Myanmar’s ambassador to Bangladesh was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka on Wednesday amid calls for disciplinary action against Myanmar’s minister of religion, who suggested late last month that Rohingya Muslims driven into refugee camps across the border were being prepared by Bangladesh to “invade” Myanmar.
U Lwin Oo was summoned in a letter that protested the “derogatory and provocative” remarks made by Myanmar Religious Affairs Minister Thura Aung Ko in a video shared by news website NewsWatch, according to the Daily Star, a Dhaka-based newspaper.
“It is a blatant lie that Bangladesh is obstructing the repatriation process of Rohingyas. Due to Myanmar’s unabated anti-Rohingya policy, no member of the community agreed to go back on November,” the letter read. “In Myanmar, there is an anti-Bangladesh, anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim policy, which many consider apartheid.”
The letter goes on to add that Thura Aung’s remarks will have a detrimental impact on bilateral relationships and the success of Rohingya repatriation.
On Nov. 27, Thura Aung made remarks widely perceived as racist during the funeral of controversial monk U Thuzana, during which he referenced an “extremist religion.”
Speaking at a conference in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, he doubled down on his earlier remarks, explaining that he was only referring to “Bengalis,” the Myanmar government’s preferred term for Rohingya Muslims.
“When I talk about ‘another religion’, I am talking about Bengalis,” he told reporters at a conference in Naypyidaw on Tuesday. “When we asked [Bangladesh] to release them, they are not letting them return. They are giving them food, and brainwashing Bengali youths to march on Rakhine, to march on Myanmar. Their future plans are to march on Myanmar.”
The comments came on the heels of a failed bilateral repatriation effort by Myanmar and Bangladesh in which not a single refugee voluntarily agreed to return to Myanmar.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled into neighboring Bangladesh in the wake of a brutal military campaign last August that U.N. investigators have called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” with “genocidal intent.”
Meanwhile, rights groups have warned that Rohingya Muslims are trapped in Myanmar IDP camps that are akin to “open air prisons.”
Many Rohingya languishing in these camps have recently attempted to flee Myanmar in a fresh wave of dangerous voyages, resembling similarly treacherous voyages that tens of thousands attempted in 2015.
Since the end of the monsoon season, at least six boats carrying hundreds of refugees have been intercepted at sea or washed ashore in the past month. Refugees fleeing Myanmar that were intercepted near Myanmar waters have been sent back to their place of origin.