The rallies, which took place after the weekly Muslim congregational Jumah — or Friday prayer — continued even as it rained heavily in the area.
“Coincidentally, it had also been raining on the day when we were fleeing home,” Mohammed Rezuwan Khan, a Rohingya community leader in Cox’s Bazar, told VOA by telephone.
Six years ago, almost 740,000 of the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority — many of them children and young people — fled to Bangladesh in search of refuge, after a brutal crackdown by armed Myanmar forces. These refugees would join around 200,000 other Rohingyas who had already escaped to Bangladesh.
As Rohingyas prepared to mark the anniversary, rights groups and international organizations also voiced their concern and frustration with the situation.
Human Rights Watch said in an Aug. 20 statement that the United Nations Security Council had “failed” to hold Myanmar’s generals accountable for “crimes against humanity” and “genocide against the Rohingya.”
Shayna Bauchner, a Human Rights Watch Asia researcher, said in the statement, “Instead of addressing these issues head on, the U.N. Security Council inaction and government aid cutbacks are leaving Rohingya in even more desperate straits.”
Save the Children said in a press statement Aug. 24 that the over half a million young people in Cox’s Bazar camps receive “one-third less food than they did five months ago” due to recent cuts in food aid.
UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, issued a statement on Aug. 22 appealing for sustained support for Rohingya refugees.
The UNHCR report, which was issued from Dhaka, highlighted issues such as malnutrition, child marriage, child labor and gender-based violence plaguing the Rohingya camps.
“A dignified and sustainable return to Myanmar remains the primary solution to this crisis,” the UNHCR statement said.
Rohingya leader Khan told VOA that many Rohingyas, including himself, are willing to go back to Myanmar, “but it is likely not going to happen anytime soon.”
“Living in these uncertain conditions is so hard for us,” he said.
Around 1 million Rohingya refugees live in the overcrowded, violent and ramshackle camps in Cox’s Bazar, with few amenities and no opportunity for legal employment.
In a speech at a rally Friday, Maung Sawyeddollah, founder of the Rohingya Students Network, said that the day was a reminder of the atrocities that have scarred the Rohingyas’ lives and an opportunity to convey their disappointment to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court over delayed justice.
In 2019, Gambia filed a genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice. In the same year, the International Criminal Court authorized an investigation into the alleged genocide by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya.
In a WhatsApp interview with VOA, Sawyeddollah called on the outside world “to provide the Rohingya refugees with the necessary tools to rebuild our lives.”
One 12-year-old Rohingya boy who took part in the Friday rallies told VOA that conditions in the camps would cost residents’ their lives.
He said what is needed is “a safer and more tranquil environment for us, where we don’t have to live every day in the fear of dying in the crossfire.”
Refugees International said in an Aug. 24 statement that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh risk arbitrary detention or coerced return to the “genocidal authorities” from which they fled six years ago.
“They also face rising insecurity at the hands of criminal and extremist groups in the camps,” the statement said.
According to a January UNHCR report, last year alone, over 3,500 Rohingya refugees risked their lives for treacherous sea crossings to countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Most were fleeing Bangladesh or Myanmar.
Since then, at least 348 Rohingya have died or gone missing at sea, the report said.
John Quinley, director at Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia-based nonprofit organization, told VOA that the Myanmar military is still brutalizing the Rohingya population in many ways, including the ongoing persecution against them in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“The Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh deserve rights,” he said. “The Bangladesh authorities should allow them freedom of movement and provide access to formal education and work for the refugees.”
Noor Islam, a 50-year-old Rohingya refugee who was present at one of the Cox’s Bazar rallies, told VOA that he does not want to die in Bangladesh.
“I want my last breath to be in Myanmar. Hope is home,” he said over the phone.
In a joint statement on Friday, 18 Rohingya organizations said that it is the “moral obligation” of U.N. bodies and member states to pressure the Myanmar military to end the genocide against the Rohingya and ensure that their rights are respected.