By Muhammad Mussa
LONDON (AA) - Stressing the need for peace and security, a U.K. panel discussed the future of the persecuted Rohingya people in Bangladesh refugee camps after a stalled repatriation plan that would have allowed them to return to their homes in Myanmar.
“The Rohingya people who have been kicked out of their homes want to return to their homeland, they don’t want to remain trapped in a foreign land and they want to return back to peace and security,” said Abdullah Faliq, the CEO of the Justice For Rohingya Minority group, which organized Thursday’s event.
“Unless these two items, peace and security, are guaranteed, no one will return, this is why repatriation failed,” he added.
The panel of academics and activists also discussed the use of social media in Myanmar and how it aided the spread of anti-Rohingya and Islamophobic sentiments, the use of rape by Myanmar’s army as a tactic against the Rohingya, and what steps should come next to ensure the international community are aware of the genocide taking place.
“If the situation remains as it is, the refugees who are born and raised in the camps, what will they become?” asked Faliq. “One of the fears is that some will turn to extremism and means of desperation and that is something we don’t need right now, which is why JFRM is lobbying the government to help the Rohingya return home.”
He compared the Rohingya to Palestinian refugees who still have keys to their homes after being forced out more than 60 years ago. However, Faliq said that he has hope this won’t be the case with the Rohingya -- that through lobbying and campaigning, the Rohingya people will be able to return safely to their homes.
Ronan Lee, a former Australian MP, told the panel the importance of social media in Myanmar and how its mass dissemination of anti-Rohingya and ethno-nationalist rhetoric fueled Islamophobia among the public. Lee also alleged the government and the military are at the forefront of an anti-Rohingya social media campaign meant to turn public opinion against a people labelled as the world’s most oppressed ethnic group.
“Facebook and other messaging apps played a role in the violence in 2017” which drove out hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, Lee said, referring to the massacres of Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“You have people using Internet tools in Myanmar to spread discord, to spread anti-Muslim sentiment and particularly anti-Rohingya sentiment.”
The event also screened a short film “Mother, Daughter, Sister” on the horrific sexual violence committed by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya women. Survivors described in shocking detail how soldiers brutally tortured and raped them before burning down their homes and forcing them to flee, leaving them separated from their families, with many never seen again.
The panel also included Htike Hitke, a Rohingya humanitarian activist, Kyaw Win, founder of the Myanmar Human Rights Network, and Kim Knappett, joint president of the National Education Union, which trained teachers in Myanmar.
- Persecuted people
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after
Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience."
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.
The UN has also documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces.
In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.