COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Aug 22, (Agencies): 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 UN’s refugee agency agreed to go back to Myanmar. “Not a single Rohingya wants to go back without their demands are 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 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her government will not force the refugees to return and the repatriation will only happen if they are willing. 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 fl ed across the border to Bangladesh and have refused to return unless their safety is assured. Officials said the situation the camps was calm on Wednesday and Thursday and no chaos was reported like in November last year when thousands protested what they feared might be a forced repatriation.
Nevertheless, Ramzan Begum said her mother-inlaw fl ed 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. Myanmar refused to recognize Rohingya as citizens or even as an ethnic group, rendering them stateless, and they face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination.
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.
In a separate development, two Rohingya men allegedly involved with drug peddling were killed in a gunfight with Bangladeshi border guards early Thursday at Teknaf in Cox’s Baza, said Maj Shariful Islam Jamaddar, deputy commander of the border guards. He said they recovered about 50,000 methamphetamine pills, which are usually smuggled from Myanmar, a gun and cartridges and two sharp weapons.
The UN refugee agency “is working with concerned governments to help create conditions conducive to return, to assess whether or not these people are going back voluntarily,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York. “The voluntary nature of repatriation is really a bedrock of our position,” he said. Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres, a former UN refugee chief, has stressed that it’s important for refugees to have the information they need to decide whether or not to return.
An earlier repatriation attempt last November was suspended because no one was willing to go back. Thousands of refugees protested and chanted “We won’t go back” and “We want justice,” forcing authorities to halt the process. This time, the camps have been quiet with no reports of major 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 fl ed 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.” 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 UN 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,” Ullah said as he left the interview room. Myanmar has long not recognized Rohingya as citizens, rendering them stateless, and they face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination.
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 has rejected the report and any suggestion its forces did anything wrong. Earlier, the United Nations’ refugee agency and Bangladesh authorities on Tuesday started to consult more than 3,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to determine if any want to return home, officials said, as a fresh repatriation bid was launched. More than 730,000 Rohingya fl ed Rakhine for neighbouring Bangladesh after a military-led crackdown in August 2017 the United Nations has said was perpetrated with “genocidal intent”, but many refugees refuse to go back, fearing more violence. Myanmar cleared 3,450 people to return, from a list of more than 22,000 provided by Bangladesh, authorities said.
“The intentions surveys are beginning today,” Louise Donovan, a UNHCR spokeswoman in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh, told Reuters. “Together, the government of Bangladesh and UNHCR will ask these refugees to come forward and discuss the option of repatriation.” The agency will hold a second confidential interview with those who express a wish to return, she added, to discuss their intentions, and ensure the decision is voluntary, she said. “They will be asked to complete a voluntary repatriation form,” she added. A representative of Bangladesh’s refugee relief effort will also attend the interviews, a government official said.