive about their safety and livelihood under the plan.
Myanmar had urged that verified refugees, including the Hindus, be returned in the first phase after the coronavirus pandemic subsided.
About a million Rohingya have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh, most living in 34 refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar. These include more than 740,000 who escaped a brutal military crackdown in 2017 after Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army insurgents attacked police and army outposts in Rakhine.
At the time, ARSA insurgents carried out attacked Hindu women, men, and children in two villages and abducted residents, according to a May 2018 report by Amnesty International.
Hindu refugees ‘want to come home’
Myanmar’s demand that Hindu refugees be returned during the first stage of the repatriation is an attempt at misdirection, said Ehsanul Haque, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University.
“Myanmar has been dilly dallying to repatriate Rohingya refugees from the very beginning. The country has been maneuvering to prolong the issue,” Haque told BenarNews.
“Saying they want to take back the Hindu Rohingya is a ploy. By doing so, they seem to want to show the international community that they want to take at least some Rohingya back.”
Still, the Hindu Rohingya refugees want to return to Myanmar, said Shishu Shil, a Hindu refugee leader at the Kutupalong camp.
“The government is taking care of our security, but we want to go back to our country,” Shil told BenarNews.
“If the environment in Rakhine is safe, I want to return to my country without any condition if arranged through bilateral talks between the two countries.”
Meanwhile, a Hindu community leader in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township told RFA that the refugees longed to return to their homeland.
“The Hindus over there want to come back to our side as soon as possible. They want to come home. They have expressed their wishes to return to Myanmar to the Bangladeshi authorities,” Ni Maw said.
“They expressed this to the Myanmar authorities too. We also want them to be repatriated and have the people of our ethnic group back in their homeland.”
According to Myanmar government announcements, more than 170 men and 290 women have returned to the Nga Khu Ya refugee welcome center in Maungdaw between 2018 and October last year, but none of the repatriated refugees were Hindu.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.Print