Thousands of angry and frustrated Rohingya refugees marked the second anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar into Bangladesh on Sunday by demanding their citizenship and other rights in the country they fled from.
The event came days after Bangladesh with the help of the U.N. refugee agency attempted to start the repatriation of 3,450 Rohingya Muslims but none agreed to go back voluntarily. Myanmar had scheduled Aug. 22 for the beginning of the process but it failed for a second time after the first attempt last November.
The repatriation deal is based on an understanding that the return has to be "safe, dignified and voluntary." The refugees also insisted on receiving Myanmar citizenship and other rights, which the Buddhist-majority nation has refused to grant so far.
More than 1 million Rohingya live in Bangladesh.
On Sunday morning, more than 3,000 gathered at a playground in Kutupalong camp. Some carried placards and banners reading "Never Again! Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day," and "Restore our citizenship."
A prayer session was scheduled for the victims of the killings, rape and arson attacks by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist militias. Security was tight in the camps despite the Rohingya groups' pledge that they would protest peacefully.
Muhib Ullah, one of the organizers, said they planned a massive rally later Sunday when tens of thousands of refugees are expected to join.
"We want to tell the world that we want our rights back, we want citizenship, we want our homes and land back," he said. "Myanmar is our country. We are Rohingya."
Myanmar has consistently denied human rights violations and says military operations in Rakhine state, where most of the Rohingya fled from, were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
A U.N.-established investigation last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar's top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the crackdown on the Rohingya. Myanmar dismissed the allegations.
On Thursday, the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released a new report concluding rapes of Rohingya by Myanmar's security forces were systemic and demonstrated the intent to commit genocide. The report said the discrimination Myanmar practiced against the Rohingya in peacetime aggravated the sexual violence toward them during times of conflict.
Fortify Rights, a human rights group that has documented abuses in Myanmar, called on the Myanmar government on Saturday to implement recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was appointed by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016 and led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The commission recommended that the government end enforced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohinya Muslims, ensure full humanitarian access, tackle Rohingya statelessness and "revisit" the 1982 Citizenship Law and punish perpetrators of abuses.
"Rather than deal with ongoing atrocities, the government tried to hide behind the Advisory Commission," said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of Fortify Rights. "The commission responded with concrete recommendations to end violations, and the government should act on them without delay. The government needs to urgently address the realities on the ground."