The governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar are moving forward with the repatriation of thousands of Rohingyas this month, despite objections by the UN, and against the wishes of the refugees.
refugees are terrified at the news that, without their consent, 4,355 people had been placed on a list of Rohingya approved for return by Myanmar. The first repatriations are due from Thursday, but not everyone who is on the list has been informed and it is unclear how it was compiled.
Nurul Amin, a Rohingya refugee, is so afraid that he can hardly sleep. Days ago he learned that he is on a list of people to be sent back to Myanmar. “Since the time I heard that my name is on the list I can’t even eat,” he told Reuters. Amin, his sister, wife, and four daughters stay in the Jamtoli Camp in southeast Bangladesh. He and roughly 2,000 other refugees are on a list of people Myanmar has agreed to take back. Officials say no one will be forced to return against their will. However, those on the list say they are terrified. Not all those whose names are on it have been informed due to concerns of sparking widespread panic in a camp that shelters 52,000 refugees, Bangladeshi camp officials say.
The repatriation deal was struck between Bangladesh and Myanmar on Oct. 30.
Rohingya families who fled Myanmar due to systematic violence -including rapes, murder, and arson attacks- have been living in overcrowded makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar district. Despite their fear, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said China was “happy to see” the two countries reaching the agreement to start the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.
However, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, urged Bangladesh to drop the agreement, warning the Rohingya would face a “high risk of persecution.”
“I urge the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to halt these rushed plans for repatriation,” Lee said. “They are in deep fear of their names being on the list to be repatriated, causing distress and anguish.”
“If we go back, they can kill us, they can torture us. We have already lost everything once,” said one man from the Jamtoli camp, speaking on the condition of anonymity, who was told by camp officials he is on the list along with his family.
The Rohingya are an ethnic minority from Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. Rohingya Muslims represent the largest percentage of Muslims in the country.
Myanmar’s government refuses to provide citizenship to Rohingyas, whom they view as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. In 2014, the ethnic group was even excluded from a census.
More than 700,000 have fled violence and persecution in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar since August 2017 when the Myanmar military cracked down after Rohingya ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) militants attacked more than 30 security posts. Amnesty International says among the atrocities, Myanmar military raped and abused Rohingya women and girls.
Nur Kaida, 25, a mother of an infant girl living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, said it “would be better to die in the camps rather than go back and get killed or raped.”
Earlier this year U.N. investigators issued a report accusing Myanmar’s military of acting with “genocidal intent” and calling for the country’s commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, and five generals to be prosecuted under international law.
The U.N. says the situation is the “world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis” and describes the military offensive in Rakhine, which provoked the 2017 exodus, as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”