One day ahead of World Refugee Day, 20 June, Rohingya refugees in 29 Ukhiya and Teknaf camps held "Let's Go Home" rallies with 19 points of demands, including their speedy and dignified repatriation to Myanmar and the involvement of international organisations in the repatriation.
Starting 11 am on Sunday, 500-1,000 Rohingyas came out from each camp and stood at various points with placards, banners, and festoons written in several languages to convey their messages to the international communities.
Their demands include rapid repatriation to their home country of Myanmar as full citizens, amendment of the Citizenship Act-1982, the inclusion of the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, ASEAN, and other international communities in the repatriation process, repatriation to their respective villages in Myanmar, ensuring their rights, dignity and safety in Myanmar, and stopping the persecution of the innocent people of Myanmar.
The rallies were held under the banner of "Persecuted Rohingya community". Seeking anonymity a Rohingya said the rallies were planned and implemented by the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights.
The placards and banners had photos of Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar five years ago. The slogans were written in English, Burmese, and Rohingya languages. Rohingya leaders and camp managers also gave their speeches in English, Burmese and Rohingya languages.
One such banner read, "We are Rohingyas of the Arakan state of Myanmar. We have been staying as refugees in Bangladesh for many years. So far, Myanmar has not taken any initiative to take us back. So, we have to build our future. Let's go back home."
Centring the rallies, a lot law enforcement were deployed but they did not hinder the rallies in any way.
Widow Rabeya Khatun who participated in the rally, said, "We're fine here. We are grateful to Bangladesh and the people of this country. Yet, we always crave going back to our land. We want to go back to our motherland soon."
Another participant, Rashidul Haque, 58, said, "Rohingya leader Mohammad Mohib Ullah was active in our repatriation. He declared the 'Let's go home' programme three months before he was assassinated."
Chief community leader of Ukhiya's Balukhali-8 camp, Mohammad Akkas, said the "Let's go home" programme wasen organised to draw the attention of the international community to put pressure on the junta government of Myanmar for Rohingya repatriation.
Although the rallies took place in 29 camps at a time, no untoward incident took place anywhere. Law enforcement was present to control the situation.
Armed Police Battalion-8 Deputy Chief, Khandoker Ashfakuzzaman, said Rohingyas from 27 camps in Ukhiya and two camps from Teknaf took part in the rallies. Since last week, many small groups were conducting campaigns in favour of the rallies at various educational institutions, shops, alleys and houses, under the direction of camp community leaders.
He also said most rally participants were educated youths who also distributed leaflets with 7-point demands in the camps.
Regarding the campaign on Sunday, Additional Commissioner for Refugees, Relief and
Repatriation, Mohammad Samsuddauja, said, " The Rohingyas want to return to their homeland, to tell the world about their rights. We did not interfere in their peaceful rallies."
Armed Police Battalion-8 Deputy Chief, Khandoker Ashfakuzzaman, said the Rohingyas took permission from the police for their rallies and gatherings. Policemen conducted extensive drives in camps on Saturday night to preempt any untoward incident on Sunday.
According to the latest data from the Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Office, about 8.9 lakh Rohingyas live in 34 Rohingya camps. However, the total number of Rohingyas living in Bangladesh is 11 lakh.