By Md. Kamruzzaman
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) - Abdur Rahim, 57, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh, vividly remembers the treacherous journey through steep hills and thick forests he made on foot to flee persecution in Myanmar two years ago.
It took 14 days, and along the way he lost 20 companions.
“I along with my wife and four children started our journey on Aug. 26  and reached Bangladesh on Sept. 8,” Rahim told Anadolu Agency.
The Rohingya diaspora is observing Genocidal Remembrance Day on Sunday to mark two years since the beginning of a brutal crackdown on them by Myanmar authorities.
“My 11-year-old niece, Adiba, was shot dead on Aug. 25 in front of my own eyes, and hundreds of women and young girls were gang raped and killed in my village and neighboring areas.”
“We were astonished. What happened suddenly? What went wrong? We had no option but to leave our homeland where I had a two-story house, 20 acres of cropland, and a job at a high school,” Rahim said.
More than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community on Aug. 25, 2017, according to Amnesty International.
During the crackdown, some 18,000 Rohingya women and young girls were raped by Myanmar security forces, 24,000 Rohingya were killed, and 115,000 of their homes were burned down, the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA) reported.
Prize-winning Rohingya rights activist Razia Sultana called what was happening in Myanmar “a genocide against Rohingya Muslims.”
“Thousands of people were killed, many villages were burned to the ground, thousands of women were gang raped, and hundreds of people -- including the elderly, women, and children -- were thrown into fires, pushing the greater part of the community to leave their motherland. What should we define it as, if not genocide?” Sultana added.
Myanmar's government refuses to grant citizenship to the Rohingya, calling them “Bengali.” Bangladesh hosts more than a million Rohingya refugees but denies them citizenship, saying they should return to their homeland once the situation is safe and secure.
Meanwhile, several initiatives to repatriate Rohingya people to Myanmar have failed as the persecuted people refused to return without full citizenship rights, resettlement in the same place in Myanmar's Rakhine state from where they fled the August 2017 crackdown, as well as safety guarantees with the presence of the international community.
Sultana said the Rohingya must return to their homeland as the life they are now leading in crammed refugee camps in Bangladesh is not at all the life of a human being.
“There are severe crises of food, clothes, medicine, and living condition in the camps. But how can we rely on Myanmar authorities, as they are still denying the involvement of army in atrocities against the Rohingya community?” she said.
- Safe return
Md Abul Kalam, the head of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, told Anadolu Agency that the safe return of Rohingya refugees to their homeland is the only solution to the crisis.
“As citizens of Myanmar, all fundamental rights have to be ensured for sustainable repatriation,” he said.
The Rohingya refugees dream of the day they will return to their homes.
“We want to forget that nightmare, we want to go back home, we want peace,” said Habiba Khatun, a Rohingya refugee and mother of four children.