DHAKA/ KARACHI (ENNS/MD) Raids by Rohingya militants on August 25 last year across Myanmar’s Rakhine state spurred an army crackdown that the United Nations has likened to “ethnic cleansing”.
Around 700,000 of the Muslim minority fled by foot or boat to Bangladesh, their villages ablaze behind them, in an exodus unprecedented in speed and scale.
Myanmar says it is ready to take those who fled back. But it refuses to recognise the Rohingya as citizens, falsely labelling them “Bengali” illegal immigrants. A deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh to start sending them back has also gone nowhere, caught up in bureaucracy and mistrust, with fewer than 200 having been repatriated so far.
Myanmar has remade northern Rakhine state without the Rohingya, redistributing land and building new security posts. It has built massive “transit” camps — some with room for 30,000 — for any returnees. Rohingya refugees fear without citizenship those camps will become permanent, like the ones holding 129,000 Rohingya since 2012.
Life in the camps in Bangladesh, among the most densely populated places on earth, looks set to get harder. A UN-led appeal for around US $1 billion to fund the refugees until March has yielded only a third of that sum.