Myanmar (MNN) — Myanmar and Bangladesh officials have been discussing the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar within the next two years. Plans to begin sending refugees back were set for January 23, but have been delayed as Bangladesh officials questioned the safety of those who would return and if they were returning voluntarily.
And they’re not the only ones. Other officials and leaders have raised concerns as well.
Concerns about Safety for Rohingyas Returning
Asian Access’s Pastor Peter* has been in contact with Christian workers supporting and encouraging those in refugee camps in Bangladesh. After speaking with them, he says it’s difficult to know if the Rohingya people will be safe should they return anytime soon.
There is still the question that hangs in the air: Will Myanmar forces abstain from violent attacks and other forms of oppression if the Rohingyas return?
UNICEF deputy executive director Justin Forsyth has also commented on the safety of the people. He recently visited refugee camps and said while people hope to return to their villages eventually, they don’t want to go right now.
“This moment is not safe to go back,” Forsyth said. “We have to improve the security situation inside Myanmar to send them back.”
Yet, even if officials give the ‘greenlight’ for the Rohingya to begin returning, many no longer have documentation after fleeing the massacre by Myanmar forces.
Joe Handley, President of Asian Access shared in an email, “As they tried to return, they found out that the Myanmar government had taken their papers when they left so they couldn’t prove they had resident status in Myanmar.”
Now without documentation, many Rohingya no longer have legal status to return and are stuck in refugee camps. Without proper documentation, it’s almost like they never existed.
“They are so much [worried] about the documents,” Pastor Peter says. “And they said that in order to have a document, they have to pay money. One person has to pay 70,000 Kyat.”
70,000 Kyat is equal to about $53 USD. And with the majority of the Rohingya people being impoverished, $53 is an extreme sum that they cannot afford for one person, much less a family.
“Those who do not have the document, they have to make a new [one]. So, these things are going on there, and I’m afraid that many may not be able to come back to Myanmar,” Pastor Peter says.
The Washington Post reports this isn’t the first time these people have been repatriated. For some, this would be their third time doing so because they’ve fled strikes of violence only to later return to Myanmar.
Why return at all? Despite the violence, the Rohingya refugees still see Myanmar as their home and love their country.
An Oppressed People
More than 680,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar since the attack in Rakhine state in August and more continue to leave the country.
Why are the people so persecuted?
Most of the Rohingya are Muslims, making them a minority in Myanmar – a Buddhist dominate nation. Because of this, they have been oppressed for decades and even denied citizenship by the Myanmar government who claims the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. This denial of citizenship has left the people stateless.
On top of being denied citizenship, they have also been segregated in communities and had restricted access to jobs, schools, and healthcare.
However, amongst this denial and repression the Rohingya have faced, Asian Access has been ministering to them, loving them, and training them in job and life skills.
Loving the Oppressed
For the last twelve years, Pastor Peter has been working with the Rohingya people. He and other Christian workers have been equipped by Asian Access to teach the people how to sow seeds and grow their own food, tailor clothes, construct buildings, and create jobs. Asian Access even purchased rickshaws for the people to use as a way to earn money by providing transportation services.
“We also help their students. We give them schools there, we support children and then give them uniforms and books,” Pastor Peter says.
Each project has centered around how the Rohingya could build a livelihood for themselves and their families despite the government’s restrictions. And through it all, Asian Access workers have been ministering to them and treating them with love.
In 2006, the Christian workers and some Rohingyas constructed a building. After, they lived in it together, creating relationships and having fellowship. Pastor Peter said he and the Christian workers made time to disciple the people, share their testimonies about Jesus, and show just how loved the Rohingya people really are.
“When we asked them, will you come, do you want to become Christians, they said that, ‘after seeing you living together, we live together… You love us so much. In other places, we are treated like animal, and we are treated like slaves, and then poorly they speak to us. You are quite different. So, we want to become like you,’ they said. ‘We want to become Christians.’”
Pastor Peter and other Christian workers have helped lead 700 Rohingya to Christ over the last 12 years. The people have told him that whatever the cost, they want to bury their sins and choose Jesus as their savior. Many have even been baptized.
After the Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in August, Christian workers equipped by Asian Access have continued encouraging and ministering to the people. As a result, they have seen 300 more Rohingyas become believers.
Still, the Rohingya remain unsettled. They don’t know when or if they’ll be moving back to Myanmar.
Yet during this crisis, Asian Access continues to create life and job developing projects both in Bangladesh for those who have fled, and in Myanmar for those who remain. Just as Pastor Peter helped the Rohingya learn valuable skills, Asian Access workers see a vision to help now more than ever.
However, these projects total about $100,000 and your support is vital.
Asian Access invites you to support the growing projects that will enable Rohingyas to build a better future and will minister and encourage them. Your financial support will help Asian Access to equip Christian leaders like Pastor Peter so they can reach these oppressed people. It also helps them to be prepared for what is happening now and for possible future situations like this.
Finally, pray for the Rohingya. Asian Access’s Dan Brown says, “Pray for the Rohingya on the Bangladesh side and also the Myanmar side, the ones who are still here facing the persecution, and not being able to return home because of the documents of papers, the loss of life. Pray for the believers there to be strengthened and encouraged, and that they would be able to strengthen and encourage those in their communities around them.”
* Name changed for security purposes