About a million Rohingya refugees stuck in Bangladesh marked three years since escaping from Myanmar, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing them to hold a day-long “silent protest” inside their flimsy bamboo shacks.
An August 2017 military operation – that has triggered genocide charges at the United Nations’s top court – drove 750,000 Rohingya out of Myanmar’s Rakhine state into neighbouring Bangladesh, to join 200,000 who fled earlier.
Three years later and with no work or decent education for their children, there is little prospect of a return to the country where members of the Muslim-majority Rohingya have long been treated as inferior intruders.
Myanmar’s military “killed more than 10,000 of our people. They carried out mass murders and rapes and drove our people from their home”, Mohib Ullah, a Rohingya leader in the camps, told AFP.
For the second anniversary last year, Ullah led a rally of about 200,000 protesters at Kutupalong, the largest of the network of camps in southeast Bangladesh, where 600,000 people live in cramped and unsanitary conditions.
But the Bangladeshi authorities, increasingly impatient with the Rohingya, and who a year ago cut internet access in the camps, have banned gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The sprawling camps have been cut off from the rest of Bangladesh, with the military erecting barbed-wire fences around the perimeters. Inside, movement has been restricted.
Fears the deadly virus could spread like wildfire – because physical distancing is almost impossible – have not been borne out, with just 84 coronavirus infections and six related deaths confirmed.