Rohingya refugee camp quiet after Bangladesh postpone return

Rohingya refugee camp quiet after Bangladesh postpone return
COX S BAZAR, Bangladesh -- Normal life returned to a Rohingya Muslim refugee camp in Bangladesh on Friday a day after government officials postponed plans to begin repatriating residents to Myanmar when no one volunteered to go.

The checkpoints at the entrance to Unchiprang, one of the refugee camps near the city of Cox s Bazar, were temporarily left unguarded on Friday morning -- a sign of easing tensions -- as about 500 people crowded into a mosque for Friday prayers.

One of the imams, Abdul Hakim, told the devotees that the government could not force Rohingya to go back without Myanmar guaranteeing them protection and civil rights, to which they raised their hands and replied, "Amen."

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar s Rakhine state since August 2017 to escape killings and destruction of their villages by the military and Buddhist vigilantes that have drawn widespread condemnation of Myanmar.

Bangladesh s refugee commission had planned to begin a voluntary repatriation process under a United Nations-brokered deal with Myanmar by escorting about 150 refugees across the border on Thursday.

But some people on the repatriation list left their shanties and disappeared into other camps to avoid being sent home.

After a demonstration involving about 1,000 Rohingya broke out at Unchiprang, Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam said plans had been shelved because no refugees were willing to return.

Kalam did not immediately return calls and messages on Friday, and it was unclear when the process would begin again.

Nabi Hossain, 45, left his shanty at Unchiprang camp late Wednesday with his wife, Jamila Begum, and six other family members after noticing extra security at the camp.

"We heard they will come and take us. We were in a panic," Hossain said, adding that the family slept outside and didn t eat much because they didn t want a cooking fire to attract attention.

They returned Thursday after hearing about the protest.

"If they allow us to have our rights, our citizenship, we want to go. But if we are forced, if our rights are not given, it is better to crush us under the wheels of cars or be thrown in a river," Hossain said.

Not everyone who fled Unchiprang has returned.

Johara, 30, a mother of four, said her husband left five days ago with their 6-year-old daughter, who was traumatized after witnessing Myanmar soldiers ransack her home village.

"My daughter is terrified. She told her father to take her with him," she said.

Johara, who goes by one name, said her husband left to find his parents at another camp after she gave an interview to aid workers, and the family found out they were on the government s repatriation list.

While Johara waited for her husband and daughter to return, activity at Unchiprang returned to normal, with little sign of the aid workers, journalists or government officials who had swarmed the camp earlier in the week.

Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox s Bazar, in Bangladesh, on Nov. 15, 2018. (Dar Yasin / AP)
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