No headway in bilateral talks on Rohingya repatriation

No headway in bilateral talks on Rohingya repatriation

Kutapalong Rohingya camp near Cox's Bazar. (DH Photo/Kalyan Ray)

Jamila, 32, saw slaughtering of her husband Abdul Aziz and teenager son before she and other members of the family fled from their house in the Rakhine State of Myanmar last year.

They walked for nearly 15 days through hills and jungles before reaching the Kutapalong refuge camp, about 35 km from the world-famous seaside town.

Since then Jamila and other members of her family are among the inmates of Bangladesh's biggest camp housing the Rohingyas, who don't even enjoy the status of a refugee in accordance with UN laws. And no one knows when will they return to their home.

"The Myanmar Army wants us to sign on the PVC card (Population Verification Card- an identity document that would identify them as Bengali Muslims living in Myanmar but not as permanent citizens). Since we didn't sign up for the papers,  the torture began," Jameela said in her local dialect that has similarities with the Bengali spoken in the Chittagong area.

Jamela and scores others living in the camp are victims of religious and ethnic persecution by Myanmar authorities. Her son was studying in class 10 when he was killed.

Stories of fear and uncertain future galore in the refugee camp spread over 6,000 acres of land.

Children in the Kutapalong Rohingya camp. (DH Photo/Kalyan Ray)

"Myanmar government told us that we are not citizens as we are Bengalee. They killed my father and mother. We weren't allowed to go the mosque without permission from the Army men deployed in my village," said Zaher Hussain, 35, who lives in the camp with his wife and three kids.

Out of nearly 1.2 million Rohingya, nearly 800,000 are staying at Kutapalong. Some others are in another camp at Narayanpur and the rest are literally on the roads.

"A year ago the hilly area of Kutapalong were reserved forests. The hills were denuded to set up the refugee camp," Md Nikarajjuman, the local government official looking after the Kutapalong camp at Ukhia told a group of visiting local journalists.

While the areas near Bangladesh-Myanmar border witnessed trickling of Rohingyas since 1978, the delugue seen since Aug 25, 2017 was unprecedented.

"What I saw in the first week of September last year will remain etched in my mind forever. The Cox Bazar -Teknaf highway was full with people who have nowhere to go," said Nikarujjaman.

A year on, no solution to the crisis are in sight. Notwithstanding international pressure, bilateral talks on the repatriation haven't made any headway. 

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina raised the Rohingya crisis issue at the UN General Assembly last month. 

"We are disappointed that despite our earnest efforts we haven't been able to begin Rohingya repatriation...three bilateral agreements were concluded between Bangladesh and Myanmar for Rohingya repatriation. Despite their verbal commitment, the Myanmar authorities are yet to take them back," she said.

Dhaka wants New Delhi and Beijing to take up the issue with Aung San Suu Kyi government. 

"India and China have a lot of leverage on Myanmar. If they put pressure on Myanmar, the Rohingyas would be taken back," commented H T Imam, political advisor to Bangladesh Prime Minister.