Despite concerns, Myanmar and Bangladesh preparing for repatriation of Rohingya refugees

Earlier in October, the United Nations Independent Fact-Finding Mission looking into the violence against the Rohingya population found patterns of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law by Myanmarese forces.

November 12, 2018 by Peoples Dispatch
Rohingya refugees in refugee camp
Rohingya refugees in refugee camp in Bangladesh, 2017

Despite criticism from rights defenders and United Nations officials calling the repatriation deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh “disappointing and premature,” Myanmar government on November 11 announced that the repatriation of the “first batch of 2,000 Rohingya refugees” is likely to start from mid-November. However, many refugees have shown reluctance and are reportedly “feeling terrified,” but Bangladesh might push all of them to return.

Out of 5,000 verified refugees Bangladesh government listed earlier, repatriation of the first list of 2,000 refugees might start this Thursday. Previously, another list of 8,000 Rohingya refugees, who were deemed ready for repatriation, was handed over to Myanmar by Bangladesh officials.

“Refugees (living in Rakhine) need to be informed. They also need to be consulted if they are willing to return … It is critical that returns are not rushed or premature,” a UNHCR official based in Bangladesh told The Guardian.

Earlier in October, the United Nations Independent Fact-Finding Mission looking into the violence against the Rohingya population found patterns of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law by Myanmarese forces. Different activist groups have also expressed their concern. According to them, on the one hand Rohingyas are still arriving in Bangladesh as refugees to escape the brutalities at home, and on the other, Bangladesh has gone ahead and signed a repatriation agreement with Myanmar for their return. This is illustrative of the Catch 22 situation of the refugee crisis.

On October 18, Marzuku Darusman, the head of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission, informed the UN Security Council in a speech how it was difficult to convey the horrific attacks that began on 25 August 2017 against the Rohingya people in Rakhine State.

According to UN mission chairman, these very incidents “led to a mass exodus of three-quarters of a million people to neighbouring Bangladesh and deaths of at least 10,000 people, and the destruction of over 37,000 Rohingya homes and structures.”

While briefing about the UN investigations in Geneva, the chairman hinted about a number of incidents of horrific crimes committed by Myanmar security forces. One of the incidents, he explained, took place on 30 August 2017 in which over 750 men, children, and women were reportedly killed after Tatmadaw (the official name of the Myanmarese armed forces) soldiers entered without notice inside Rohingya village, which is surrounded on three sides by a river, where forces opened fire on civilians and burnt their houses.

The findings in this report make the case for the repatriation deal an unconvincing one.

By setting a timetable and target figure of refugees, the repatriation deal has raised many apprehensions from many rights defenders for “how this agreement will respect the voluntary and sustainable nature of refugees’ return” and “how many percentage of refugees would know that their names have been cleared by Bangladesh officials.”

While talking about the deal, the spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary General Antonia Guterras admitted that the two countries did not consult the UNHCR on this matter. Though the UNHCR remains the lead body on the matter of refugees, they were “not made party to this [repatriation] agreement,” the spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, said.

The Myanmarese government signed an agreement with the UNHCR last year about the future course of action to create dignified and safe conditions for the refugees’ return to the Rakhine state. The agreement was signed in June. Though emphasis was put on creating avenues for refugees to regain their citizenship and for their security and freedom of movement, many rights defenders maintain that no action was taken by Myanmar.

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