Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees fled their homes in Myanmar for Bangladesh last August, following brutal attacks by the military against the minority group’s villages in the Rakhine state. After spending months living in limbo in Bangladesh refugee camps, the Myanmar government claims they can come back, but they’re facing an uncertain future, not to mention monsoons that are approaching their camps.
The Muslim Rohingya have faced persecution from the majority-Buddhist Myanmar government since the 1970s, but the recent exodus occurred, as the Council on Foreign Relations explains, “after a militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for attacks on police and army posts.”
As the Bangkok Post reported on May 5, Myanmar and Bangladesh had agreed to repatriate the refugees, but given the violence the Rohingya faced simply for their religious beliefs, they’re hesitant to return without a guarantee of safety.
Myanmar’s Gen. Min Aung Hlaing told a visiting U.N. Security Council delegation that the refugees would be safe, “if they stay in the areas designated for them.” His comments renewed fears that the returning Rohingya would be forced to stay indefinitely in the model villages built for them, and continue to face a level of violence the U.N. equates with ethnic cleansing.
He also referred to the Rohingya as Bengali, which as the Bangkok Post explains, reflects “a widespread belief in Myanmar that the Rohingya are immigrants from Bangladesh despite a longstanding presence in Rakhine.”
Not that the conditions in the Bangladeshi camps are much better. As filmmaker and human rights activist Jeanne Hallacy explained in an interview with Consortium News: “… when you walked around the camp, all of the adults had this deep sense of suffering and trauma because they had experienced such heinous human rights abuses before they fled. It was unlike any refugee camp I have ever seen in my work as a journalist.”
Now, the remaining inhabitants of these refugee camps are stuck between two equally terrifying alternatives: taking the Myanmar government’s word that they’ll be safe in the new refugee camps, or waiting for the monsoon season, which is quickly approaching the camps in Bangladesh, to pass. The Guardian reports that “As many as 200,000 refugees are estimated to be at direct risk from landslides or floods and require urgent evacuation, separate assessments by the Bangladesh government and aid groups have concluded.”
They’ve escaped ethnic cleansing, only to face the hardships of refugee life, monsoons and an uncertain future at home.