Rohingya Refugee Leaders in Bangladesh Call Work Strike Over ID Cards

By Muktadir Rashid   26 November 2018

DHAKA — The leaders of Rohingya refugee camps in the Ukhia region of Cox’s Bazar District in Bangladesh called a three-day work strike on Monday to pressure the UN’s refugee agency to include “Rohingya” on the ID cards it has been issuing them.

In a statement, they said it was crucial that they be identified as ethnic Rohingya on the cards because they were being persecuted in Myanmar precisely because of their ethnicity.

Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group and calls them Bengali, implying they are illegal migrants.

“This named [sic] is banned in Myanmar, but it should not be banned here.” the statement says.

“We are very worried about the bio-data that UNHCR wants to collect (finger prints, iris scans, properly documents). We believe UNHCR can share this data for repatriation with Myanmar government and the Myanmar government can use it for label us as ARSA member or as ‘Bengali foreigners’ like in the past, or to make trouble for our families,” it adds.

ARSA, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a militant armed group, launched a coordinated attack on several police posts and a military base in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in August 2017. The military crackdown that followed has driven some 700,000 mostly Rohingya to Bangladesh, many with reports of arson, rape and murder at the hands of Myanmar police and soldiers.

“Rohingya will stay at home for three days and stop working in our many different jobs and positions as Majhis, INGOs and UN staff and volunteers, fixers for international people, teachers, health workers, mullah, builders and labour men, and shop keepers,” the statement says.

They say they also want the UNHCR to stop forcing Rohingya refugees to take the cards, to stop barricading refugees inside Camp 21 for refusing to take the cards, to stop collecting their biometric data for the cards, and to not share the biometric data they have already collected with Myanmar.

“We want to discuss with UNHCR and Authorities to address our demands,” the statement says. “We are tired of hearing members of international community and UN say that the Rohingya refugees do not have any leaders. We want to be consulted.”

Bangladeshi Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said the cards were intended to help the refugees receive and access services and that they had no reason to protest because recent plans to start sending them back to Myanmar were postponed.

A senior Bangladesh government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said officials planned to meet with the camp leaders soon to resolve the dispute.

Firas al-Khateeb, a spokesperson for the UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar, told The Irrawaddy that agency staff were on the ground to find out if the strike was being observed.

Ukhia Police Station Sub-Inspector Milton Dey said there has been no violence in the camps since the strike was called.

Syed Alom, a Rohingya refugee and community leader, said the strike was only being observed in parts of Ukhia where the cards have been handed out so far, including Thayngkhali. He said Rohingya volunteers were still at work in camps in Kutupalang.