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Myanmar and Bangladesh to start repatriating Rohingya Muslims

Bangladesh and Myanmar are destined to start repatriating Rohingya Muslims who fled across the border from their homes in Myanmar…

Bangladesh and Myanmar are destined to start repatriating Rohingya Muslims who fled across the border from their homes in Myanmar during last year’s military insurgency, despite the fact that UN and human rights warnings can not return safely and some refugees save that they will face persecution upon their return.

The two countries have announced plans to bring a first 2 260 members of the minority back to Myanmar starting on Thursday. Myanmar government said it would accept up to 300 return per day and let them resettle in camps or their former homes.

UNHCR, the international body responsible for refugees, said the situation in the South-East Asian country was “not yet contributing to voluntary return” and will not play a role in repatriation. Support groups have expressed concerns that refugees would be sent home against their will or moved permanently to camp.

“Rohingya has said they sometimes want to return to their homes and communities in Myanmar, but they want guarantees that they can enjoy equal rights and citizenship, and they want those who are in charge of the violence before the court,” said Evan Schuurman, a Melbourne-based civil servant for Save the Children, charity.

Muslim refugees from Rohingya are waiting for food assistance at Bangladesh Bangladesh Bangladesh © AFP

Myanmar military and armed Buddhist civilians drove about 730,000 people from their homes in Rakhine State as part of an operation that apparently targets Rohingya militants, where thousands of civilians were injured or killed.

The uprising led to the UN demanding a genocide investigation and condemned the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, which promised last year for all some rohingya to return home. myanmar authorities have built a reception center and a transit camp when a Bangladesh border in Rakhine for return, even if they are empty.

Aerial view of Hla Phoe Khaung transit camp in Maungdaw, Rakhine State, Myanmar © Reuters

The presence in Bangladesh of more than 1m Rohingya – including people who fled previous races in Rakhine – has caused security problems in the region and put pressure on Prime Minister Sheikh Hashinas government, which is facing a general election on 30 December. Officials in Dhaka are concerned about the prospects of the widespread camps at Cox’s Bazar near the Myanmar border as permanent settlements.

China, the regional hegemon, opposes the internationalization of the conflict – including the prosecution of military and police forces responsible for violence – and supports the repatriation plan of the two countries.

The Government of Myanmar has said that it would give back no-one temporary accommodation in border camps and provide them with food before allowing them to return to their homes. If their homes no longer stand, they will be provided with newly built accommodation or be housed in a transit camp near the border.

Assistance organizations and the UN whose officials have accused Myanmar of ethnic cleansing have expressed concern. Refugees can be permanently restored in camps. Buddhist leaders in parts of Rakhine have ruled out that Rohingya may return. Some 128,000 Rohingya displaced in violence in 2012 already live in 23 camps in and near Sittwe, the capital.

Human Rights Watch has urged Myanmar and Bangladesh to suspend the repatriation plan, saying that the return would be subject to “current conditions”

Fortify Rights, another human rights group, said this week that Bangladesh’s authorities in Cox’s Bazar had tried to “forcefully gather” the biometric data of refugees as an introduction to repatriate them. “When I think of my homeland, I think of fire and massacre,” the group quoted a Rohingya man in Bangladesh as said last week. “I will not go back.”

Myanmar and Bangladesh, under pressure from China and other regional powers, signed a bilateral repatriation agreement in November 2017.

Follow John Reed on Twitter: @JohnReedwrites

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