Aid groups and humanitarian agencies have warned about “dangerous” plans of repatriation of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees to their home country Myanmar, where they faced unimaginable atrocities at the hands of military.
A group of 42 aid agencies and civil society groups, including Oxfam, World Vision and Save the Children signed a statement on Friday, calling the plan as premature and dangerous.
More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since last year, when Myanmar’s armed forces, backed by Buddhist extremist mobs, launched an intensified crackdown against the Muslim community in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been killed, and those who have survived by fleeing to Bangladesh are now living in severely-overcrowded camps in southeast Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.
Myanmar and Bangladesh first reached an agreement last year to begin the repatriation of the refugees, but the process has been delayed. Officials from both countries met earlier this week and announced that repatriation would begin with a first batch of 2,000 returnees in mid-November.
“They are terrified about what will happen to them if they are returned to Myanmar now, and distressed by the lack of information they have received,” the aid group’s statement said.
The refugees said if the Bangladeshi government “forcefully deport” them to Myanmar, they will be facing the same violence, killing and the persecution there.
A refugee father of a seven, Nurul Amin said he was terrified to be sent back to Myanmar because he saw the violence in Southeast Asian country. “I have seen people with their throats slit, and my house was partially destroyed by a grenade launcher [fired by the Myanmar].”
Another refugee, Muhammad Ali said that they “will refuse to go” back to Myanmar.
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a monitoring group, also expressed concern about the plan, saying the Rohingya refugees “have nowhere to go. No one wants them, and now they face on top of that the threat of repatriation.”
UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee warned on Tuesday that the Rohingya are still facing a “high risk of persecution.”
The United Nations has already concluded that the atrocities against the minority community constitute genocide, and called for the country’s military leaders to be investigated.
Myanmar, however, has blatantly denied the violence and rebuffed the calls for probe.
The United States, which already described the violence as “ethnic cleansing,” called on both Myanamar and Bangladesh to allow “for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of refugees from Bangladesh.”
Following the rights groups statement, the State Department said it “would look closely at any plans to ensure that it is, in fact, voluntary.”
Myanmar has been refusing to grant citizenship to the Muslim community, who has lived in the country for generations. They are branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which likewise denies them citizenship.