Human Appeal is thankful that repatriation of victims of violence in Myanmar has been delayed but expresses severe concerns for their safety.
Repatriation plans for Rohingya refugees currently in Bangladesh have been put on hold until after the country’s year-end general election. Bangladesh's Rohingya Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Abul Kalam, stated "No one will be forced back to Myanmar."
An escalation in ethnic violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, last year forced more than 720,000 people of the Rohingya minority to flee to Bangladesh. In October, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh came to an agreement to begin the repatriation of these victims of violence. UNHCR stated that it had not been consulted about the agreement.
Charles Lawley, Human Appeal’s UK Media & External Affairs Coordinator, who recently returned from working with the Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar, says:
‘Every Rohingya I have spoken to, I asked the same question – do you want to return to Myanmar one day? Uniformly the answer was “one day, but only when it is safe to return”... Many struggle to see how it will ever be safe for them to return. No one I have spoken to feels it is currently safe for them. We believe that any deportation of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar will be, by in large, against their will.’
Kamal Horsen, a father with a young family who escaped to Bangladesh last year, told Lawley “I feel safe here, we are not a minority here. We don’t have to worry about being shot. We don’t have to worry about being burnt in our homes. I would like to go back to Burma, but only if they stop burning our homes, only if we feel safe and only if we get equal rights.”
This is just one example of many of the stories that Lawley heard from the thousands of Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh from violence in their home country of Myanmar.
Lawley said that there were ‘severe concerns for their safety if they are forced to return, but the reality is that they are being forced to go back to their homeland where they fear their lives are in grave danger.’
Chair of the UN Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar, Marzuki Darusman stressed that “atrocities continue to take place today. Even until this very moment, the remaining Rohingya community continues to suffer the most severe restrictions, the most severe oppression, and nothing has fundamentally changed over the past one year, since August 2017. It is an ongoing genocide that is taking place at the moment.”
UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said the organisation does not believe “that conditions are currently in place in Myanmar for voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees”.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged the government of Bangladesh to halt the repatriation and warned that it would violate international law.
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