Eastern Eye (UK)

Rohingya wary of Myanmar repatriati­on offer


ROHINGYA refugees said last Wednesday (22) they doubted Myanmar was offering a genuine return to their homeland, as a spokesman for the country’s military junta said it would begin welcoming back members of the persecuted minority as soon as next month.

A delegation of 17 officials from Myanmar’s junta was in Bangladesh last week to interview potential candidates for return. It comes more than five years after a brutal military crackdown drove large numbers of Rohingya out of their homes.

The visit, brokered by China and partly facilitate­d by the United Nations, jumpstarte­d a repatriati­on agreement between the two countries that has languished for years, partly over fears that the refugees would not be safe on their return.

But Rohingya interviewe­d by the delegation said none of their queries about security or recognitio­n of their right to citizenshi­p in Myanmar had been answered.

“They used to treat us badly there. I asked whether we would be able to live a normal life there, but then they stopped me,” Shamsun Nahar, a 40-year-old Rohingya woman, said.

“They did not want any more questions,” she added. “I don’t think they will take us to Myanmar. If they do, they won’t give us any rights.”

The Myanmar delegation left last Wednesday after a week in the refugee camps, home to around a million Rohingya.

The Junta spokesman, Zaw Min Tun, said after their departure that Myanmar would likely begin the repatriati­on process by mid-April and would welcome around 1,000 refugees at first.

Myanmar’s representa­tives were officially there to assess refugees for potential return, based partly on if they could prove their residence in the country before the 2017 crackdown.

But another refugee interviewe­d by the delegation said documentat­ion proving his residency was treated with scepticism.

“I provided all the documents, they said ‘hmm’,” Soyod Hossain, 50, said. “I don’t think they believe our documents were genuine.”

The Rohingya are widely viewed in Myanmar as interloper­s from Bangladesh, despite roots in the country stretching back centuries. They are stateless after Myanmar ceased recognisin­g their citizenshi­p in 2015.

The Junta chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who has dismissed the Rohingya identity as “imaginary”, was head of the armed forces during the 2017 crackdown.

That year’s violence is now subject to a genocide investigat­ion. The Internatio­nal Court of Justice is probing allegation­s of rape, murder and arson against entire Rohingya villages by Myanmar’s security forces.

The Arakan Rohingya National Alliance, a prominent Rohingya diaspora group, accused Myanmar last week of planning to orchestrat­e a “token” return of refugees to avoid the court’s censure.

The UN refugee agency said once again that conditions in Myanmar remained unsuitable for the “sustainabl­e return” of Rohingya refugees.

Bangladesh’s refugee commission­er, Mizanur Rahman, said his country was hopeful that refugee returns would start soon, with more clarity on timing to come next week.

“We don’t have any option other than repatriati­on. But the whole process is complex,” Rahman said.

China is mediating between both countries on the renewed repatriati­on push, and Beijing’s ambassador to Dhaka, Yao Wen, also told reporters last week the process would start “very soon”.

Myanmar’s state media has so far not reported on the delegation’s visit to Bangladesh.

 ?? ?? SCEPTICAL: Refugees say they do not trust the Junta to treat them well if they return home
SCEPTICAL: Refugees say they do not trust the Junta to treat them well if they return home

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