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Myanmar refugees’ forced repatriation

Sunday 18 November 2018, by siawi3


Myanmar and Bangladesh Say Repatriation of Rohingya Refugees Will Begin Soon

Video here 1:31

By Eli Meixler

October 31, 2018

Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees as early as mid-November, though doubts remain about any large-scale or speedy return to the country where they fled brutal military violence just over a year ago.

More than 720,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s western Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh over the past year following a campaign of murder, rape and arson that the U.N. has said may amount to genocide. Myanmar authorities say they were carrying out an anti-terror operation.

“We are looking forward to start the repatriation by mid-November,” Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told reporters following a meeting with Myanmar officials in Dhaka, Reuters reports.

Myanmar’s secretary of foreign affairs Myint Thu praised the “very concrete plan,” and claimed that Myanmar had established “a number of measures” to ensure Rohingya “a secure environment for their return.”

Read more: There Can Be No Peace for Myanmar Without Justice

But the U.N.’s refugee agency cast doubt on those assurances, saying that conditions were “not yet conducive for returns.”

“It is critical that returns are not rushed or premature,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told Reuters.

A U.N. Fact Finding Mission accused Myanmar’s military last month of “genocidal intent” and called for several military leaders to be prosecuted. Myanmar rejected their findings.

Read more: Rohingya Refugees: Myanmar’s Crisis Is Bangladesh’s Burden

An initial repatriation agreement was proposed in November 2017, but the process has been repeatedly delayed. In June, two U.N. agencies signed a deal with Myanmar described as a “first step” to ensuring Rohingya face a safe and voluntary return to Rakhine.

Bangladesh’s foreign minister said Myanmar verified a list of 8,000 Rohingya for repatriation earlier this month.

But rights groups say without legal protection such as citizenship, the Rohingya will continue to face persecution in Myanmar, where they are denied freedom of movement and access to healthcare and education.

Last week, the U.N. Fact Finding Mission chair warned that the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who remained in Myanmar still face “an ongoing genocide,” the Associated Press reports.

“Remaining Rohingya in Rakhine state are at grave risk,” he said.



Rohingya fears grow as refugees face forcible return to Myanmar

Aid agencies give warning as Myanmar and Bangladesh begin return of ‘terrified’ refugees to Rahkine state

Shaikh Azizur Rahman in Cox’s Bazar and Hannah Ellis-Petersen

Sun 11 Nov 2018 09.00 GMT
Last modified on Fri 16 Nov 2018 10.58 GMT

Photo: Rohingya refugees in the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photograph: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

The governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar are to push ahead with the repatriation of thousands of Rohingya this week, despite objections by the UN, and against the wishes of the refugees, who spoke of being “terrified” at being sent back.

Last week fear gripped the camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh at the news that, without their consent, 4,355 people had been placed on a list of Rohingya approved for return by Myanmar. The first repatriations are due from Thursday, but not everyone who is on the list has been informed and it is unclear how it was compiled.

Rohingya refugee Mohammad Ayaj said that his father, Mohammad Shaker, 58, had died of a heart attack last week after suffering days of anxiety and sleeplessness at the prospect of being forcibly sent back to Myanmar. “Minutes before my father collapsed, he said to me, ‘Hide your brothers and sisters and save them from repatriation. Do not return to Myanmar, where you will face the violence again’,” Ayaj told the Observer.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh after a campaign of violence in Rakhine state in August 2017, described by a recent UN fact-finding mission as genocide, was carried out by the Myanmar military and some Buddhist Rakhine people against the Muslim minority. Tens of thousands of Rohingya were killed, and UN investigators found evidence of mass rape and torture. A UN official said recently that the genocide in Rahkine was “ongoing”.

Residents of the Cox’s Bazar camps said that, such were the fears of being sent back, two Rohingya refugees in Unchiprang camp had attempted suicide. Dil Mohammad, a 60-year-old Rohingya, tried to take his own life hours after neighbours told him his name was on the list. On Tuesday, Hamid Hossain, 55, attempted suicide after being told by a Bangladesh camp-in-charge (CIC) official that he would have to go back.

Mohammad Ismail, who lives in Jamtoli refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar with his wife and six children, said: “Around me there are 13 other families who have been told that they are on the list but do not know how. Like me, they all do not want to go back to Burma, and are very confused and anxious. We do not know what is going to happen to us.”

The logistics of the repatriation remain opaque. Aung Thuerin, a member of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine, said the first group of 2,000 “approved” refugees would be sent back to Myanmar by boat or land in “batches” of 150 per day. They would be processed in the Hla Phone Khaung transit camp in northern Rakhine state, which can house up to 30,000 people, before being relocated to their “original villages”.

