By Tarek Mahmud / Dhaka Tribune
Myanmar Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Maj Gen Aung Soe made veiled threats while visiting the Tambru border area on Friday
Claiming jurisdiction over the no man’s land along Bangladesh border, officials of the Myanmar government has asked Rohingya refugees staying in the area to return to their homeland on terms and conditions put forward by Naypyidaw.
Sounding a note of warning, the government officials also said hundreds of Rohingyas would be in trouble if they chose to reject this proposal.
A Myanmar government delegation, led by Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Maj Gen Aung Soe, made the announcement while visiting the Tambru border area on Friday.
Myanmar Army and the Border Guard Police (BGP) personnel served as the delegation’s security detail.
Soe made the announcement in his native Burmese language, but it was translated into the Rohingya dialect by an interpreter on the spot. Rohingyas present in the area during Soe’s visit managed to capture a video of his speech.
In the video, which has already gone viral on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, Maj Gen Soe was seen giving his speech standing on Myanmar soil, towards Rohingya people who were standing on the other side of the border fence.
Translating Soe’s speech, his interpreter said: “The Myanmar government will take responsibility for the Rohingya people, if they return to their homeland in Rakhine following the government rules and regulations.
“If the Rohingyas refuse the proposal that was put forth by the Myanmar government through this delegation, it will not bode well for the Rohingyas living in the no man’s land. The visiting delegation will wait for the Rohingya people’s opinion on this matter.”
Through the interpreter, the Myanmar deputy home minister further said: “The entire area [the no man’s land] will be possessed by Myanmar government according to its laws, as this area is under the jurisdiction of the Myanmar government.”
Questioning Myanmar’s intentions
Anwar S Mohammed, who identified himself as a Malaysia-based freelance writer, translator and reporter focusing on Rakhine issues, uploaded the video on Facebook on Friday.
Anwar also posed a question in his Facebook post: “If the Rohingya are not from Myanmar, why did the Myanmar forces go to the no man’s land bordering with Bangladesh, persuading them to return home?
“Also, why did they [the Myanmar government] threaten the Rohingya refugees reluctant to return to their homeland, by falsely claiming that the area [no man’s land] is under Myanmar jurisdiction?”
The post has garnered thousands of views so far and has also been shared on Twitter.
The Myanmar proposal
More than 6,500 Rohingyas are living in the Tambru border region since August 25, 2017, which is separated from Bangladesh by a thin canal adjacent to Naikkhyangchhari region near Gundhum border in Bandarban district.
Displaced Rohingya people from the villages of Tambru, Medipara, Raimongkhali, Deybuinna, Laipuiya, Ponduiya, Khuyangcipong and Panirchora under Maungdaw township are currently staying in the area.
“Almost everyone in the Tambru makeshift camp would refuse the offer, because if we go back, the Myanmar government will not recognize us as Rohingya ethnic community,” said an aged Rohingya man named Mohammad Siddique, native of Deinglla village in Maungdaw.
Kawsar, who is from Panirchara village, said: “We did not come to stay here forever. We will return to our country if the Myanmar government agrees to give us Rohingya status.”
Meanwhile, a local Rohingya leader named Dil Mohammad stated: “After repeated intimidatory behaviour, such as firing guns into the air to scare the Rohingyas staying in the no man’s land, the Myanmar government is now threatening us to leave this place.”
Expressing worry, the Rohingya man told the Dhaka Tribune: “The Bangladesh government has taken all our information for sending us to Rohingya camps in Ukhiya. But we have yet to see any progress.”
Dil Mohammad almost broke in tears while describing his precarious situation.
“Helicopters belonging to Myanmar used to fly at daytime, aiming guns at our makeshift shelters. Myanmar Army personnel also patrol the other side of the border fence with arms,” a Rohingya woman named Julekha Khatun told this correspondent.
She added: “The Myanmar Army, BGP and civil administration officials come every day and threaten us to leave the no man’s land. They forced us to leave our country, and now they are trying to get us out from the no man’s land. Where will we go?”
Rohingya refugees living in the area also complained that the Myanmar Army was planting land mines along the border, and is threatening any Rohingyas they come across on the other side of the barbed-wire fence.
This kind of behaviour makes it very difficult for the Rohingyas to trust the words of the Myanmar government, they said.
People without a country
Subedar Abdul Hakim, in-charge of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB)’s local camp, said: “Crossing the Myanmar border, the Rohingya people, mostly women and children from 15 villages in Maungdaw, have built makeshift shelters on the no man’s land.”
The Bangladesh government’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC) stated that more than 689,360 Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh from August 25, 2017 till February 10, 2018.
The Rohingya mass exodus was triggered by a brutal military campaign perpetrated by the Myanmar Army and local Moghs. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees are currently living in the two upazilas of Cox’s Bazar.
Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingyas as citizens and force many of them to live in squalid camps in apartheid-like condition. Dhaka and Naypyidaw have signed an agreement to send the Rohingyas back to their homeland.
After signing a bilateral deal in November 2017, the repatriation was scheduled to begin last month, but it got delayed.