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Rohingyas Repatriation to Myanmar Scrapped by Bangladesh

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months.

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An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Bangladesh’s plans to begin repatriating Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar Thursday were scrapped because officials were unable to find anyone who wanted to return to the country that has been accused of driving out hundreds of thousands in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The refugees “are not willing to go back now,” Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam told The Associated Press. He said officials “can’t force them to go” but will continue to try to “motivate them so it happens.”

Some people on the government’s repatriation list disappeared into the sprawling refugee camps to avoid being sent home, while others joined a large demonstration against the plan.

Rohingya, myanmar
Workers build a Rohingya repatriation center in Gunndum near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

UN urged a halt to repatriation

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017 to escape killings and destruction of their villages by the military and Buddhist vigilantes that have drawn widespread condemnation of Myanmar.

The United Nations, whose human rights officials had urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation process even as its refugee agency workers helped to facilitate it, welcomed Thursday’s development.

Firas Al-Khateeb, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cox’s Bazar, said it was unclear when the process might begin again.

“We want their repatriation, but it has to be voluntary, safe and smooth,” he said.

Bangladesh officials declined to say whether another attempt at repatriation would be made Friday.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali told reporters in Dhaka late Thursday that “there is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?”

Rohingya, myanmar
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Pleading with Rohingya

At the Unchiprang refugee camp, a Bangladeshi refugee official implored the Rohingya on Thursday to return to their country over a loudspeaker.

“We have arranged everything for you, we have six buses here, we have trucks, we have food. We want to offer everything to you. If you agree to go, we’ll take you to the border, to the transit camp,” he said.

“We won’t go!” hundreds of voices, including children’s, chanted in reply.

Some refugees on the repatriation lists, which authorities say were drawn up with assistance from the UNHCR, said they don’t want to go back.

‘I don’t want to go back’

At the Jamtoli refugee camp, one of the sprawling refugee settlements near the city of Cox’s Bazar, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, age 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not. She said she had never asked to return to Myanmar, and that she had sent her children to a school run by aid workers Thursday morning as usual.

“They killed my husband; now I live here with my parents,” said Setara, who only gave one name. “I don’t want to go back.”

She said that other refugees on the repatriation list had fled to other camps, hoping to disappear amid the crowded lanes of refugees, aid workers and Bangladeshi soldiers, which on Thursday were bustling with commerce and other activity.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Plan to return 150 a day

Bangladesh had planned to send an initial group of 2,251 back from mid-November at a rate of 150 per day.

Myanmar officials, speaking late Thursday in the capital, Naypyitaw, said they were ready to receive the refugees. Despite those assurances, human rights activists said conditions were not yet safe for the Rohingya to go back.

The exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts. The scale, organization and ferocity of the crackdown led the U.N. and several governments to accuse Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are a native ethnic group, viewing them as “Bengalis” who entered illegally from Bangladesh, even though generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees cross floodwaters at Thangkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. VOA

Refugee camps bleak

The refugees survived the ransacking of villages, rapes and killings in Myanmar, but for many, life in Bangladesh’s squalid refugee camps has been bleak.

The refugees who’ve arrived in the last year joined a wave of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims who escaped forced labor, religious persecution and violent attacks from Buddhist mobs in Myanmar during the early 1990s.

Access to education and employment has been far from assured.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who hopes to retain power in December elections, has repeatedly complained that hosting more than a million Rohingya is taxing local resources.

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months, but plans last January to begin sending refugees back were called off amid concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that their return would be met with violence.

Foreign leaders, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, criticized Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.

Also Read: Rohingya Muslims Remain Fearful Due To Forceful Repatriation

But on Thursday, Pence said that U.S. officials were “encouraged to hear that” the repatriation process would begin.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would continue working with international partners including the U.N. “to ensure that the Rohingya themselves are part of any decisions on their future.” (VOA)

Next Story

Report: Conditions in Myanmar Not Safe for Return of Rohingya Refugees

Myanmar has presented Bangladesh with a list of more than 1,200 verified displaced persons who repeatedly expressed their desire to return, he said

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rohingya refugees
FILE - Rohingya Muslims, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait in queues to receive aid at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh, Nov. 15, 2017. VOA

Conditions in Myanmar are far too dangerous for the safe, dignified return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to escape violence and persecution in their home country, according to a report by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

More than 730,000 Rohingya refugees are living in squalid, overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar.  While conditions in Bangladesh remain dire, U.N. officials say the situation in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state is worse and far more threatening.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore presented the report to the U.N. council. She says Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state face serious discrimination, and continuous, systematic violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms.

“We continue to receive and can verify reports from a variety of sources, including reports on sexual and gender-based violence, that human rights violations continue, allegedly committed by members of the security forces,” Gilmore said. “The conditions conducive for refugee return simply do not exist.”

Rohingya refugees
Rohingya Muslims, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wade past a waterlogged path leading to the Jamtoli refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh. VOA

Security forces attacked and burned Rohingya homes and shops in several townships in May, Gilmore reported. She said her office has received reports of disappearances, and of people being subjected to torture and other forms of abuse in detention.

In addition, she said, Rohingya Muslims are denied basic services to health, education and jobs, and many have been stripped of their property and identity papers, essentially rendering them stateless.

Gilmore called on the Myanmar government to reverse this situation and to end the statelessness of the Rohingya. She said it is unlikely the refugees will return to their place of origin until their citizenship status is recognized.

Reaction in Myanmar

Myanmar’s Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Kyaw Moe Tun, says human rights awareness is promoted throughout his country. He called the U.N. report misleading, incomplete and full of unverified allegations that distort the truth.

Rohingya refugees
Displaced Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. Wikimedia Commons

The repatriation process must begin as soon as possible to resolve the humanitarian situation, he said, adding that Myanmar has been ready to receive people since January 2018, when his country and Bangladesh signed a repatriation agreement.

ALSO READ: Cutoff of Internet Service at Rakhine, Chin States Creates Difficulty for Civilians who Cannot Access Donors Online to Make Aid Requests

Myanmar has presented Bangladesh with a list of more than 1,200 verified displaced persons who repeatedly expressed their desire to return, he said.

Earlier this year, Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told the U.N. Security Council “not a single Rohingya has volunteered to return to Rakhine due to the absence of conducive environment there.” (VOA)