Uzra Zeya hears the plight of Rohingyas

US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya visits the Balukhali Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar on 12 July 2023.
Prothom Alo

The US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar for over four hours on Wednesday.

She visited Balukhali refugee camps and three nearby camps as well as inspected the refugee operation of various UN agencies from 10:45 am to 3:00 pm.

During her visit, Uzra Zeya talked to at least 25 Rohingya men and women. The Rohingyas described the massacre, rape and oppression launched by the Myanmar military in the Rakhine state as well as sought the US interference to increase pressure on Myanmar to expatiate a safe, sustainable and dignified repatriation.

A nine-member US delegation led by Uzra Zeya landed at Cox’s Bazar airport from Dhaka at 9:00 am. The team went to the Balukhali refugee camp in Ukhia by road. Donald Lu, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, and Anjali Kaur, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the USAID Asia Bureau, accompanied Uzra Zeya during the visit.

Sources said the US delegation arrived in the Balukhali refugee camp (camp no. 9) at around 11:00 am. At first they visited the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s registration centre. The UNHCR officer briefed the delegation on camp situation. The delegation then visited UNHCR’s nutrition centre, WFP’s e-voucher outlet, International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Rohingya Cultural Centre and UNFP’s Women and Girls Safe Space Centre.

Uzra Zeya then held a meeting with at least 25 Rohingya refugees, including seven women, at a community centre in the Balukhali refugee camp no. 11. Twelve of the attendees were teachers of madrasah and imams of mosques from various refugee camps.

After the meeting, an imam told Prothom Alo on condition of not to be named that Uzra Zeya wanted to learn from teachers and imams whether the Rohingays can follow their religion properly in the camps. How is the security situation at camps? They informed her that there is a lack of security in camps despite the opportunity to follow religion freely. Killing, abduction and rape take place every day. Rohingyas are being killed in the firing among several armed groups of Myanmar and firing between Bangladesh police and Rohingya terrorists also take place, the imam added.

Another Rohingya woman said that she informed Uzra Zeya that suffering of Rohingyas has increased following the donor’s aid cut. They are passing days in risk. There is no sign of repatriation to Myanmar either. Aid and other types of assistance to Rohingyas should continue like before as long as they stay in Bangladesh, she told the US official.

At the meeting, several Rohingya men and women described the picture of barbaric torture, oppression, massacre, and repression by the Myanmar security force after 25 August 2017.

Rohingya leaders sought the cooperation of Uzra Zeya to quickly settle the genocide case against Myanmar pending at the International Criminal Court (ICC). A Rohingya leader also spoke about rising children education operation in refugee camps.

In reply, Uzra Zeya said ICC trial and Rohingya repatriation are ongoing processes and she is observing everything. She asked the Rohingya leaders to be patient on it. She also informed them that she would talk to the people concerned about law and order situation and security issues.

Mohammad Zubaer, who is the chairman of a faction of Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), was also present in the meeting. He gave Uzra Zeya a letter on behalf of his organisation.

After the meeting, Mohammad Zubaer told the journalists, “We sought cooperation in the letter to increase pressure on Myanmar to implement the repatriation rapidly. We want to return to our homeland in Rakhine state, but it must be safe, dignified and sustainable.”

Uzra Zeya visited the UNHCR’s specialised hospital outside the Kutupalang refugee camp in Ukhia at around 2:30 pm. She returned to Cox’s Bazar city around 3:00 pm by road and held a meeting with the Refugee Relief and Repatriation (RRC) commissioner.

RRC commissioner Mohammad Mizanur Rahman told Prothom Alo Rohingya repatriation, law and order situation in refugee camps and various initiatives taken by the government of Bangladesh were discussed at the meeting.

Uzra Zeya, however, didn’t spoke to media on her visit to Cox’s Bazar. She left Cox’s Bazar for Dhaka at 6:30 pm.