BANGLADESH, January 6, 2019 (LA Times): In the world’s largest refugee camp, where 1.1 million Rohingya Muslim refugees reside, 105 families have been stranded — caught in a war that was not theirs. Unlike the rest of the refugees, these families are Rohingya Hindus — a small minority within a minority that had lived peacefully for generations in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state alongside Muslims and members of the Buddhist majority. In the violence that engulfed Rakhine beginning in August 2017 — when Rohingya Muslim militants attacked police checkpoints and the army responded by killing or maiming thousands of Muslim civilians — 99 Hindus were killed and burned in mass graves. The Hindu villages were attacked by members of a militant group called the Arakhan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, that was also responsible for the attacks against the police. Hindus who survived fled in the only direction they could: across the Naf River and into Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps meant for Rohingya Muslims, the very people they blame for the violence against them.
Fifteen months into the crisis, the Hindus’ minority status has sharpened: While Rohingya Muslims have categorically rejected a plan that would repatriate the refugees, Hindus are ready to return to Myanmar, a view that has placed them at odds with the vast majority of people in the camps [where Hindus have even been attacked]. In May 2018, the United Nations struck a deal with the Myanmar government under which refugees would be allowed to return to Rakhine, although not necessarily to their original villages. The deal was widely criticized for not meeting the Rohingya Muslims’ main demands: a restoration of citizenship rights that they have been denied for decades, freedom of movement and guarantees of safety. Within hours, the Hindu families were packed and ready to go. But many Muslim refugees protested the terms. Human rights group assailed the plan as unworkable. The United Nations refugee agency has shelved the plan — a welcome move for the majority of refugees, but one that has pushed the Hindus to the edge of their endurance.