Bangladesh to persuade Rohingyas to leave 'voluntarily'

Rohingya camp

Chaos and confusion as Rohingya refugee repatriations set to begin

Negotiations for repatriation have been going on for months, but plans last January to begin sending refugees back to Myanmar's Rakhine State were called off amid concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that their return would be met with violence.

The refugees "are not willing to go back now", said Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam.

"The history of the Rohingya in Myanmar is one filled with repeated episodes of violence, flight and return", Ms Bachelet said. My colleagues are there to receive any refugee or Rohingya who may come up voluntarily to repatriate. "We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?" he argued.

"None feels safe to go back now".

The UN has welcomed Bangladesh's decision to stick to the principle of a voluntary return for the Rohingyas.

He told several reporters that the conflict between the Rohingya and Myanmar's government is not resolved, and "so many" Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine are flattened that there is no place to go back to.

"Like me, every Rohingya would go back if we are assured that the Myanmar government would grant us citizenship and all basic rights, and a United Nations peacekeeping force is deployed to ensure our safety and security in Rakhine state", he said. There is no question of forcible repatriation.

The Bangladesh government declined to comment. But, this news and resulting preparations of bringing in troops to back this plan has driven fear through the refugee camps housing the displaced Rohingya. The repatriation was supposed to begin through land at Ghumdhum point of Bandarban at 2:00pm.

"Ninety-eight percent of the families (on the list) have fled", community leader Nur Islam said Thursday.

"We won't go", hundreds of voices, including children's, chanted in reply.

Issuing National Verification Card must be stopped, and this system must be abolished.

The UNHCR earlier this year signed agreements with both Myanmar and Bangladesh to ensure voluntary, safe and dignified return of the refugees.

Last week, the U.N.'s independent investigator for human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called the plans "rushed" and said she was concerned there were no guarantees that the refugees would be protected from new persecution if they return home.

The families which would agree to go back to Rakhine would be taken to the transfer camps on the Bangladesh side first.

"To be honest, Bangladesh is weak in following the physical arrangements", said Myint Thu, permanent secretary at Myanmar's foreign affairs ministry, at a media briefing, according to a Reuters report.

More than 700,000 Rohingyas have crossed the border to join around 400,000 refugees in Bangladesh after Myanmar launched an army operation against the minority Muslims on Aug 25 previous year after insurgent attacks on security posts.

The UN resident coordinator also said it is Myanmar's "responsibility" to make sure Rohingyas have "enough trust to return to their homeland and to have enough trust to believe that what have happened to them would not be repeated". Rohingya representatives should be invited to participate in examining and monitoring the repatriation process, said Thai Rohingya leader Siyeed. Two transit centres are near about ready for repatriation, one transit centre at Kerontoli, bank of the river Naff under Teknaf police station and another one Gungdoum under Nikkingchari hill upazila.

The Bangladesh government has also asserted that only refugees whom UNHCR have found to have expressed a genuine wish to return will be doing so.

Hundreds of Rohingya refugees shout slogans as they protest against their repatriation at the Unchiprang camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh, on November 15, 2018.

As deadline day loomed, community leaders said almost all those on the repatriation list had fled to other camps and nearby hills.

Ethnic Rakhine villagers told me on a recent trip they believed all Rohingya were illegal and risky immigrants. "I am too old to flee the camp".

Refugee commissioner Abul Kalam told The Associated Press that he and other officials would go to Unchiprang, one of the sprawling refugee camps near the city of Cox's Bazar, to urge some of the more than 700,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh previous year to go back to Myanmar voluntarily.

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