Hindu refugees ready to return to Myanmar

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Hindu refugees in Bangladeshi camps want a timely restart to a stalled repatriation program so they can return to their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Hla Tun, a Hindu community leader in Yangon, to ucanews.com that Hindu refugees are ready to return even if Bangladesh wanted to send them back today. “The food and living conditions in the Bangladeshi camps is not good for [Hindu refugees],” Hla Tun told ucanews.com. Kyaw Min, a chairman of a Yangon-based Rohingya political party, said Hindu refugees consider living conditions in Rakhine State much better than staying in camps.

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A Hindu refugee with her newborn waits inside her camp at Kutupalong refugee camp on Nov. 15, 2018. (Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP)

“For Hindus, they don’t face any discrimination and oppression in Rakhine. They are treated like citizens of the country,” Kyaw Min told ucanews.com. The Bangladeshi and Myanmar governments had agreed to repatriate the first batch of refugees on Nov. 15 but the plan was stalled amid safety concerns from Rohingya refugees, rights groups and aid agencies. More recently, officials from both countries discussed restarting the repatriation plan and Myanmar has given a verified list of 603 people to Bangladesh. “Myanmar is ready to cooperate with the Bangladesh government for the repatriation of refugees, including Hindus, and we are hoping Bangladesh will continue to implement it according to our agreement and terms,” Myanmar’s foreign ministry said in a statement. Ni Maw, a Hindu community leader in Maungdaw, northern Rakhine, said he is in regular contact with about 440 Hindu refugees who are ready to come back to their homes in Myanmar. “We are yet to be informed about developments on how the repatriation will be done but it mainly depends on the Bangladesh government’s willingness,” said Ni Maw.

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Hindu refugee girl from Rakhine in Myanmar cleaning a temple at a refugee camp near Bangladesh’s Kutupalong.

At least 3,000 of an estimated 8,000 Hindus living in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Sittwe fled the region after the Myanmar military conducted a military crackdown in August 2017. Some of the Hindus were internally displaced while others crossed over to neighboring Bangladesh. The military’s action was a response to Rohingya militant attacks on security posts on Aug. 25, 2017. It also resulted in 700,000 plus Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.

The violence in Rakhine State affected thousands of Hindus. Myanmar’s military reportedly found two mass graves of Hindus in Rakhine and blamed the killings on militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Amnesty International published a report on May 22 last year saying that ARSA killed 53 members of a Hindu community in Kha Maung Seik village and another 46 Hindus from Ye Bauk Kyar village in August 2017.

There are 9,791 Hindus out of the population of 2 million in Rakhine State. They make up only 0.5 percent of Myanmar’s population. Buddhists account for 89 percent and Muslims make up 4.3 percent, according to the 2014 census.