OIC Chief Visits Rohingya Refugees in Southeast Bangladesh

Jesmin Papri and Abdur Rahman
Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
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170804_OIC_SG_620.jpg Accompanied by Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner Ali Hossain (second from left), OIC Secretary-General Yousef bin Ahmad al-Othaimeen visits a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Aug. 4, 2017.
Abdur Rahman/BenarNews

The head of the Islamic world’s largest inter-governmental body Friday visited a refugee camp in southeastern Bangladesh and then promised to seek a permanent solution for the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims who have been forced to leave their country.

Yousef bin Ahmad al-Othaimeen, the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), visited Rohingya refugees at the Kutupalong shantytown in Cox’s Bazar district.

Cox’s Bazar is where tens of thousands of Rohingya fled from a military crackdown launched late last year in the neighboring Myanmar state of Rakhine, amid allegations of rapes and extrajudicial killings carried out by Burmese security forces.

“The OIC is cordially working to bring a permanent solution to resolve the crisis (of the Rohingya refugees) and vows to continue its campaign until a resolution to this end is found,” al-Othaimeen told reporters.

He reached the Rohingya camp around noon Friday, accompanied by Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner Ali Hossain. During his 90-minute visit, he listened to 17 shantytown residents who shared horrific accounts of excesses and abuse carried out by suspected Myanmar security forces in Rakhine.

“The OIC secretary-general was saddened by listening to the torture,” Hossain told BenarNews, referring to alleged rapes of Rohingya women. “He was very cordial in his vow to resolve the Rohingya problem.”

A Rohingya leader expressed hope that the crisis would be solved after meeting with al-Othaimeen.

“We have seen his love for us. He has assured us of resolving our problems. We believe him,” Abu Siddique, president of Kutupalong Rohingya shanty, told BenarNews.


Meetings with Bangladeshi leaders

On Thursday, the second day of the OIC chief’s four-day trip to Bangladesh – his first official visit there – he discussed the Rohingya issue in meetings with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, President M. Abdul Hamid, Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali and opposition leader Raushan Ershad.

During his meeting with President Hamid, al-Othaimeen also “denounced the menace of terrorism and extremism and said Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance has nothing to do with violence,” according to a press statement released by the 57-member OIC, whose headquarters is in Saudi Arabia.

Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation, has been contending with rising conservative Islamic sentiment and militant groups that have targeted secular writers, religious minorities and foreigners in acts of terrorism in recent years.

On the Rohingya question Hamid urged al-Othaimeen to press Myanmar to resolve the issue, according to local media reports.

Analysts said the OIC secretary-general’s visit of the refugee camp was a way to expose the Rohingya problem to the international community.

“The OIC’s initiative to resolve the Rohingya problem is praiseworthy. Bangladesh will have to play a proactive role to demonstrate that the Rohingya problem is merely not a problem of Bangladesh,” C.R. Abrar, a professor in charge of refugee research at the University of Dhaka, told BenarNews.

He said Bangladesh had failed to expose the severity of the Rohingya problem to the rest of the world.

The Bangladeshi government estimates that at least 400,000 Rohingya fled from Myanmar over the past decades. That number includes an estimated 75,000 who entered Bangladesh since October 2016 during the crackdown that followed the killings of nine border guards by suspected Rohingya militants in Rakhine.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has denied allegations that security forces targeted Rohingya women for rape and carried out extrajudicial killings against other members of the religious minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Myanmar attack

Meanwhile in Myanmar on Thursday, local authorities began searching for the killers of at least six members of a Buddhist ethnic minority in the Rakhine state, Reuters news agency reported.

The group – three men and three women who were members of the Mro minority – suffered gunshot and machete wounds after they apparently stumbled upon a Rohingya militant camp, officials said. Two other women were missing.

Authorities declined to identify any suspects, but described them as extremists.


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