UN says 2nd attempt to return Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar planned
'They are not willing to go back if nothing on the ground has changed,' UN spokesperson says
Myanmar and Bangladesh are making a second attempt to start repatriating Rohingya Muslims after more than 700,000 of them fled a security crackdown in Myanmar almost two years ago, the United Nations Refugee Agency said Friday.
Caroline Gluck, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told The Associated Press the Bangladesh government has asked for its help in verifying the 3,450 people who signed up for a voluntary repatriation. She said the list was whittled from 22,000 names that Bangladesh had sent to Myanmar for verification.
Abul Kalam, Bangladesh's refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, said the identities of the refugees have been confirmed by Myanmar and they now could go back there if they want.
Speaking in Bangladesh's capital of Dhaka, he said the government had ordered local officials in Cox's Bazar district to locate those on the list in the four refugee camps there, but their repatriation would only happen if they actually want to return voluntarily.
He said Bangladesh was always ready to provide support to any refugees who wished to return home, but also would not use force to make them go back.
Leaders of the Rohingya refugee community in the camps said they had not been consulted on the matter and were unaware of plans for any imminent return.
Myanmar's military in August 2017 launched a counterinsurgency campaign in response to an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. The army operation led to the Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh and accusations that security forces committed mass rapes, killings and burned thousands of homes.
Accusations of genocide
The UN-established Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar's top military commanders for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Myanmar has rejected the report and any suggestion its forces did anything wrong.
In July, Myanmar officials went to the camps in Bangladesh to talk to the refugees about their plans and preparations to bring them back, the latest of several similar visits. So far, most refugees appear to distrust the promises and believe it is too dangerous to return.
It is unclear when any repatriation might begin, given the need to find and check all the individuals and the fact that there is a major holiday at the moment in Bangladesh, Gluck said.
It is also possible it may stall, as it did last year.
"It's very hard to say whether people will accept voluntary repatriation this time round," said Gluck. "They tell us very clearly we want to go back with .. full rights. They are not willing to go back if nothing on the ground has changed."
The Rohingya have long been treated as outsiders in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, even though their families have lived in the country for generations.
Nearly all Rohingya have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless, and they are denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.