The rally was held days after Bangladesh, with the help of the UN refugee agency, attempted to start the repatriation of 3,450 Rohingya Muslims — a small fraction of the 700,000 who fled a 2017 security crackdown in Myanmar. None agreed to go back, citing fear for their safety and a lack of confidence in Myanmar. The UNHCR said that building confidence was essential for repatriation, AP reported.
The police chief in Cox's Bazar, Masud Hossain, said at least 50,000 refugees protested peacefully for hours in the camps on Sunday. "We alerted all, including the aid agency officials, but the situation was under control and peaceful," he said after the rally ended.
Myanmar had scheduled Aug. 22 for the beginning of the repatriation process, but it failed for a second time after a first attempt last November.
The repatriation deal is based on an understanding that the return has to be "safe, dignified and voluntary." The refugees have also insisted on receiving Myanmar citizenship and other rights that the Buddhist-majority nation has refused to grant them.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her administration will not use force to send them back despite a huge burden on the South Asian country. More than 1 million Rohingya are currently in Bangladesh.
At the Kutupalong refugee camp on Sunday, some carried placards and banners reading "Never again! Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day" and "Restore our citizenship."
They raised their hands during a prayer session and cried, many loudly, as an imam led the sermon with an emotional narration of their sufferings. The prayer was held for the victims of the killings, rape and arson attacks by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist militias.
"Oh Allah, how much blood we have to give to have peace in our life? We have been shedding our blood for decades and now we are here. Please help us, we want to go back," said the imam.
A UN-established investigation last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar's top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the crackdown on the Rohingya. Myanmar dismissed the allegations.