Buddhist protesters in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have demonstrated against the planned repatriation of Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh, calling them “runaway refugees”.
“All the people of the nation are responsible to protect the security of the country,” said a monk on a Facebook feed from the capital, Sittwe. “There will be no benefits to us or our country if we accept the Bengalis,” he said, using a near-universal term for the Muslim community that implies they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Buddhists also resist calling the Rohingya a “minority” as it implies citizenship and because they claim Muslims “outnumber” Buddhists in Rakhine, which is incorrect.
Placards opposed the return of “illegal immigrants” and to not “allow resettling the runaway refugees”.
Bangladesh was supposed to start repatriating the Rohingya who had fled a military crackdown in August 2017 and earlier official operations.
This month more than 100 Rohingya from Myanmar were rescued at sea after their boat became stranded on its way to Malaysia. The incident highlighted the risks the Rohingya are willing to take to leave Rakhine, explaining why those sheltering in Bangladesh are unwilling to return.
Labelled officially as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the Rohingya are denied citizenship, basic rights, freedom of movement, access to social services, education and jobs.
Survivors from the boat to Malaysia said they were fleeing a lack of rights, food, jobs, education and health care.
“If the government can’t provide support for us for anything, it should allow us to work,” a Rohingya from Thetkepyin camp in Sittwe since 2012 was quoted saying by RFA.
“The World Food Programme provides us with rice, cooking oil and salt, but it’s not enough for us. It is very difficult to survive, as 90 per cent of us don’t have jobs.
“We can’t send our children to school and we can’t get treatment for any health problems. It has been six years.”
The repatriation agreement was signed a year ago but Rohingya in Bangladesh are refusing to leave without guarantees of citizenship, safety and equal access to health care and education.
Last month a UN probe called for Myanmar’s generals, who control most aspects of government in Rakhine, to be prosecuted on charges of genocide at the International Criminal Court or elsewhere.
Nay Pyi Taw denies the allegations and claims it was defending itself against “Bengali terrorists”.
The Rohingya crisis gained international attention in 2012 when the Muslim areas of Sittwe were attacked and more than 120,000 Rohingya were forced into displacement camps.
About 90,000 still live in about 12 camps around Sittwe.
Buddhist protesters refuse to accept the return of the Rohingya. Picture credit: YouTube