A United Nations human rights expert has implored Bangladesh to shelve “rushed plans” to repatriate Rohingya refugees back across the border into Myanmar’s Rakhine State for fear that without safety guarantees from the Burmese Government, persecution and horrific violence could begin all over again.
“Not only did the Rohingya face horrific violence at the hands of security forces in 2016 and 2017 with no accountability, they have been subjected to decades-long systematic discrimination and persecution in Myanmar,” Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar said on Tuesday.
After a reported military-led crackdown, widespread killings, rape and village torchings, nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya fled Myanmar's Rakhine state in August 2017 to settle in crowded refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.
In December 2017 both Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation plan that would begin the process of returning hundreds from the camps in mid-November.
I urge the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to halt these rushed plans for repatriation – UN Expert
Ms. Lee has repeatedly said that any returns before the root causes of the crisis were dealt with was highly premature and unjust. Moreover, she received credible information from refugees in Cox’s Bazar expressing their deep fear their names will be on the repatriation list – causing distress and anguish.
“I have not seen any evidence of the Government of Myanmar taking concrete and visible measures to create an environment where the Rohingya can return to their place of origin and live there safely with their fundamental rights guaranteed,” said the Special Rapporteur.
Ms. Lee reiterated that the refugees must be given the opportunity to participate in the process, as it was their decision alone to return to Myanmar.
“Any returns under current conditions where there is high risk of persecution, may violate obligations under customary international law to uphold the principle of non-refoulement,” she asserted.
While the Government of Myanmar has reportedly been developing the Rohingya area, building physical infrastructure to house returnees does not resolve the issues, stressed the Special Rapporteur.
“Living safely and in a dignified manner includes a right to citizenship, freedom of movement, and access to services, health, education and livelihoods,” argued Ms. Lee.
“I urge the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to halt these rushed plans for repatriation, to ensure the protection of the Rohingya refugees and to adhere to their international human rights and refugee law obligations to ensure any returns are safe, sustainable, voluntary and dignified,” concluded the Special Rapporteur.