KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh – On Saturday, thousands of Muslim refugees from Rohingya celebrated the one-year anniversary of the attacks that took them to safety in Bangladesh and prayed that they would return to their homeland in Myanmar can do justice to their dead relatives and neighbors
More than 15,000 people gathered in the morning on a hill in the Kutupalong refugee camp, which is part of a vast network of settlements that today house nearly 900,000 Rohingya who have fled Myanmar.
"August 25 – Black Day," announced a banner.
The demonstrators – men, women and children – marched through the muddy camp chanting slogans like "No more genocide, we want justice." At a mass prayer meeting a speaker repeatedly called out the question, "Who are we?", To which the crowd replied in the chorus: "Rohingya! Rohingya!"
Most people cried when they raised their hands while an imam gave the prayer headed to God's blessing and said, "Please remember the people who were martyred and put them to heaven."
Protesters carried paper flags from Myanmar. The newly established shops in the camp were closed during the several-hour protest.
The camps exploded last year when Myanmar's army unleashed a wave of anti-Rohingya attacks on August 25 and around 700,000 Rohingya poured into the border. Thousands were killed in the violence.
"We are Rohingya, we are Muslims, we have been expelled from our land, from our homes," said the unidentified spokesman for the crowd. "We want justice, we want to go back to our homes."
But many doubt they will be able to return to talks between Myanmar, Bangladesh, the United Nations and international aid organizations for more than a year. Myanmar insists that the Rohingya can return and has built a number of camps for them, but few believe that they are safe there or that eventually they could be accepted as citizens.
While rohingya have lived in Myanmar for centuries, they have long been treated as outsiders, Muslims in a largely Buddhist nation denied citizenship and many basic rights. Many in Myanmar ridicule them as "Bengalis" who came illegally from Bangladesh.
Most live in poverty in Myanmar's Rakhine state, just across the border from Bangladesh. Over the past few decades, over 100,000 people have fled to Bangladesh in previous waves of violence.
The recent violence began on August 24 with a series of attacks on militant groups of Rohingya who killed a dozen security personnel. In retaliation, the Burmese and Myanmar military in Myanmar launched waves of attack, killing people and emptying villages, which many in the international community consider a calculated attempt to expel the Rohingya from the countryside.
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