Do the Rohingya want to return?
A long-persecuted Muslim minority, the Rohingya began fleeing Myanmar in huge numbers last August when attacks on Myanmar security posts by Rohingya insurgents unleashed a brutal military response. Hundreds of Rohingya villages were burned to the ground by security forces and associated mobs of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
At least 6,700 Rohingya met violent deaths in Rakhine in the month after the military’s scorched-earth campaign, according to Doctors Without Borders. Rohingya women physically traumatized by rape continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s civilian administration, however, refuses to admit to any systematic wrongdoing by the nation’s military. Independent journalists and human rights investigators have not been allowed access to the epicenter of violence in Northern Rakhine, and two Reuters reporters who documented a mass killing with chilling detail remain jailed in Myanmar.
The continuing refusal by Myanmar’s authorities to acknowledge any atrocities against Rohingya civilians worries many of those sheltering in Bangladesh.
“We will go back, but we must be given safety,” said Mohammed Zahid Alam, a Rohingya who now lives in the Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh. “We want a peaceful life.”
Beyond the fundamental issue of security, most Rohingya have little interest in returning to a country that has denied them basic rights, like freedom of movement and higher education. Myanmar’s government considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Most have been stripped of their Myanmar citizenship, even though they have long roots in the region.
Rohingya community leaders in the Bangladesh camps say they will return only if Myanmar’s government gives them the same rights it has given the country’s dozens of other ethnic minority groups.
“Our demands are known to all,” said Mohammed Osman, who arrived in Bangladesh in early September and is now a deputy camp block chief. “We want full citizenship rights.”