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Repatriation plan stalls as Rohingya refuse to return to Myanmar

Out of safety concerns, Rohingya and rights groups say it's too early to repatriate refugees to Rakhine State

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Repatriation plan stalls as Rohingya refuse to return to Myanmar

Young Rohingya refugees shout slogans at a protest against a disputed repatriation program at the Unchiprang refugee camp near Teknaf, Bangladesh, on Nov. 15. (Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP)

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Rohingya refugees slated to be among the first repatriated to Myanmar on Nov. 15 have refused to return out of concerns for their safety.

Mohammad Abul Kalam, commissioner of the Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), told that no Rohingya were willing to go back to Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

"We kept five buses ready to transfer 150 Rohingya consisting of 30 families from their camp to transit points, but so far nobody has arrived," said Kalam.

"We will wait up to 4 p.m. to see if anyone is willing to go back," Kalam said at 2.40 p.m. Bangladesh time.

He said that the process of repatriation would not be cancelled but would continue. "We will come back on Sunday to motivate people for repatriation and see how it goes. It will continue in the coming days," he added.

Kalam earlier told that if anyone was unwilling to return to Rakhine, they would not be forced. "No Rohingya will go back to Myanmar against their will," he said.

The RRRC said that Bangladeshi officials had completed preparatory measures to begin sending back 2,260 Rohingya who have been verified by Myanmar within two weeks.

There were reports of some 1,000 Rohingya refugees demonstrating against reparation plans in at least one camp on Nov. 15.  

Bangladesh and Myanmar on Jan. 16 agreed to repatriate the 700,000 plus Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh to escape a Myanmar military crackdown in Rakhine State that began in August 2017.


Rohingya fears

Local and international media reported that the repatriation plan has created panic in the refugee community and many have fled the camps in recent weeks to avoid being listed for returning to Myanmar.

Nur Alam, 34, a Rohingya from Balukhali refugee camp, told that he knows of no Rohingya willing to go back to Rakhine.

"A few days ago, government officials came to our block and asked us if we would go back. Everyone’s view was negative. We believe Myanmar is not safe for our return," said Alam, a father of four.

"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 U.N. peacekeeping force is deployed to ensure our safety and security in Rakhine State," he added.

International rights watchdogs including London-based Amnesty International and New York-based Human Right Watch have called on Bangladesh to halt what they term a "dangerous" and "premature" repatriation plan.

A United Nations Fact-Finding Mission in mid-September found that the Myanmar military's persecution of the Rohingya in Rakhine amounted to genocide.

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