[( Families are very confused and anxious. We do not know what is going to happen to us
Mohammad Ismail, refugee)]

But as most Rohingya villages were razed to the ground during the violence and most Rohingya land confiscated and given to local Buddhists, there is a question as to how this will be possible. Some new “model villages” have been built, but owing to limited UN access in the region little is known about the conditions the Rohingya would return to. There is still deep-rooted hostility to them in Rakhine’s Buddhist community.

While Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner, told the Observer all returns would be “totally voluntary”, there is evidence that pressure is being put on Rohingya refugees on the list, who are being told by Bangladesh officials to be “ready to leave”. “The CIC told me: ‘You will get the call any day this month and you will have to cross the border’,” one Rohingya said. Several refugees reported an increased presence of security forces in the camps.

UNHCR will begin interviewing all the refugees on the list in the next few days but spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency would “not be facilitating the returns nor be providing transport or any other assistance” because it did not believe that the conditions in Rakhine state were safe or that the rights of the Rohingya particularly their guarantee of citizenship, could be assured. Gluck said that that it was “really unclear” what would happen to refugees who did return, but that the UNHCR had made it clear they would be offering no support if they were kept in camps.

The reason for the rushed repatriation is said to be political pressure from both Bangladesh and Myanmar. An election is due in Bangladesh in December: the one million refugees in Cox’s Bazar are a sensitive political issue in the poverty-stricken country.

China is also said to be putting pressure on Myanmar to start repatriation and has donated 1,000 prefabricated houses for returnees.

On Friday, 42 NGOs, including Oxfam and Save the Children, released a joint statement warning that the repatriation of the Rohingya was premature and dangerous. This was echoed by Yanghee Lee, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, who this week urged the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar “to halt these rushed plans for repatriation”.

Rohingya refugee Oli Ahmed, who fled Myanmar last September, was last week informed that he, his wife and his four children were on the repatriation list, despite never having been asked if they wanted to go back. He said the prospect of being forced to return filled him with horror.

“I have a 13-year-old daughter and her name is there in the list,” he said. “I feel extremely unsafe to take her to Burma where they raped and even murdered girls of her age. The perpetrators of violence against our community have not been punished in Myanmar.”

“We do not want to live in a foreign country forever,” Ahmed added. “We will return to our homeland on our own but only when it is safe.”



Bangladesh: Decision on Rohingya repatriation Thursday morning

Abdul Aziz and Saqib Sarker, Cox’s Bazar

Published at 10:23 pm November 14th, 2018

Around 150 Rohingyas were set to return to Myanmar under the repatriation deal on Thursday

Photo: Rohingya camp
Rohingya refugees walk in a protest march after attending a ceremony to remember the first anniversary of a military crackdown that prompted a massive exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh, at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar on August 25, 2018 AFP

In a dramatic turn of events, Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC) chief Md Abul Kalam on Wednesday evening told reporters that a decision on repatriating 150 Rohingyas to Myanmar would be made on Thursday morning.

Those 150 Rohingyas, from 30 families, were scheduled to be repatriated on Thursday.

“We have met with the Rohingya families that UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] listed for the repatriation,” Kalam told reporters. “We sent their opinion [on repatriation] in a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but have not heard from them yet.”
He said the RRRC had taken all necessary preparation to repatriate the 150 Rohingyas.

“I have come to know that the Myanmar authorities have also taken similar steps. But we have to wait till tomorrow [Thursday] for the final decision,” said the refugee relief and repatriation commissioner.

“From our side, we have completed all the necessary preparations. Everything –, including their repatriation pack, transportation, and safety measures –, has been arranged. We are looking forward to carrying out the task along with all our partners here,” the commissioner said.
“We are hoping that we will be able to say precisely how many families will be returned by tomorrow morning,” said Kalam.

“We are still talking to the Rohingya. Our people are working to motivate them. We are hoping to be sure by tomorrow morning how many we can repatriate,” he said.

Responding to Dhaka Tribune’s query if the planned repatriation could be halted, Kalam did not explicitly rule out the possibility, saying simply “We want to remain hopeful.”

Earlier in the evening, a UNHCR delegation went to the RRRC office and held a meeting with the commissioner.

Earlier in the day, Kalam held a meeting with government officials about the repatriation, at RRRC’s Cox’s Bazar office.

