Myanmar/Bangladesh: Halt Rohingya Returns

Ensure Refugees’ Security, Basic Rights, Equal Access to Citizenship

20 Aug. 2019  (Source:Human Rights Watch)

(New York)  The Myanmar and Bangladesh governments should suspend plans to repatriate Rohingya refugees until returns are safe, voluntary, and dignified, Human Rights Watch said today. With new repatriations set to starton August 22, 2019, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps protested that they will face the same violence and oppression in Myanmar that they fled.

Myanmar authorities have verified 3,454 people for an initial round of returns from a list of 22,000 submitted by Bangladesh authorities. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and Bangladesh authorities said they are seeking to confirm that these refugees wish to return.

“Myanmar has yet to address the systematic persecution and violence against the Rohingya, so refugees have every reason to fear for their safety if they return,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Bangladesh has been generous with the Rohingya  though conditions in the camps have been difficult  but no refugee should feel compelled to return to a place that isn’t safe.”

After the UN began the consultation process, many Rohingya refugees told Human Rights Watch that while they wished to go home to Myanmar eventually, current conditions made their return unsafe. Many of the refugees on the initial lists refused to attend the consultations.

“We know that thousands of Rohingya back in Myanmar are still in detention camps,” one refugee told Human Rights Watch, referring to an estimated 125,000 Rohingya who have been confined to open-air camps in central Rakhine State since 2012. “If those people are released and return to their villages, then we will know it is safe to return and will go back home.”

A refugee from camp 26 who was on the list with six family members said, “We do not want to go back to Myanmar where so many of our loved ones did not even get a funeral, and ended up in mass graves after they were killed.”

A woman living in camp 24 said: “This is the second time I have fled here in Bangladesh. My husband was killed by the [Myanmar] military.… I don’t want to go back because I don’t want to my grandchildren to face the same risk that I did.”

‘Bangladesh should not join this dangerous rush to send refugees back to conditions that they may be forced to flee again. Meenakshi Ganguly South Asia Director’

The refugees held protests after the repatriation plan was announced demanding that those responsible for atrocities be held to account. They also called on the Myanmar government to guarantee full citizenship rights and return land and properties to the refugees, including compensation for homes and businesses that the military burned.

Bangladesh and Myanmar previously attempted repatriation in November 2018, initiated without consulting UNHCR or the Rohingya. Refugees on the list for return went into hiding and refused to leave, fearing for their lives. In July 2019, Myanmar officials arrived at the sprawling refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar to discuss repatriation, but denied Rohingya citizenship claims and instead promoted a digitized National Verification Card (NVC) process.

A refugee from camp 27 said, “The Myanmar delegation visited last month and made many assurances, but we would be foolish to return now because then they will never fulfill our rights.”

Bangladesh authorities said they are preparing for repatriation. “Repatriation may start any moment,” Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said recently. “In the next few weeks we shall encourage the Rohingyas to go back.” Ko Ko Naing, director general of Myanmar’s Disaster Management Department, saidthat reception centers had been set up at Nga Khu Ya and Taung Pyo Letwe in Rakhine State to receive 300 people a day, and that the refugees would initially be placed at a temporary camp in Hla Poe Kaung before they are sent back to their villages. The “reception centers” and “transit camp” are surrounded by barbed-wire perimeter fences and security outposts, similar to the physical confinement structures in the central Rakhine camps.

UN officials said they have not had enough time to survey the refugees who have been cleared for repatriation to find out whether they want to return to Myanmar. UNHCR as well as Bangladesh authorities have asserted that any returns will be voluntary.

Although Bangladesh is not a party to the UN Refugee Convention, it is bound under customary international law not to forcibly return refugees to a place where they would face persecution, torture, other ill-treatment, or death. Any repatriation plan should follow international standards and be developed with consultation and informed consent from Rohingya refugees, with objective, up-to-date, and accurate information about conditions in areas of return, including security conditions, assistance, and protection to reintegrate.

“Many Rohingya have said that they would like to return to Myanmar so long as they don’t suffer the same abuse, indignities, and atrocities they have endured in the past,” Ganguly said. “Bangladesh should not join this dangerous rush to send refugees back to conditions that they may be forced to flee again.”

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