"I wanted to experience this inhumanity myself," says IIK e.V. board member Sharaf Ahmed, the head of the Bangladesh working group. Born in Bengal, he came to Germany as a refugee himself, and out of his own concern he visited the refugee camps of the Rohingya people displaced from Myanmar in his old homeland of Bangladesh in early 2018. The freelance journalist and hobby photographer Sharaf Ahmed captured the situation of the refugees in impressive pictures. These were shown for the first time at the end of September 2018 as part of a charity event in the Hanoverian Christ Church.
The expulsion of the Rohingya – a genocide?
The expulsion of the Rohingya from Myanmar, the former Burma, began decades ago. The peak came in August 2017, when the military began to drive the ethnic group massively out of the ancestral villages in the Rakhaing region (formerly Arakan). Looting, arson, rape, hundreds of thousands of people rescued themselves in the neighbouring Bangledesch, human rights activists speak of genocide.
Not so the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and, until recently, Myanmar's de facto head of government, Aung San Suu Kyi. In December 2019, it rejected the accusations of genocide against the Rohingya minority in her homeland before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. "We are dealing with an internal armed conflict started by the Rohingya army," Kyi said at the time. This conflict has tragically led to the exodus of thousands of people.
Return to Myanmar instead of "island prison" in Bangladesh?
Now the Rohingya are to be resettled again. The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) and the European Rohingya Council (ERC) are calling for an immediate halt to the resettlement of Rohingya from refugee camps in Cox's Bazar district to Bhasan Char in early December 2020. The Government of Bangladesh must immediately stop the movement of people from Myanmar to the isolated and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal. Human rights organizations call for the international community to support Bangladesh in the care of refugees. Pressure is needed on the Myanmar government to allow the return of the refugees.
"Human rights observers on the ground speak of worrying signs of coercion and false promises by the authorities in Cox's Bazaar to convince people of the resettlement," reports the STP's representative Jasna Causevic. Refugees in Cox's Bazaar would be persuaded to agree to resettlement through propaganda or targeted intimidation. For example, the "volunteers" are promised to return or emigrate from the island more quickly to Myanmar or to third countries. "The EU and Germany are called upon to do everything in their power to enforce the return of refugees to their hometowns in Myanmar," reads a press release from the GfbV on 6 December 2020.
Obstructed return perspective after the military coup
Sharaf Ahmad, a school administrator, does not believe the Rohingya will return to Myanmar. Governments had been negotiating it unsuccessfully for a long time. China, which is building a large oil port in the former Rohingya area, has repeatedly vetoed it: "They do not respect human rights and democracy!" The situation had become even more difficult after the military coup of 1 February 2021. Aung San Suu Kyi has been deposed and imprisoned, more than 100 protesters have already shot the soldiers on the streets of the country, there is no place for the suffering of the Rohingya.
"Basan Char is a good solution for the Rohingya," says Sharaf Ahmed. He sees it differently from what is portrayed in the German media. There are currently 34 refugee camps in Bangladesh with a share of more than 40% minors, and despite the best efforts of foreign aid organisations, the situation of the refugees there is pitiful. "A big problem is also drug trafficking," he says. The addiction to "Yaba" tablets is widespread. In addition, deforestation and the monsoon have rendered existing refugee camps uninhabitable. On the hitherto uninhabited island of Basan Char, the government had built new settlements, which were also positively assessed by UN commissioners and ambassadors. Perhaps this will be a new home for many Rohingya.