Members of the army, police, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and officials from the Additional Divisional Commissioner’s Office and the Deputy Commissioner’s Office were present at the meeting.

Photo: Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Md Abul Kalam addresses a press conference in Cox’s Bazar on November 14, 2018 | Dhaka Tribune

Kalam also said that they had plans to repatriate the 30 families from Ghumdhum gorge in Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari Thursday afternoon. They are only waiting to get confirmation from the UNHCR authorities, and all other arrangements have been completed for the repatriation.
“We are hopeful about the repatriation; let’s see what happens,” Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque told reporters after attending a workshop on the Fourth Industrial Revolution at a Dhaka hotel on Tuesday, reports BSS.

He said that both Bangladesh and Myanmar were on schedule to kick off the repatriation process, which would see the return of 2,200 Rohingyas verified by Myanmar in the first batch.

“We are informing the listed Rohingyas at the camps in Cox’s Bazar about their repatriation, but if they do not want to go, we cannot do anything,” Shahidul said.

He also said that the repatriation process could also be deferred from Thursday if deemed necessary. “I always say that repatriation is a lengthy process.”

Fled for the hills

Paris-based international news agency AFP said, according to some Rohingya leaders, many of those slated to be repatriated have gone into hiding within the camps at Cox’s Bazar, the border district hosting a small refugee city perched on hillsides.

As a result, it remained unclear how many people Bangladesh would be able to hand over. “About 99% of the families [on the list] have fled,” community leader Nur Islam said.

“Everyone is tense, the situation is very bad,” Abdur Rahim, another leader, said. "There are a lot of army and police inside the camps. They are checking the ID cards of Rohingyas.”

Local police official Abul Khayer, however, played down reports of additional security, saying nothing in terms of personnel had changed in recent months.

Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh
Map here


Meanwhile, Amnesty International on Wednesday called on Bangladesh and Myanmar authorities to “immediately halt” their plans, saying it was a “reckless move which puts lives at risk.””These women, men and children would be sent back into the Myanmar military’s grasp with no protection guarantees, to live alongside those who torched their homes and whose bullets they fled,“Nicholas Bequelin from the rights group in a statement.”Returns at this time cannot be safe or dignified and would constitute a violation of Bangladesh’s obligations under international law," Bequelin said.

More than 700,000 Rohingyas crossed into Bangladesh from Rakhine since August 2017, after Myanmar launched a brutal military crackdown that was denounced by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Bangladesh, which had been sheltering another 400,000 Rohingyas prior to the fresh exodus, has urged the UN and the international community to put pressure on Myanmar to guarantee the safe and dignified return of the refugees.

A senior Bangladesh government official, who is working on the ground as part of the repatriation process, on Tuesday had told UNB that Bangladesh was taking all the preparations in coordination with Myanmar to send the first batch of Rohingyas home on Thursday.

“But the ultimate success of the initiative still depended on the ‘voluntariness’ of the refugees’ decision to return,” the official said.

Another senior official said that UNHCR would assess the willingness of the Rohingyas to return to Rakhine, to make sure that no one was forced to leave.

Officials said the first batch’s return would be a test case to know how Myanmar was treating the Rohingyas, as Naypyidaw had assured their safety and security with confidence-building measures.

An aerial view of Hla Phoe Khaung transit camp for the Rohingyas, who will decide to return back from Bangladesh, is seen at Maungdaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar, on September 20, 2018 | Reuters


Earlier, Dhaka and Naypyidaw had agreed to begin the repatriation on November 15, following the handing over to the Myanmar side of a list of 2,260 Rohingyas from 485 families.

Diplomatic sources said that within this figure, a total of 450 Hindus were willing to go back, of whom 66 had valid documents and do not need any further verification.

Bangladesh also handed over a new list of 22,432 Rohingyas to Myanmar during the last Joint Working Group meeting, although this was yet to be verified, an official said.

“Both sides wanted to complete the return of 2,260 Rohingyas first, given all of them are willing to go back,” the official said.

Bangladesh first handed over the list to Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka U Lwin Oo on October 28, when the UNHCR was also informed to take preparations.

According to Myint Thu, the permanent secretary of Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country has so far verified about 5,000 Rohingyas.



Bangladesh admits no Rohingya willing to take repatriation offer

Photo: Buses standing ready to return refugees to Myanmar but no one is willing to board

Hannah Ellis-Petersen, Shaikh Azizur Rahman and Michael Safi

Thu 15 Nov 2018 13.40 GMT
First published on Wed 14 Nov 2018 23.48 GMT

Photo: A boy holds a placard as hundreds of Rohingya refugees protest against their repatriation at the Unchiprang camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Photograph: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Bangladesh has conceded that it will be unable to voluntarily repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar as it had planned because it cannot find anyone willing to go back, though efforts to “motivate” people to leave will continue.

