Rohingya greet UN refugee day amid doubts on return

Earl R. Miller, US ambassador to Bangladesh, joined activists at Thursday’s rally in Cox’s Bazar to observe World Refugee Day. (Reuters)
Updated 20 June 2019
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Rohingya greet UN refugee day amid doubts on return

  • Muted celebrations in crowded Bangladesh camps, home to 1.1m Myanmar exiles
  • Cox’s Bazar — site of the world’s largest refugee settlement — observed the day with programs and festivities

COX’S BAZAR: More than 1.1 million Rohingya exiles in heavily congested camps at Cox’s Bazar observed UN World Refugee Day on Thursday despite continuing uncertainty over their return to Myanmar. 

Since 2000, UNHCR has observed June 20 as World Refugee Day and this year appealed to participants to “take a step with refugees around the world.” 

War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are the main causes of refugees fleeing their countries, with two-thirds of all exiles worldwide coming from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

Cox’s Bazar — site of the world’s largest refugee settlement — observed the day with programs and festivities, although there is still no sign of an end to the Rohingya plight. 

A colorful rally at Kutupalang camp was attended by US envoy Earl Miller, UNHCR country representative Steven Corliss and government officials. Later, dignitaries met with Rohingya community leaders and discussed their demands. 

About 750,000 Rohingya have fled their northern Rakhine homeland since August 2017 when a so-called “clearance operation” orchestrated by the Myanmar military forced them to take shelter at Kutupalang camps in Cox’s Bazar. 

In 1977 and 1978, about 200,000 Rohingya sought refuge in Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar. 

Between 1989 and 1991, an additional 250,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh when a military crackdown followed a popular uprising and Burma was renamed Myanmar. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal that led to thousands of Rohingya returning to Rakhine. 

The Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh resumed in 2016 when a military crackdown followed an attack on a border post in which several police offers were killed. About 87,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh. 

A repatriation deal was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar in late 2017, but not a single Rohingya returned. 

Finally, Nov. 15, 2018, was agreed as the new date to start repatriation, but the Rohingya said that conditions made it impossible for them to return. 

Recent violence in Rakhine between the Myanmar military and a militant Buddhist group has cast fresh doubts on the refugees returning in the near future. 

The Rohingya exodus has changed the demographic of Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar. 

In 2011, around 500,000 people lived in the two areas. Now more than double that number of Rohingya refugees shelter there, turning the host community into a minority. 

The Bangladesh government and UN aid agencies together asked for $920 million to run humanitarian operations in the camps this year. But only a quarter of this amount has been raised. 

Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said that authorities are hoping for an increase in funding in coming days. 

“Some big donors such as the EU, UK, Japan and so on are yet to come up with their pledges. I believe it will happen soon and humanitarian operations here at Cox’s Bazar will not decline,” he told Arab News.


Sri Lanka expands visa-free scheme halted after bombings

Updated 56 min 5 sec ago
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Sri Lanka expands visa-free scheme halted after bombings

  • Sri Lanka initially projected a 30 percent dip in the number of foreign holidaymakers after the attacks
  • Sri Lanka welcomed a record 2.33 million tourists in 2018

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has re-introduced and expanded a visa-free entry scheme for visitors in a bid to revive its flagging tourism sector after the deadly Easter bombings, officials said Wednesday.
The concession for tourists from 39 nations was suspended after militants bombed three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo on April 21 killing 258 people, including 45 foreigners.
“As the security situation has improved, the cabinet of ministers decided to revive the visa-free scheme and also extended it to seven more countries,” the government said in a statement.
A tourism official said foreign governments have relaxed travel advisories for Sri Lanka since the attacks.
There has also been a lift in the number of arrivals, which nosedived soon after the bombings blamed on a home-grown militant group, the official said.
The new countries added to the expanded scheme — which already allows travelers from the European Union, Australia and the United States to enter Sri Lanka without a visa — include China and India.
Visitors still have to obtain a visa on arrival, but the government has waived the $35 fee from August 1.
Sri Lanka initially projected a 30 percent dip in the number of foreign holidaymakers after the attacks.
The following month the number of tourists plunged to 37,800, down from 166,975 in April, according to official figures.
But they improved last month with some 63,000 visitors, although numbers are still down from 146,828 in June 2018.
Sri Lanka welcomed a record 2.33 million tourists in 2018, and was named the world’s top travel destination for 2019 by the Lonely Planet travel guide.