BBC News – Rohingya return to Myanmar: Confusion and fear in refugee camps

Cox’s Bazar – Chittagong Division – Bangladesh, 15 November 2018. No Rohingya refugees voluntarily chose to return to Myanmar from camps in Bangladesh on the first day of a planned repatriation programme.

Under a joint deal between the two countries, authorities had wanted to move some 2,000 Rohingya on Thursday.

But the UN and rights groups say no-one should be forced to return, as the situation in Myanmar is not safe.

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims and others have fled to Bangladesh over the past year.

They were escaping violence and a military operation in western Rakhine state.

The UN has said senior Myanmar officials should be investigated and tried for genocide over the operation, which the army says was targeting militants.

After the planned repatriations were halted on Thursday, amid protests in the camps, senior Myanmar officials said they had been ready to process returnees and blamed the Bangladeshi side.

‘They’re sending us to die’

The refugees are mostly living in basic conditions in sprawling camps near the Bangladeshi border town of Cox’s Bazar.

Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed they should gradually be returned to Myanmar and thousands of people have been approved for return by Myanmar.

This has led to panic among the refugees, many of whom experienced violence in Myanmar, or had family members killed and their homes burned.

The first group of refugees due to leave on Thursday had been told buses had been organised, a transit camp set up and there were stocks of rations for three days, the BBC’s Yogita Limaye reported from one of the camps.

But hearing the announcement people erupted in protest, shouting “we don’t want to go back”, and holding up placards listing the things they wanted before they would agree to return. Some even broke down in tears, our correspondent reports.

“None feels safe to go back now. We cannot force them to go back against their will,” Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s repatriation commissioner, told AFP news agency.

Amid the heightened anxiety, there is an increased security presence in the camps.

“I’m scared about the repatriation,” one 40-year-old man on the list to be sent back told the BBC. “Though they are trying to reassure us, I’m not convinced. I think they might kill us if we go there.”

Like many others he has sent his family into hiding in the camps. He said the only condition under which they were prepared to return to Myanmar was if they were given citizenship.

“If we have to go back, that is our fate. But I feel they will be sending us there to die.”

Another refugee told the BBC he fled with his wife and sons but that many relatives had been killed.

“They brutally tortured us,” he said, breaking down in tears. “The military came to us, they killed our people, threw kids in the fire and also set fire to houses.

“I am very disturbed by this talk of going back. How can we go there?”

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46217505

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