Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Migrants in Bangladesh fearful of repatriation

Rohingya Muslims use their cellphones as they sit on a hillock overlooking Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh Wednesday Nov. 14 2018

Uncertainty over whether Bangladesh will start sending Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar has caused fear and confusion in refugee camps. "Authorities are surrounding [the] camp, Rohingya people will not go back to Myanmar without justice and security of the United Nations".

According to the head of the United Nations fact-finding mission, the genocide in Rakhine against the muslim minority is "still ongoing" and there were demonstrations this week among Buddhist Rakhine communities who protested against the return of the Rohingya. About 2,200 Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar previous year are set to be repatriated.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is one of the few humanitarian organizations operating in Rakhine state.

In Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, now home to the world's largest refugee camp, one of the people who found her name on a repatriation list said she had no idea how she was picked to return.

Rohingya began fleeing into Bangladesh after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts in August 2017. "None feels safe to go back now", Mohammad Abul Kalam told AFP.

She spoke to a 40-year old man in one of the camps who is on the list to be sent back.

"Forcibly expelling or returning refugees and asylum seekers to their home country would be a clear violation of the core legal principle of non-refoulement, which forbids repatriation where there are threats of persecution or serious risks to the life and physical integrity or liberty of the individuals". "Though they are trying to reassure us, I'm not convinced".

"I will not go".

A Rohingya refugee in the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh.

"We went through so much pain, and if we go back again to face the same, then why should we go?"

But it was unclear whether the repatriation would begin smoothly amid reports that numerous refugees on the initial list have fled. Myanmar officials said recently that they would receive 150 refugees each day. "The military came to us, they killed our people, threw kids in the fire and also set fire to houses". "This is the third time they are going back, the same thing will happen. How can we go there?"

The Myanmar government have assured the worldwide community the Rohingya will then be housed in new homes built in Maungdaw, one of the three areas the Rohingya had lived before the crackdown, though they will not be allowed to travel outside of the township.

Ethnic Rakhine villagers told me on a recent trip they believed all Rohingya were illegal and risky immigrants. They have also been denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.

The two countries had originally agreed to begin repatriating Rohingya to Rakhine State last January, but that was called off amid concerns among aid workers and the Rohingya that their safety wasn't guaranteed.

So while the Myanmar government talks about building temporary shelters, offering medical care and sufficient food rations for Rohingyas who return, many worldwide observers insist the root causes of the violence and hate-filled attitudes need to be properly tackled before Rohingyas can return home and live with safety and dignity.

Human Rights Watch echoed the concern on Thursday, asking Bangladesh to "immediately halt" the planned repatriation.

On Thursday, a few of the more than 720,000 Rohingya who fled slaughter, rape and village burnings in their homeland past year are due to be repatriated to Myanmar from Bangladesh.

The plan to begin returning the Rohingya to Myanmar comes just days after United Nations investigators warned of an "ongoing genocide" against the Muslim minority.

Bangladesh may be eager to have the refugees return home, and Myanmar, after being denounced for the slaughter, rape and village fires that forced 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee across the border, could be looking to prove the country has turned a new leaf.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption There's fear about the future in the camps Why are the Rohingya in Bangladesh? The mass violence followed decades of persecution of the Rohingya, who were stripped of their citizenship by a xenophobic military junta.

More than 730,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh over the past year to escape the Myanmar military's campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Most Rohingya have lived in poverty in Rakhine, near the Bangladesh border.

Marzuki Darusman, the chairman of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said beyond mass killings, the conflict included the ostracisation of the population, prevention of births, and widespread displacement in camps.

The Myanmar government has rejected these allegations.

Foreign leaders have criticized Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.

US Vice President Mike Pence voiced the Trump administration's strongest condemnation yet of Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya Muslims on Wednesday, telling leader Aung San Suu Kyi that "persecution" by her country's army was "without excuse".

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