Four trucks and three buses were stationed at Unchiprang camp in Cox’s Bazar on Thursday morning, ready to carry refugees who have been “approved” to a transit camp by the border, but not one refugee was willing to board them. Most refugees on a list of those approved to return have gone into hiding.

Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner, said his team had completed the “physical and logistical preparations” to facilitate the repatriation but has been forced to accept by Thursday evening local time that the refugees “are not willing to go back now.”

Bangladesh was “totally committed to the principle of non-refoulement and voluntary repatriation”, Abul Kalam said. “We will not force anyone to go back to Myanmar against his or her will,” he added, though authorities would continue to try to “motivate” refugees to leave.

Photo: A Rohingya girl carries a water jar at the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photograph: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

More than 2,000 Rohingya refugees had been put on a list approved by Myanmar for return, without their consent. While the plan was to send them back in batches of 150 per day starting on Thursday, by Wednesday night almost all had gone into hiding in other camps and in the nearby forest, amid fears they would be sent to Myanmar against their will.

Hours before repatriation was due to begin, the UN high commissioner for refugees had located just 50 families listed for repatriation, all of whom said they did not want to return to Myanmar in the current conditions.

Although Abul Kalam acknowledged most Rohingya were still too afraid to return, he insisted: “At least some Rohingya, we believe, are willing to go back to Myanmar now. We are trying to reach them in different camps. We are ready to help them return to Myanmar.”

’They slaughtered our people’: Rohingya refugees on Myanmar’s brutal crackdown - video here 5:56

The few who are reportedly willing to return are 420 Hindus – but Kalam said authorities were focusing on repatriating Rohingya for the time being and would repatriate Hindus at a later stage.

Read more: Rohingya refugees flee camps to avoid return to Myanmar

Mohammad Idris, a Rohingya community leader who was at a meeting at Unchiprang camp on Thursday morning, said all 50 of the families in the camp listed for return had “disappeared from their shacks three or four days ago and the officials have failed to trace them”.

He added: “Since this morning, army and police have surrounded the camp. Refugee and other administrative officials have been holding meetings with the majhis and other Rohingya community leaders seeking their help to persuade the listed refugees to return to Myanmar.”

Rohingya refugees told the Guardian of the multiple ways the Bangladesh authorities were trying to “persuade” refugees to go back, including telling them that it was the only way they would get the Myanmar government to give them rights and citizenship.

They also made direct threats. Saifullah, who lives in Balukhali camp, said the (Camp in Charge) CIC had warned the majhis of “stern actions” if the Rohingya who are in the repatriation list did not return to Myanmar.

“The CIC have been telling Rohingya refugees [they] will face hardship if they do not return to Myanmar,” he said. “They are threatening to stop supplying rations to refugees, saying they will be barred from working with the different NGOs and will not have the freedom to move around freely.”
Bangladeshi labourers rest before working in the ‘transit camp’ site, set up for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Ukhia.

Photo: Bangladeshi labourers rest before working in the ‘transit camp’ site, set up for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Ukhia. Photograph: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images

The UN has called on both governments to halt the “rushed” repatriation plans but the pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Bangladesh, however, tried to quell the panic by instructing NGOs that it maintained its commitment to voluntary returns and that all NGOs should continue their work as usual.

Read more: The Guardian view on returning the Rohingya to Myanmar: don’t make them go

There are more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar who fled a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military in August 2017, which was described by a UN fact-finding mission as genocide. Women were raped, children massacred and thousands killed, while most Rohingya villages in Rakhine state were burned to the ground.

According to the head of the UN fact-finding mission, the genocide in Rakhine against the Muslim minority was ongoing, and there were demonstrations this week among Buddhist Rakhine communities who protested against the return of the Rohingya.

Myanmar has insisted it is ready for returns and laid the blame for any delays at Bangladesh’s door. Officials have stated that refugees from Cox’s Bazar will be processed in one of the two centres built by Bangladesh and then transported to Myanmar either by boat or on land to Hla Phoe Khaung transition camp, in Rakhine state.

The Myanmar government has assured the international community the Rohingya will then be housed in new homes built in Maungdaw, one of the three areas in which the Rohingya had lived before the crackdown, though they will not be allowed to travel outside of the township. Most will also be unable to return to their original homes and villages because they were destroyed by the military.