Bangladesh PM says Rohingya refugees must return to Myanmar

UN rights chief says Rohingya refugees in Myanmar are currently unable to return due to security concerns.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has told UN rights chiefs that millions of Rohingya refugees living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh should return to Myanmar, where they fled a wave of violent persecution.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet arrived in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on Sunday and visited Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar district near the Myanmar border.

“Rohingyas are citizens of Myanmar and should be taken back,” Hasina’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim said on Wednesday.

The majority Muslim Rohingya community faces widespread discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where most are denied citizenship and many other rights.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August 2017, crossing the border into Bangladesh, after Myanmar’s military launched a “clearance operation” against them following an attack by a rebel group. The security situation in Myanmar has deteriorated since the military takeover last year.

“Unfortunately the current situation across the border means that the conditions are not right for a return,” Bachelet told reporters in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.

“Repatriation should always be voluntary and dignified only when safe and sustainable conditions exist in Myanmar.”

After a nearly five-year refugee crisis, Bangladesh has grown increasingly impatient with the presence of its large refugee population, and Bachelet said she was concerned about “escalating anti-Rohingya rhetoric” and scapegoating the community.

She added that many refugees feared for their safety due to the activities of armed groups and criminal gangs.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August 2017. [Munir uz Zaman/AFP]

Security is a constant concern in the camps, with police dragnets targeting murders, kidnappings and drug-trafficking networks.

Two Rohingya community leaders were killed earlier this month, allegedly by an armed group active in the camps accused of killing political opponents.

Al Jazeera’s Tanveer Chaudhary, reporting from Dhaka, said Bangladesh was “questioning Myanmar’s stance” on the return of Rohingya refugees.

“Several meetings were held with the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, but nothing was actually achieved,” Choudhary said.

Bangladesh has said that Myanmar has promised to start the repatriation process, “Meanwhile here [Bangladesh] The atmosphere towards the Rohingya refugees is becoming hostile day by day,” Chaudhary added.

The Bangladesh attack divided the country
Sheikh Hasina said Rohingya refugees must return to Myanmar [File: AP Photo]

Earlier this month, Bangladesh sought China’s cooperation in repatriating Rohingyas to Myanmar during a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi. China brokered a deal with Myanmar in November 2017 aimed at repatriating refugees.

Hasina and several cabinet ministers had earlier expressed dismay at Myanmar’s inaction in taking them back under the deal. UN and Bangladeshi officials made at least two attempts to repatriate them, but the refugees refused to go due to security concerns in Myanmar.

When Bachelet visited the camps on Wednesday, the refugees pleaded with the United Nations to help improve security in Myanmar so they could return.

The UN said in a statement that the refugees described to Bachelet “their grievances, their pain”.

“The UN is doing everything we can to support them. We will continue to do that,” she said. “But we also have to deal with the deeper roots of the problem. We have to deal with this and make sure they can go back to Myanmar – when there are conditions for safe and voluntary return.

In March, the United States said the crackdown on the Rohingya in Myanmar amounted to genocide, after confirming accounts of Myanmar’s military mass abusing civilians in a widespread and systematic campaign against the ethnic minority.

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