YANGON, Myanmar – Human Rights Watch called on Wednesday for the suspension of the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh over fears they will face the same violence in Myanmar from which they fled.
The repatriations are set to begin on Thursday.
The two countries agreed upon an initial return of 3,454 Rohingyas from the refugee camps in Bangladesh where some 900,000 people from the Myanmar Muslim minority group live.
The selected refugees have been verified by Myanmar from a list of 22,000 submitted by Bangladesh; however, the United Nations’ refugee agency and Dhaka are yet to verify whether these people have accepted to return voluntarily.
“Myanmar has yet to address the systematic persecution and violence against the Rohingya, so refugees have every reason to fear for their safety if they return,” HRW’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.
The organization said that many Rohingya refugees have expressed their wish to eventually return to Myanmar, but believed that current conditions made their return unsafe.
The Rohingya mass exodus of some 740,000 people to Bangladesh began when Myanmar’s army launched an offensive in Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh, in August 2017.
United Nations observers have described the army crackdown as ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.
The first phase of voluntary Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar was to begin in November last year. However, none of the refugees volunteered to go home amid security concerns.
The minority group is not recognized by Myanmar authorities, who consider them Bangladeshi immigrants.
They are also subjected to widespread discrimination and face restriction of movement.