Rohingya again balk at returning to Myanmar for fears of persecution

Bangladesh's refugee commissioner said Thursday that no Rohingya Muslims turned up to return to Myanmar from camps in the South Asian nation as they wanted their demands for citizenship and guarantees of safety met first.

Meanwhile, new UN report alleges widespread sexual violence was carried out by Myanmar military

Rohingya refugee children watch Myanmarese and Chinese officials arrive at Nayapara camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Bangladesh's refugee commissioner said Thursday that no Rohingya Muslims turned up to return to Myanmar. (Mahmud Hossain Opu/The Associated Press)

Bangladesh's refugee commissioner said Thursday that no Rohingya Muslims turned up to return to Myanmar from camps in the South Asian nation as they wanted their demands for citizenship and guarantees of safety met first.

Abul Kalam told a news conference that no one from 295 families already interviewed since Tuesday by the Bangladesh government and the United Nations refugee agency agreed to go back to Myanmar.

"Not a single Rohingya wants to go back without their demands [being] met," he said.

Rohingya have long been demanding that Myanmar must give them citizenship, safety and their own land and homes they left behind.

Myanmar had earlier said the repatriation would start from Thursday. The Buddhist-majority country has certified more than 3,000 refugees from more than 1,000 families as eligible for repatriation.

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

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A Rohingya refugee displays to journalists a demand letter about Rohingya repatriation at Nayapara camp. (Mahmud Hossain Opu/The Associated Press)

Myanmar's military began a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against Rohingya Muslims in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack. The campaign has been called ethnic cleansing that has involved mass rapes, killings and the burning of homes.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh and have refused to return unless their safety is assured.

Officials said the situation at the camps was calm on Wednesday and Thursday, and no chaos was reported such as what happened in November last year, when thousands protested what they feared might be a forced repatriation.

Nevertheless, Ramzan Begum said her mother-in-law fled the camp home for an unknown destination on Wednesday night and had not returned by Thursday.

"She told us she will not go back and left the home last night," Begum said.

Many refugees have said they want to go back under direct UN supervision, not under the Myanmar government.

"Memories of murder, rape and torched villages are still fresh in the minds of Rohingya refugees. With Myanmar's military as powerful and remorseless as ever, it remains unsafe for anyone to return to Rakhine," said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International's regional director for East and Southeast Asia.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, refused to recognize Rohingya as citizens or even as an ethnic group, rendering them stateless, and they face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination.

New UN report alleges sexual violence, genocidal intent

A UN-established investigation last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar's top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the crackdown on the Rohingya. Myanmar dismissed the allegations.

On Thursday, a new UN report alleged, in disturbing detail, that widespread sexual violence was carried out by the Myanmar security forces and was so severe that it demonstrates intent to commit genocide, as well as warranting prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said it found the country's soldiers "routinely and systematically employed rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people in blatant violation of international human rights law."

The fact-finding mission, led by Indonesian human rights lawyer Marzuki Darusman, was established by the UN's Human Rights Council in 2017, with the report pertaining to the Kachin and Shan ethnic minorities in northern Myanmar as well as the Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine.

The report says its finding of genocidal intent toward the Rohingya was supported by "the widespread and systematic killing of women and girls, the systematic selection of women and girls of reproductive ages for rape, attacks on pregnant women and on babies, the mutilation and other injures to their reproductive organs, the physical branding of their bodies by bite marks on their cheeks, neck, breast and thigh, and so severely injuring victims that they may be unable to have sexual intercourse with their husbands or to conceive."

The new report condemns Myanmar's failure to hold accountable the perpetrators of the abuses, noting that "such violence was only possible in a climate of long-standing tolerance and impunity, where military personnel had no reasonable fear of punishment or disciplinary action."

Myanmar has rejected previous UN reports, both in terms of content and jurisdiction.

Myanmar's government and military have consistently denied carrying out human rights violations, and said its military operations in Rakhine were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.