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In Photos: A Second Assault on Rohingya Survivors
Visual Documentations from the Past Week that should never have come to be.
Yesterday, 25th of May, a contingent of 14 representatives from the Myanmar Junta's Pilot Repatriation Team arrived at Teknaf. They made their voyage on a boat, escorted by armed BGP guards. They were then escorted to the Community Centre of Shalbagan, Camp 26, where they engaged in discussions with Rohingya refugees.
The photographs presented on this page, captured by Majhis and other individuals using their smartphones, shed light on a complex situation involving the collaboration of three nations - China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar - plotting to impose a potentially catastrophic fate on the gathered refugees. These images carry a poignant narrative, intricately woven with feelings of despair and manipulated hope. They depict Rohingya refugees, who have endured a horrifying genocide, gathered in a formal assembly hall as they confront an unresponsive delegation from the Myanmar junta. The representatives of the junta remained steadfast in their insistence on imposing the NVC (National Verification Card) card, despite repeated rejection by the Rohingya community in the past. Now the Rohingya perceive these cards as a crucial element of a troubling and experimental initiative by the junta. For them, this fixation on the NVC cards stands as a stark reminder of the distressing cycle of genocidal violence and forced displacement.
In essence, the pilot repatriation initiative aims to uproot around 1100 Rohingya survivors from the refugee camps of Bangladesh and send them back to Rakhine State, a place that has been the epicentre of their suffering. Equally alarming is that they are not being returned to their own villages and homes as per the 2017 agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, which had promised the refugees a rightful return to their villages. Instead, this plan intends to settle the refugees in unfamiliar surroundings, without any guarantee of rights or citizenship.
The inadequacy of the plans became glaringly evident during the pilot visit, as a flimsy document distributed to the refugees revealed the fundamental concept behind the initiative - a mere relocation from one camp to another. The document also highlighted the lack of substantial measures or long-term solutions, emphasising the limited scope of the plan and raising concerns about the underlying intentions behind it.
Finally, these pictures tell a tale of unwelcome déjà vu. The same individuals who were violently cast out of their homeland are being forcibly (yes, forcibly) returned under the auspices of a flawed, politically motivated program. According to Wai Wai Nu, a prominent Rohingya activist, this 'pilot repatriation project' is less about sustainable repatriation and more about further entrenching the junta's control over the Rohingyas' lives.
"The project is designed to give the junta control over every aspect of the returning Rohingya’s lives in Myanmar. It will enable the junta to control the Rohingya’s access to humanitarian assistance, to segregate them in internment camps, and to force them to accept the discriminatory National Verification Card scheme: the NVC," warns Wai Wai Nu.
Other visuals of the week
Ahead of the Shalbagan meeting, two prominent ministers made their public statements as part of an orchestrated public relations effort to frame the narrative surrounding the Rohingya crisis. Both stances took similar directions, and both can be criticised for the oversimplified and potentially harmful portrayal of Rohingya refugees.
Minister A K Abdul Momen centred his discourse on the security implications of the Rohingya refugee crisis, explicitly emphasising the threat of radicalisation. Without directly maligning the Rohingya, his speech suggested a link between their statelessness and susceptibility to radical influences. Such a narrative, regrettably persistent in mainstream Bangladeshi discourse, can fuel fear, misunderstanding, and bias towards the Rohingya.
This simplistic narrative overlooks the fact that Rohingya are victims fleeing violence and persecution. Drawing a direct line between Rohingya refugees and radicalism risks reinforcing harmful stereotypes and further stigmatising an already marginalised community. Notably missing from the minister's comments is concern for the Rohingyas' human rights.
The minister also expressed concern over potential investment losses due to regional destabilisation. Focusing on business implications risks undermining the human rights tragedy at the heart of the Rohingya crisis. Once again, the humanitarian aspects of this crisis, not financial outcomes, should be at the forefront of discussions.
In his conclusion, he called for a "permanent solution" or a “lasting solution” to the Rohingya problem. Such phrasing is hugely problematic. Framing the Rohingyas as a 'problem' is dehumanising. The crisis should instead be approached as a humanitarian emergency that requires securing and upholding the rights of the Rohingya people. Everyone agrees on the need for a sustainable resolution to this crisis, but this resolution must prioritise the rights, dignity, and welfare of the Rohingyas, rather than treating them as a problem to be solved
Minister of Home Affairs, Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, communicated to the press that efforts were being made to prevent groups such as ARSA, RSO and Arakan Army from entering the Rohingya camps. He suggested that a joint operation by the Bangladesh Army may be necessary and that Border Guards were being instructed to stay on alert to prevent Myanmar citizens from entering Bangladesh. He seemed intent on painting a picture of Bangladesh having no connections with these groups. However, one might wish to take his statements with a healthy dose of skepticism.
A “flag meeting” took place between the border forces of Myanmar and Bangladesh (24-25th May), a regular event which at times has led to troubling results, such as the strategising of an assault on No Man's Land Rohingya encampment. It's crucial to note that Myanmar's BGP is marked by acts of genocidal violence, leading to international sanctions being levied against its officers. Even though it receives full honours from the Bangladesh Border Guard, ceremonial accolades cannot absolve it of serious human rights violations.
And very, very finally
The Rohingya refugees at the Shalbagan community centre were direct and clear in conveying their desires to the junta representatives. They openly expressed their demands for citizenship, criticised the controversial NVC (National Verification Card), emphasised the importance of safety and security, and stressed the need for a return to their original villages. Additionally, banners displaying a concise set of demands emerged outside, beyond the scrutiny of the NSI and Bangladeshi authorities, as depicted below, reinforcing their stance.
The demands, succinctly outlined, were as follows:
National ID and Citizenship Rights
Restoration of their original homeland and properties
Rights to livelihood and freedom of movement
Ensuring adequate security measures
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