HRW: Halt Rohingya repatriation plan01 April 2023
Staff Reporter :
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday said that Bangladesh authorities should suspend plans to send Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, where their lives and liberty would be at grave risk.
Rohingya told Human Rights Watch that they were lied to, deceived, or otherwise coerced by Bangladesh administrators into meeting with a recent delegation of Myanmar junta officials as part of a "pilot repatriation" effort to return about 1,000 refugees. Some of the verified
Rohingyas told, "the meetings concerned possible resettlement to a third country", HRW noted on its website.
"Voluntary, safe, and dignified returns of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar are not possible while the military junta is carrying out massacres around the country and apartheid in Rakhine State," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW.
"Bangladesh authorities should stop deceiving these refugees to get them to engage with junta officials when it is clear that Rohingya will only be able to return safely when rights-respecting rule is established," she further noted.
Conditions in Myanmar's Rakhine State have not been conducive to voluntary, safe, or dignified returns of Rohingya refugees since 2017, when more than 730,000 Rohingya fled the Myanmar military's crimes against humanity and acts of genocide.
The prospect of durable returns to Myanmar has grown ever more distant since the February 2021 military coup in Myanmar, carried out by the same generals who orchestrated the 2017 mass atrocities.
Bangladesh has appropriately not compelled these refugees to return and should continue that policy with the support of international donors, HRW said.
A delegation of 17 Myanmar junta officials visited the Cox's Bazar camps in Bangladesh, which house about one million Rohingya refugees, from March 15-22, 2023.
The officials interviewed 449 Rohingya from 149 families in the Teknaf camps for "verification" for the pilot repatriation process, media reported. A junta official told Agence France-Presse that the pilot program could start as early as mid-April.
Human Rights Watch spoke with 15 Rohingya about their verification interviews. Not one said that they had been informed in advance that they would be meeting with junta officials about being returned to Myanmar.
All 15 said they had been interviewed several times by Bangladesh authorities over the past two years, but had never been told that their names were listed for possible return.
Bangladesh officials reported that the 449 Rohingya were interviewed to verify their identities and places of origin, joining a list of over 700 refugees already confirmed for the pilot repatriation.
The refugees said the delegation refused to answer any questions about whether their land would be returned or if they would be granted citizenship and other rights and freedoms.
Junta officials have also been visiting Rakhine in preparation for their submission to the International Court of Justice, due by April 24, in the Genocide Convention case brought by Gambia.
Activists and refugees allege that the pilot repatriation project is part of broader junta efforts to feign progress in its treatment of the Rohingya to the court.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, provided unmarked UN boats to transport the junta delegation to Cox's Bazar.
In response to criticism, UNHCR said that while it is not involved in the pilot repatriation discussions, it "supports efforts that could lead to the verification of all refugees and pave the way for eventual return," which in this case included "providing logistical support to members of the Myanmar delegation to cross into Bangladesh for the technical verification process". UNHCR did assert that "conditions in Myanmar's Rakhine State are currently not conducive to the sustainable return of Rohingya refugees."
"For future returns to be truly voluntary, the Bangladesh authorities need to allow Rohingya to live freely, without enforcing pressures pushing them to go back," Ganguly said.
"Donors should increase support for a more sustainable life for Rohingya today, which will help them develop the skills and independence needed for the day when safe returns are possible," she continued.