Rohingya refugees refuse to return to Myanmar
August 21, 2019 | 1:12 PM
by Agencies
Rohingya housed in refugee camps in Bangladesh are refusing to return to Myanmar

Dhaka: Days after both Bangladesh and Myanmar announced their decision to begin repatriating Rohingyas, United Nations and local officials have said that the Rohingya housed in refugee camps in Bangladesh are refusing to return to Myanmar.

Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, Abul Kalam, said on Tuesday that only 21 families out of 1,056 selected for repatriation were willing to be interviewed by officials about whether they wish to return.

None of the families said they would go back, with several saying that they would not return until they were given citizenship by Myanmar.

Myanmar’s military launched a harsh counterinsurgency campaign in August 2017 in response to an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. The army operation led to an exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh and accusations that security forces committed mass rapes, killings and burned thousands of homes.

Kalam said the mood in the camps in Cox’s Bazar where about 1 million Rohingya refugees are sheltered was calm and cordial.

“There has been no chaos like in the past. They have gone to the officials for the interviews and talked freely. This is very positive, they now understand the situation better,” he said.

“We have tomorrow, I am hopeful that many other families will face the interviews,” he said.

Louise Donovan, a spokeswoman for UN high commission for refugees, said that a second interview would be conducted with refugees who agree to go back in “intention surveys” such as the ones conducted on Tuesday.

Citizenship remained a sticking point. Myanmar has refused to recognize Rohingya as citizens, even though many of their families have lived there for generations, and insists on calling them Bengalis.

“We want a guarantee of citizenship first and they must call us Rohingya, then we can go,” said Ruhul Amin, who was speaking for a nine-member family. “We can’t go without our rights.”

Myanmar has verified that the selected families, comprised of 3,450 people, came to Bangladesh following attacks led by Myanmar’s military.

On Friday, a Myanmar cabinet minister said both Myanmar and Bangladesh had agreed to start the repatriation and had sought help from the UNHCR.

Last year, a similar attempt by the UNHCR and the two countries failed, with no refugees wanting to return voluntarily, a condition Bangladesh said it would follow under an agreement with Myanmar.

A UN-established fact-finding mission last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Myanmar has rejected the report and any suggestion its forces did anything wrong.

Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, said her administration will not use any force to send the refugees back and the repatriation will only happen if they are willing to return.

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