28 Feb
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Repatriation of Rohingya?

The Real Political Will of Burmese Government on Rohingya Refugee Repatriation

By Aman Ullah

The Myanmar government has cleared at least 55 Rohingya villages of all structures and vegetation, including scenes of atrocities, in an operation to destroy the evidence of crimes against humanity, the Human Rights Watch said on February 23.

The HRW came up with the statement based on a time series of satellite imagery recorded between November 11, 2017, and February 19, 2018. The imagery suggests the demolitions are ongoing.

The rights body said most of these villages were among the 362 completely or partially destroyed by arson since August 25, 2017, during the military campaign that sent nearly 700,000 Rohingyas fleeing to Bangladesh.

“Many of these villages were scenes of atrocities against Rohingyas and should be preserved so that the experts appointed by the UN to document these abuses can properly evaluate the evidence to identify those responsible,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of the New York-based global watchdog.

The Myanmar government earlier claimed bulldozing of villages is part of a plan to rebuild villages so that the refugees can live in their place of origin or nearest to their place of origin when they go back under a repatriation deal signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

However, HRW says, bulldozing these areas threatens to erase both the memory and the legal claims of the Rohingyas who lived there. “The government’s clearing of dozens of villages only heightens concerns about Rohingya families being able to return home,” Adams said.

As per the deal, Myanmar will verify the residence of the Rohingya based on residence documents or information provided by them on their houses, nearby schools or mosques in Rakhine.

Meantime, a raw deal has been thrust down the Rohingyas’ throat in the name of repatriation. Some conditions of the deal are so stringent — the returnees must show national registration cards or documents of residency, something impossible for the Rohingyas to present as they had to hastily flee in the face of killings and torching of houses — that the chance of their return remains bleak. These are tricky conditions as most Rohingyas have no documentation at all.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmud Ali had rejected the deal on October 9 in a briefing for diplomats, saying the “criteria is not realistic”. Only six weeks later, the government agreed to the deal. There is no deadline for the repatriation; it can go on forever.

There are now more than one million Rohingyas in Bangladesh. The deal stipulates that highest 300 will be repatriated a day, making completion of the repatriation a difficult arithmetic feat. Bangladesh has handed a list of 8,032 Rohingyas for repatriation in the first phase. A week has gone by, but nothing has been heard so far from across the border.

But the bigger question is: Where will these people return if the repatriation begins at all? As the latest Human Rights Watch report shows, the Rohingya villages which were burned have now been flattened with bulldozers. There is now not a single sign that any human habitation ever existed there.

Richard Weir, a Myanmar expert with the HRW, said, “There’s no more landmark, there’s no tree, there’s no vegetation. Everything is wiped away.”

And everything means everything — their culture, their history, their mosques, the graveyards, and their past — so that these people literally become new settlers with no ties to the land.

So what will be their homes? Camps are being set up to house them. These camps will be no less than the Gestapo concentration camps.

After the 2012 communal violence, the Myanmar government had put more than 100,000 Rohingya and other ethnic people in camps in Sittwe, which have become an “open-air prison” enclosed by barbed-wire barricades and manned by security forces.

No one can move in or out without permission. Illness is not treated and death comes cheap. Time magazine has headlined a story on these camps as “These Aren’t Refugee Camps, They’re Concentration Camps, and People Are Dying in them”.

About the plan for new camps to be set up for the returnees, rights activists and aid groups fear they will become the blueprint for the wider incarceration of the whole ethnic minority. The Rohingyas are to become the new Jews, the new Gypsies, and the new communists of our time.

 

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