Chaos and confusion as Rohingya refugee repatriations set to begin

Pauline Gross
November 17, 2018

The head of Bangladesh's refugee commission said plans to begin the repatriation of 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar on Thursday were scrapped after officials were unable to find anyone who wanted to return.

Kalam said there would be no forced repatriation and acknowledged that the UNHCR refugee agency had found no family ready to go. The official's statements feed the doubts about the departure of the first Rohingya group to the Burmese western state of Rakhine.

On Thursday, Bangladesh began preparations to repatriate an initial batch of 2,000 Rohingya Muslims from 485 families to Myanmar, in line with a plan agreed with Myanmar in October.

The UN said that at least two elderly men in the refugee camps had attempted suicide rather than face the possibility of returning to the site of crimes against the Rohingya.

At the Jamtoli refugee camp, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, ages 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not.

The two countries agreed in November a year ago to start repatriations but the plan never took off. They also prefer to go back to Rakhine through borders in Ghumdhum of Bandarban and Tombru in Rakhine.

Bangladesh has vowed not to force anyone to return and it has asked the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to ensure those short-listed to return really want to go back. "If Rohingya don't want to return what can we do?" "They will kill us if we go back".

Thousands gathered at the refugee shelter and shouted "Na Jayum" (won't go) in unison.

Mohammad Abul Kalam, commissioner of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission of Bangladesh, told that no Rohingya were willing to go back to Myanmar's Rakhine state.

Some said their families have fled from their shanties in the refugee camps to avoid being sent back.

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Bangladeshi labourers carry bricks in the construction site of the "Transit Camp" set up for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia. She said Myanmar would like to work with China to boost understanding and support, build on the friendly cooperation and promote joint development.

"They killed my husband; now I live here with my parents", said Setara, who only gave one name.

According to Rohingya community leaders, many of those slated to be repatriated have gone into hiding within the camps at Cox's Bazar, the border district hosting a small refugee city perched on hillsides. "We will not send them forcefully", said Kalam.

Myanmar officials said Sunday that returnees can get an ID document called a national verification card that will allow them to travel in the Maungdaw area of Rakhine state, and that they can then begin to apply for citizenship.

"The Bangladesh government will be stunned to see how quickly global opinion turns against it if it starts sending unwilling Rohingya refugees back into harm's way in Myanmar", Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch, said.

In the press release, the USA said it had provided more than US$345 million to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh since the start of the current crisis in August 2017. US Vice President Mike Pence told Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday the violence against the Rohingya was "without excuse", adding pressure to Myanmar's civilian leader who this week had an Amnesty International honour revoked.

Myanmar is a Buddhist-majority country and many do not accept the Rohingya as true members of Myanmar society, instead viewing them as "Bengalis" who immigrated illegally from nearby Bangladesh. Almost all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals. "They have been subjected to a widespread, lengthy campaign of dehumanization, discrimination and violence in Myanmar, including murders, organized rapes and the torching of villages", as NPR's Camila Domonoske reported.

Myanmar has refused to acknowledge the Rohingya ethnicity of the refugees or to recognize them as its citizens.

Access to education and employment has been far from assured.

United Nations officials and human rights groups cautioned against beginning the process before the refugees' safety had been assured.

Other reports by GizPress

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