Subash Rudra and others who belong to a tiny Hindu minority among the Rohingya refugee community sheltering in southeastern Bangladesh say they are waiting anxiously for official word on when they can return to their home villages in neighboring Myanmar.
Rudra, a father of eight children who is from Chikonchhari, a village in Maungdaw township in Rakhine state, is part of a Rohingya Hindu refugee community here that numbers around 439 people.
They live in a refugee camp built exclusively for Hindus along the Ukhia-Teknaf road in Cox’s Bazar district, and apart from thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees huddling at other camps and settlements across the area. Their camp is known in Bengali as “Hindupara,” which means “Hindu neighborhood” in English.
“We have come to know from the NGOs that Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal. If they want, we will go,” Rudra, 60, told BenarNews.
In November, Bangladesh and Myanmar officials agreed to repatriate about 700,000 Rohingya who fled violence in Rakhine state beginning in 2016.
The agreement called for repatriation to begin on Jan. 22, but Bangladesh has not completed preparing its first list of about 100,000 refugees for verification by the Myanmar government. Bangladesh officials have said the entire process could take up two years.
Rudra said he and other Hindus were forced to cross into Bangladesh when some “black-dressed masked men” stormed into Chikonchhari at the end of August 2017 and torched their houses.
In September 2017, Myanmar authorities said they had uncovered mass graves containing 45 bodies of Hindus thought to have been killed by Rohingya Muslim insurgents in Maungdaw.
At the time, Myanmar officials reported that a Hindu man from Yebaw Kya village in Maungdaw pointed out the sites, after fleeing to Bangladesh following deadly attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army rebels on police and border guards in northern Rakhine, on Aug. 25.
“Here, there is no violence. But we have no work. We cannot go outside camp and depend on relief. Every day we eat rice and pulses – no fish and no meat. This is boring. Here I wear torn clothes, but I am rich in Chikonchhari,” Rudra said.
When the violence started, one of his sons fled to India while two sons and three daughters accompanied him to Bangladesh. Two of his daughters stayed in Myanmar.
“We expected that we could go to Rakhine by the end of January. Now, nobody can say when we can leave. We are frustrated,” he said.
Other Rohingya Hindus at the camp expressed similar views.
“None of us want to stay here. We want to leave as soon as possible if there is a guarantee that we will not be tortured. We urge Bangladesh and Burma to take us back to our land,” Ratna Rudra, another refugee from Chikonchhari, told BenarNews.
A barbed-wire fence is being erected around the camp for Hindu refugees to protect its occupants, Md. Shamsud Douza, a deputy secretary of the commissioner’s office in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews.
“We have set up a police outpost to ensure their safety and security. They have been kept separate from the Muslim Rohingya refugees,” Douza said.