Rohingya refugees refused Thursday to leave their camp in Bangladesh and return to Myanmar, who violently expelled them last year,…
Rohingya refugees refused Thursday to leave their camp in Bangladesh and return to Myanmar, who violently expelled them last year, indicating the apparent failure of the two nations’ first collective efforts to begin repatriations.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed last month to launch large-scale repatriations of the displaced Rohingya on Thursday, with Myanmar that it would allow 2 200 to return. Legal groups, the United States government and the UN have criticized the plan.
At 2:00 Thursday when the Bangladeshi authorities said the operation would begin, those buses that they had prepared to carry refugees to the border would be empty, according to a Rohingya activist in one of the camps. Hundreds of Rohingya men had gathered in Unchiprin’s refugee camp to protest the movement, with leaders who beat the slogan opposite repatriation. They held signs saying “We want justice” and “We never return to Myanmar without our Rohingya rights.”
“Everyone is afraid of being repatriated,” said Khin Maung, a refugee from Rohingya and activist who fled last year’s violence along with more than 700,000 others. He was not involved in Thursday’s protests.
Until their expulsion last year, many of the most Muslim rohingyaans had lived for generations in the Buddhist majority of Myanmar, denying citizenship and generally regarded as illegal immigrants. Despite evidence of what the United States has described as ethnic cleansing, the Government of Myanmar has denied committed large-scale cruelty, saying that its military operations in the Rakhine state were aimed at destroying terrorism.
In recent days, Rohingya, whose authorities had chosen for repatriation, gave Bangladesh’s authorities release by flying to the family house or running into the forests surrounding the camps, according to Rohingya refugees. The returnees volunteered not to return but were randomly selected by the Bangladesh authorities, according to Human Rights Watch, a humanitarian group who cited a conversation with Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s Refugee Commander. Bangladesh promised that it would not force any Rohingya to return. “Bangladesh seems unwilling to force people back and very few, if anyone wants to,” says a Western official who oversees the situation.
Early Thursday, when it became apparent that no Rohingya was willing to return to Myanmar, Bangladeshi officials organized a meeting with Rohingya community leaders to understand why. The answer: They would not be sent home unless they received citizenship and guarantees for security, said Mr. Khin Maung. Myanmar has promised to return to Rohingya, a form of identity that lacks citizenship, as Rohingya rejects and says would cement its second-class status.
The UN says it continues to report reports of arbitrary killing and arrests by Rohingya in Myanmar and that it is not safe for Rohingya to return. Already, two older Rohingya men in Bangladesh had attempted suicide rather than force repatriation, the UN said in a week.
But Bangladesh and Myanmar have said that they intend to move forward with the plan behind China, which has pushed for rapid repatriations as a way to resolve the crisis. In September, China announced in the UN General Assembly an agreement with Bangladesh and Myanmar where the three countries agreed to begin as soon as possible, “according to the website of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A western official familiar with the situation said the Bangladeshi government had gone with the plan to place China, partly to see progress in resolving the refugee crisis before the December elections. Bangladeshi ministers have promised that all repatriations will be volunteers.
At a press conference on Thursday, Myint Thu, an official of Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry that many Rohingya were hoping to be resettled in a third country like Canada. “It is their decision whether they want to return to Myanmar or not,” he said. A Foreign Minister from Bangladesh did not respond to a request to comment.
Minister of Ministers as Responsible for the implementation of repatriations could not comment on thursdays N. A Foreign Minister in Bangladesh did not respond to a similar request.
Bangladesh now finds how difficult it is to find willing Rohingya volunteers to return to Myanmar. Many Rohingya have smartphones with internet connections, which means they can quickly publish any attempts by the Bangladeshi security forces to force them to force them. In addition, Bangladesh can participate in a process that Western governments consider to be insufficiently risky harmful ties with countries dependent on providing assistance to Rohingya refugees.
“So far in this story, Myanmar is the bad guy and Bangladesh has been the good guy who received the refugees,” said the Western official familiar with the situation. “They’re starting to touch that story.”
-My Myo in Yangon, Myanmar, contributed to this article.
Write to Jon Emont at [email protected]