Rohingya Refugees Set to Be Repatriated to Myanmar
The repatriation of the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh back to Myanmar is set to begin later this week despite concerns from international NGOs and other agencies over the safety of the hundreds of thousands of refugees currently residing in Bangladesh.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to begin the repatriation of Rohingya refugees at the end of October, though UN investigators had warned almost a week before that the genocide that the Rohingya is still ongoing.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) released a statement on Sunday, warning that the repatriation must be entirely voluntary for refugees. It read: “The repatriation of refugees is premised upon the free and informed decision by refugees, on an individual basis, to return. Refugee returns should only take place at their freely expressed wish based on relevant and reliable knowledge of the conditions within the country of origin and the area of return.”
Other international organizations have expressed greater concern, completely negating repatriation as an option by claiming it cannot be voluntary and safe for refugees. One such organization is the International Crisis Group, which expressed its opinion in a statement on Monday.
Rohingya Muslims have been persecuted relentlessly for decades. In Myanmar, they are denied citizenship and their language is not recognized by the state. Over the past two years, the Rohingyas have fled devastating violence and persecution from Myanmar’s security forces. The UN identifies Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya refugees as genocide, and Amnesty International stripped Aung San Suu Kyi — Myanmar’s civilian leader — of a prestigious human rights award due to her alleged negligence of the issue.
Today, an estimated 700,000 Rohingya refugees reside in Bangladesh. They live in crowded, makeshift refugee camps in the country, often situated on lands prone to flooding. They also have little access to educational and career opportunities, as Bangladesh’s camps are not designed to assimilate the Rohingya people but rather induce them into leaving Bangladesh.
Despite the squalor faced by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, however, most refugees do not think they would survive repatriation.
Sonah Meah, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh, told National Public Radio (NPR) reporter Jason Beaubien that if she were to return to Myanmar, “they’ll kill [her],” expressing a sentiment echoed by many other Rohingyas. Several Rohingyas have fled refugee camps, concerned that they may be forced to return to a nation whose persecution forced them to abandon their homes and livelihoods less than two years ago.
In the coming weeks, the international community will be able to gauge how Bangladesh and Myanmar carried out repatriation and how former refugees contend with living in Myanmar again.