Though almost half of over 1 million Rohingya living in the congested refugee camps in Bangladesh are children growing up in a subhuman condition, the persecuted people are more worried about the future of more than 100,000 newborn babies who have been added since the mass exodus four-and-a-half years ago.
According to Amnesty International, around 750,000 Rohingya fled a brutal military crackdown in the home country of Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 to Bangladesh, surging the total number of stateless people in the South Asian nation to above 1.2 million.
Frustration is mounting among stateless Rohingya regarding the future status and survival of newborn babies, as the number continues to increase despite the uncertainty of peaceful and dignified repatriation.
According to a Save the Children report published in August 2020, nearly 76,000 babies were born in refugee camps in the three years since August 2017. Thus far, the number of babies is anticipated to have surpassed 100,000 based on the current growth rate.
"We are seriously concerned about the future of our newborn babies because the Myanmar government has not recognized us as legal citizens of the country despite our historical background of many generations," Ayesha Khatun, a Rohingya mother of two children, told Anadolu Agency.
Khatun, who lives with her husband on the remote Bangladeshi island of Bhasan Char, said she had given birth to her second child three years ago in Bangladesh's mainland camps in Cox's Bazar, and that she was expecting another baby in a few months.
"I don't know what the status or national identity of my two children will be because we are living in Bangladesh as stateless people without refugee status and are deprived of citizenship right in our native country," she explained.
Thousands of Rohingya in Bangladesh, like Khatun, are concerned about the future of their newborns.
Happiness turns into worries
Mohammad Khushan and Taslima Begum, a Rohingya couple at the mainland camp in Cox's Bazar, told Anadolu Agency that one of their two boys was born in Bangladesh more than two years ago.
“Like us, there are many families in the camps who have newborn babies. People become happy when they see a baby's face, but our worry increases with every new birth,” Khushan said.
Monu Mia and Nunnahar Begum, another couple living in the camp, called on the international community and the host government to be more flexible with newborn babies so that their basic rights, such as schooling, are not compromised as a stateless community.
“Being born in a refugee camp is not their fault. At least they should not be grown up amid restrictions like we are facing here,” educated Rohingya youth Mohammad Hamidullah told Anadolu Agency.
Newborns in bilateral talks
The first-ever meeting of the newly formed technical level Ad-Hoc Task Force for Verification of the Displaced Persons from Rakhine was held virtually between Bangladesh and Myanmar on Jan. 27.
There was no mention of newborns, although it is regarded as a significant step forward in the process of compiling a comprehensive list of Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh, which will assist in the sustained repatriation of stateless people to their country with rights and dignity.
In normal conditions, all children of the identified Rohingya must be Myanmar citizens, according to Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Shah Rizwan Hayat, who led the Bangladeshi delegation to the meeting.
“Due to differences in languages in the recording of names and localities of many Rohingya, there are some lingual or spelling mistakes. The joint committee will work on it so that all Rohingya living in Bangladeshi camps have perfect records with recognition from both their home and host countries,” Hayat said, pledging that the issue of newborns would be raised at the next relevant bilateral meeting.
According to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol (Relating to the Status of Refugees) of the United Nations, “if the refugee claim is denied, the child might be permitted to stay with an immigration status.”
Hayat added that Bangladesh has wholeheartedly opened its doors for the persecuted Rohingya and has been helping them the best way possible.
“Our main objective is to do a sustainable repatriation of the Rohingya and until we achieve that goal, we will care for them including their newborn babies.”Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.