The world has not forgotten the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh after fleeing “unimaginable horrors” in Myanmar, the president of the U.N. General Assembly said Wednesday as he visited refugee camps in the South Asian country.
Still, the ultimate goal is the repatriation of the Rohingya to their homeland, said General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir, who traveled to southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, where almost 1 million Rohingya refugees are sheltering.
“The General Assembly has not forgotten about the Rohingya people,” Bozkir said via Twitter after meeting with refugees at camps in Cox’s Bazar.
“Right now, there is no defined path for the future, for a permanent home. Voluntary, dignified and safe return is the ultimate goal. … I assure you, the United Nations General Assembly is determined to ensure a better future for the Rohingya people.”
In 2018, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres was the last senior U.N. official to visit the sprawling camps along Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
On the second day of his two-day trip to Bangladesh, Bozkir met with 40 Rohingya leaders, Mohammad Shamsuddoha, an official with Bangladesh’s Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner’s office, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
The Rohingya urged Bozkir to put pressure on Myanmar to grant them citizenship so they can return safely to their homes in Rakhine state, from where they fled after a brutal crackdown by the Burmese military in 2017.
Mahmudullah, a Rohingya who participated in the meeting with Bozkir, said leaders told the senior U.N. official that the refugees would go back to Myanmar only after getting an assurance of their safety from the United Nations.
“We told him [the General Assembly president] that we want to go back to our homeland with citizenship, rights and respect,” Mahmudullah told BenarNews.
Afroza Khanom, who participated in the meeting as a representative for women refugees, said she told Bozkir that any negotiated return must be for the long term.
“I came to Bangladesh as a refugee three times in my life. I am not willing to come here again in the future. That’s why I urged the United Nations for a sustainable repatriation for us,” Khanom told BenarNews.
‘Cannot be optimistic about his assurances’
For his part, Bozkir said that meeting with the refugees was “an immense privilege.”
“I came face to face with resilience today in Cox’s Bazar. We often speak about the Rohingya in the UNGA – but today I spoke with them,” Bozkir said.
“The Rohingya people living here in Cox’s Bazar have survived unimaginable horrors and persecution. They undertook treacherous journeys to reach safety – last year alone 200 lost their lives at sea.”
In the capital Dhaka on Tuesday, Bozkir met with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who expressed concern about how the Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar and its aftermath had affected the prospect of repatriating the Rohingya.
After all, in 2017, it was the Myanmar military – under the leadership of the current junta chief, Min Aung Hlaing – that launched an offensive against the Rohingya, which the U.N. later described as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The military being in power has made the situation even more precarious in Myanmar for the Rohingya, the Burmese Rohingya Organization U.K., said this week.
“[A]buse, extortion and humiliation of Rohingya continue on a daily basis,” the U.K. group said in a statement.
One analyst said that the visit by the General Assembly president to the refugee camps sends a strong signal to the world about the magnitude of the problems the Rohingya face, but not much else.
“The issue will be discussed in the global media and forums, as he [Bozkir] has brought it to the attention of the international community again, after it was overshadowed because of COVID-19,” Md. Rafiqul Islam, a professor of peace and conflict studies at Dhaka University, told BenarNews.
“But I cannot be optimistic about his assurances, because they [the U.N.] could not do anything when Myanmar was forcing the Rohingya people to leave the country by killing them, and looting and torching their houses.”
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