Rohingya refugees ‘not sorry’ for Suu Kyi’s removal from office

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have condemned the military coup in Myanmar but say they do not “feel sorry” for de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s removal from power.

Speaking to Al Jazeera at the sprawling Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, Rohingya community leader Mohammad Yunus Arman said the Myanmar military had killed their families in Rakhine state while Aung San Suu Kyi was in power.

“She remained silent about it. She didn’t even utter the word ‘Rohingya’. Once we used to pray for her success and used to treat her like our queen. But after 2017, we realised her real character,” he said.

On Monday, Myanmar’s powerful military seized power in a coup against the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other political leaders. The army in the Buddhist-majority South Asian nation also declared a state of emergency for one year.

“We don’t feel sorry that she [Suu Kyi] is overthrown from power now,” said Arman.

Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh is home to more than one million mostly Muslim Rohingya living in cramped, makeshift camps – the world’s largest refugee settlement – after they fled a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state which the United Nations said was carried out with a “genocidal intent”.

Myanmar said it was committed to the repatriation of the Rohingya as per a bilateral agreement, with Bangladesh expecting the process to start later this year.

Last month, Dhaka started relocating some of the refugees to Bhasan Char, an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal. So far, nearly 7,000 Rohingya have been sent to the flood-prone island.

Meanwhile, the coup in Myanmar following a landslide win by Aung San Suu Kyi’s governing National League for Democracy party in November 2020 has raised questions over the Rohingya repatriation.

“For the past four years, we have been talking about our safe return to our homeland in Myanmar, but no progress has been made on that front,” Arman told Al Jazeera.

Sayed Ullah, another Rohingya community leader at Thaingkhali camp, told news outlets that they are not concerned about the military takeover in their homeland.

“We have long been living under the military regime. The civilian government of Aung Sun Suu Kyi did nothing for us. They didn’t protest the genocide which on our community,” he said.

Ullah, however, feared a military takeover means “a more uncertain repatriation process”.

“Now that the military is in power, we feel our repatriation process is further stalled. There is no way the army would let us get back to our homeland,” he said.

Disquiet in Bangladesh

The coup has disquieted Bangladesh, which fears the new military government might not keep up its end of the agreement to repatriate more the Rohingya.

The neighbours had been at odds in the past few years over the repeatedly stalled repatriation process, prompting Dhaka to send some refugees to Bhasan Char.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said a regime change in Myanmar “doesn’t necessarily impede the repatriation process”.

“We have to wait and see,” he said, adding that Bangladesh is concerned about the coup in Myanmar.

“We always believe in upholding the democratic process. A military coup can’t be the solution,” he said.

In a statement issued on Monday in response to the coup, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said: “As an immediate and friendly neighbour, we would like to see peace and stability in Myanmar.”

“We have been persistent in developing mutually beneficial relations with Myanmar and have been working with Myanmar for the voluntary, safe and sustained repatriation of the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh,” it said.