Rohingya refugees rally to mark 2nd anniversary of exodus

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees marked the second anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar to Bangladesh by rallying, crying, and praying Sunday as they demanded that Myanmar grant them citizenship and other rights.

Days earlier, Bangladesh, with the help of the United Nations refugee agency, had attempted to start repatriating 3,450 Rohingya Muslims — a fraction of the 700,000 who fled a 2017 security crackdown in Myanmar. None agreed to go back, citing fear for their safety. The UNHCR said that building confidence was essential for repatriation.

Cox’s Bazar Police Chief A.B.M. Masud Hossain said at least 50,000 refugees protested peacefully in the camps on Sunday.


Myanmar had scheduled Aug. 22 for the beginning of repatriation, but it failed again after a first attempt in November. The repatriation deal is based on an understanding the return has to be ‘‘safe, dignified and voluntary.’’ The refugees have also insisted on receiving Myanmar citizenship and other rights that the Buddhist-majority nation has refused to grant them.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her administration will not use force to send them back despite a huge burden on the South Asian country. More than 1 million Rohingya are in Bangladesh.

At the Kutupalong refugee camp on Sunday, some carried placards and banners reading ‘‘Never again! Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day’’ and ‘‘Restore our citizenship.’’

They raised their hands during a prayer session and cried, many loudly, as an imam led the sermon with an emotional narration of their sufferings. The prayer was held for the victims of the killings, rape, and arson attacks by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist militias.

‘‘Oh Allah, how much blood we have to give to have peace in our life? We have been shedding our blood for decades and now we are here. Please help us, we want to go back,’’ said the imam.


Myanmar has consistently denied human rights violations and says military operations in Rakhine state, where most of the Rohingya fled from, were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

A UN-established investigation last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Myanmar dismissed the allegations.

On Thursday, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released a new report concluding that rapes of Rohingya by Myanmar’s security forces were systemic and demonstrated the intent to commit genocide. The report said the discrimination Myanmar practiced against the Rohingya in peacetime aggravated the sexual violence toward them during times of conflict.

Fortify Rights, a human rights group that has documented abuses in Myanmar, has called on Myanmar’s government to implement recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was appointed by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016 and led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The commission recommended that the government end enforced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, ensure full humanitarian access, tackle Rohingya statelessness, ‘‘revisit’’ the 1982 Citizenship Law and punish perpetrators of abuses.

On Thursday, the UNHCR said in a statement that the agency and the U.N. Development Program had sought effective access in Myanmar.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said that concerted efforts were needed ‘‘to really raise the pressure on the Burmese generals. We’re talking about targeted sanctions, we’re talking about an arms embargo.’’