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More Rohingya families say they will not return to Myanmar

August 21, 2019
Associated Press

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) — Members of about 200 Rohingya Muslim families interviewed Wednesday by officials from the U.N. refugee agency and the Bangladesh government all said they do not want to return to Myanmar unless their citizenship and safety are ensured, an official said.

Khaled Hossain, a senior official with the Refugee, Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner's office, said they discussed the families' concerns with them ahead of a planned repatriation scheduled to start Thursday.

"We have not found anybody yet who has agreed to go back, but all our preparations are in place," he said.

The repatriation is unlikely to proceed if no one comes forward voluntarily, a condition Bangladesh says it will follow.

Myanmar has certified 3,450 refugees from 1,056 families as eligible to join the repatriation from Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district, where about 1 million Rohingya refugees are sheltered.

On Tuesday, 21 families told officials in the "intention interviews" that they won't go back.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her government will not force the refugees to return and the repatriation will only happen if they are willing.

Two years ago, Myanmar's military launched a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against Rohingya Muslims in response to an attack by an 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.

Buddhist-majority 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, suggesting they are migrants from Bangladesh.

This is the second time that Bangladesh and Myanmar have attempted to repatriate Rohingya refugees.

A planned repatriation last November was suspended when no one was willing to go back voluntarily. Thousands of refugees protested and chanted "We won't go back" and "We want justice," forcing authorities to halt the process.

But this time, the camps have remained quiet with no reports of any major chaos or protests ahead of Thursday's plan.

Bangladesh refugee commissioner Abul Kalam was happy with that.

"This is a good sign and I think this is a good progress. Last year they fled their camp homes as the day neared, but this time they are coming forward and facing interviews and talking freely," Kalam said Wednesday. "They have confidence in us."

Louise Donovan, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, said in an email Wednesday that they were conducting interviews for a second day with hopes for more responses.

Kalim Ullah, a refugee on the repatriation list, said his family wants to go back but Myanmar must ensure that they would be given citizenship and safety.

Many said they want to go back under direct U.N. supervision, not under the Myanmar government.

"We want to go back home. Bangladesh is not our country. But we still do not have any guarantee that we will not be tortured or killed again," Ullah said as he left the interview room.

"Definitely we want to go back but not this way," he said.

A U.N.-established Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar's top 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.

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Alam contributed from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

 
 
 

 

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