“The Myanmar military slaughtered and raped women. One day they came and threw our children alive into the fire. My two daughters were among them,” said Khatun, 52, tears rolling down her cheeks at a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
The crackdown prompted an exodus of about 740,000 people into Bangladesh, joining more than 100,000 others who had fled earlier waves of violence.
We have been waiting for a long time for this day. The US is the world’s most powerful nation. Their decision will reverberate across the world. Maybe we’ll get justice soon
They live in a vast network of squalid camps made up of bamboo shacks, refusing to return home until Myanmar ensures the rights of the Rohingya.
Washington said this week there was clear evidence of an attempt at the “destruction” of the minority group.
Community leaders in the camps, activists and victims told AFP that the US move would bring Myanmar’s military to account and -- perhaps -- allow them to go back and rebuild their villages and lives across the border.
“We have been waiting for a long time for this day. The US is the world’s most powerful nation. Their decision will reverberate across the world. Maybe we’ll get justice soon,” local leader Sayed Ullah told AFP.
Ullah, 33, who heads a Rohingya rights group in the camps, also lost several relatives and dozens of fellow villagers during the 2017 offensive.
Young Rohingya activist Sawyeddollah, 23, said news of the US decision spread like wildfire through the settlements, with people sharing video of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s speech on cellphones.
“I hope the Biden administration will create a quick tribunal to go for action to implement their decision,” Sawyeddollah said.
“America didn’t say anything all these years. But yesterday’s decision made all of us very happy,” said Robi Ullah, 45, another refugee.
Siraj Ullah, 65, said he offered prayers to God to express gratitude to the United States.
“I hope they (the US) can ensure our repatriation as early as possible. If we get all of our rights back we are agreed to go back to our homeland instantly,” Ullah told AFP.
‘No genocidal intent’
Myanmar’s junta on Tuesday said it “categorically rejects” the US declaration.
“Myanmar has never engaged in any genocidal actions and does not have any genocidal intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, racial or religious group or any other group,” it said.
Bangladesh, which has borne the brunt of sheltering the refugees, called the US decision overdue but still “good news”, and said it would strengthen the case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice.
“I believe, hopefully after the statement of the US Secretary of State, they (Washington) will also put more pressure on the Myanmar government so that they take back their people as they have already promised,” Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said.
He added however that Myanmar was continuing to stall repatriation efforts, most recently by issuing a list of 700 Rohingya who could return which he said was “defective” and likely to be rejected by the Rohingya community.
“The way the list is prepared, it feels like it lacks goodwill and smacks of ulterior motives,” he said.
Mohammad Zafar, another Rohingya community leader in Kutupalong, the biggest of the refugee camps -- and the largest in the world -- played down the prospect of returning home any time soon.
“I highly doubt whether it will bring any change to our fate. We are literally stranded in a foreign land for years, barely surviving,” he said.
“The damage has been done to us. Nothing can compensate unless there are visible actions,” Zafar told AFP.