On January 23 one day before scheduled to begin, Bangladeshi officials announced the postponement of a gradual repatriation aiming to return more than half a million Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar. The United Nations warns that necessary safeguards are still absent.

Two month after Myanmar and Bangladesh set up a Joint Working Group on returns to ensure a “speedy” repatriation of more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees, who have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017, media quotes the Bangladeshi Refugee and Repatriation Commissioner, Abul Kalam reasoning a delay with the finalization of paper work and transit infrastructure for returnees.

In press briefings, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, named by Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali as facilitator of voluntary return, stressed the need to meet international standards prior to implementing repatriation operations and urged the unhindered UN access to Rakhine State in order to assess  “the actual return conditions and [to create conditions for] the long-term viability of the returns”.  Still, Myanmar’s government refused to cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee and denied her access to the county and Rakhine State, the primary settling area of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and scene of what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights classified as “textbook example of ethnic cleansings”.

Doubts of the voluntary nature of returnees and conditions in Rakhine State are further fueled by Rohingya leaders currently residing in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. As media reported last week, Rohingya elders, representing 40 villages declared to boycott the return unless an open list of demands, including the full recognition of the Muslim minority, the reconstruction of their villages as well as the full investigation of human rights violations and the role of Myanmar militia.

Since outbreaks of violence in the end of August 2017, more than 650,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar. The majority to the Bangladeshi bordering region Cox Bazar, settling in makeshift camps. The situation, especially for children remains dire. In view of the imminent cyclone and monsoon season, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned of a humanitarian catastrophe.


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Photo: (cc) CAFOD Photo Library, September 2017

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.