DHAKA – The delay in the repatriation of more than 688,000 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar from Bangladesh – originally set to begin on Tuesday – has kept members of the Muslim minority in a state of uncertainty, although many of them have firmly rejected the return unless their rights and security were guaranteed.
A number of “Majhis” – local leaders – in the refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar district spoke to EFE and expressed doubts over a process which they do not trust as violence continues in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, from where they have fled five months ago.
“We don’t know if we had to go from today, no one told us this. But if we go, Myanmar will torture us again,” said Mohammad Ayub, a 40-year-old “local leader” living in one of the refugee camps in Balukhali, where new refugees were still arriving, according to him.
Bangladeshi authorities said on Monday, following several announcement postponements, that the repatriation would not begin on Tuesday, a previous deadline to begin the process as laid down in an agreement signed by both countries on Nov. 23.
Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Abul Kalam, told EFE that there was still much work to be done – such as building infrastructure like transit camps and prepare a list based on family and village (to be verified later by Myanmar) – before the process could start.
These terms were included in another agreement signed last week which lays down a period of two years for completion of the process, which has been questioned by human rights organizations and the United Nations agencies.
“Everyone is saying if we go to Myanmar, we have to be given citizenship, UN security. If these can be assured we want to go straightaway. Otherwise, how can we go?” said Ayub.
Ayub revealed that last week the Myanmar authorities released 1,300 photos of alleged terrorists, who, according to him, were innocent and were afraid to return fearing for their lives.
Abdur Razzak, a Majhi in the Kutupalong camp, arrived from Myanmar’s Rathedaung on Sept. 9, hardly two weeks after the start of the military campaign against Rohingyas in Rakhine.
“No one has come here to tell us to leave, but if I have to go, I will go. But we need residency, UN help,” said Razzak, who keeps in touch with members of his community living across different refugee camps.
Mohammad Suman, a community leader in Balukhali camp, said he had heard of the agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar, but added that nobody had told them to go back.
He recalled that after another crisis in 2012 some Rohingyas had returned to Myanmar, where they were kept in a temporary camp where they have lived since.
Suman said that violence was still ongoing in Myanmar and said that more people had continued to arrive.
“They are still carrying out torture on us,” he said, adding that his brother was killed and his sister-in-law raped and murdered by the military, leaving behind a child who is living with the grandmother.
Suman’s account is a repeat of those told by other refugees claiming persecution, killings, tortures, rapes and widespread abuse in a campaign denounced by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as “ethnic cleansing.”
“If the situation improves, we don’t need to be told to go back. We will go on our own. But I am sure if we go now, they will torture us again,” Suman said.