On Thursday, the government of Bangladesh plans to begin sending Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, a country the oppressed group left to escape mass rape and genocide. Though Bangladesh claims the repatriation is voluntary, a supposed deal with Myanmar made a month prior suggests that they plan to forcefully deport over 2,000 Rohingya by November 15.
Official family counting sheets have been circulating throughout Rohingya camps in Bangladesh to keep track of refugees, and a lack of communication and information has left many in a state of hysteria and terror. Many families have been told they are on a list of approximately 2,300 refugees to be returned, causing a large number to flee. Others, according to Al Jazeera, have attempted to commit suicide.
It is not hard to understand why. Rohingya refugee Dildar Begum, who was raped by Myanmarese soldiers after watching them kill her husband and young children, told NPR that she “would rather drink poison than go back to Myanmar.” Director of the Arakan Project Chris Lewa, a group which monitors Rohingya communities, says that she fears people smugglers may profit even more off of the group’s displacement. “The Rohingya are trapped. They have nowhere to go. No one wants them, and now they face on top of that the threat of repatriation.”
The UN refugee agency has granted that it will interview the Rohingya on whether or not they want to leave Bangladesh. Firas al-Khateeb, a spokesperson for the agency told Al Jazeera, “If we assess that they’re not going of their own free will that means the government will probably have to take another position.”
This impulsive, reckless action by both Bangladesh and Myanmar is atrocious, and a true travesty for the Rohingya people. There is no reason why Bangladesh should turn away people seeking aid, or why the government of Myanmar should actively oppress a minority group looking for opportunities to work and practice their faith freely as citizens. Failure from the UN to recognize the situation has left very little time to stop Bangladesh from sending these men, women and children away and essentially condemning them to death in a land which has proven it is actively against them.
While Bangladesh and Myanmar both insist they have planned a way for Rohingya refugees to be relocated safely, recent events and actions are casting doubts on the ‘good intentions’ of these countries. In Myanmar, officials say they have constructed more housing and configured “national verification cards” in order to accustom the Rohingya. However, some wonder whether or not the ID cards will amount to second-class citizenship, and if refugees will be able to return to the original sites of their homes.
Moreover, it is abundantly clear that the sociopolitical conditions of Myanmar are “still not conducive” for the return of Rohingya refugees, as stated in a United Nations report. On the streets of Myanmar, Buddhists are protesting their repatriation, meanwhile 140,000 Rohingya remain in filthy, run-down camps outside the capital of Rakhine since they were driven from their homes by Buddhist terrorists in 2012. Heeding anti-Muslim nationalist sentiments, Myanmarese authorities have even restricted the access of these Rohingya camps, ridden with disease and starvation, to education and healthcare. It is these camps Myanmar wishes the refugees to return to.
As for Bangladesh, NPR reports that refugees there have not been received most cordially. The temporary camps made to house the Rohingya are located in a place susceptible to landslides and floods during monsoon seasons, and there are limited work or educational opportunities. This has been done purposefully by the Bangladeshi government in order to discourage refugees from staying for too long.
In the past week, 42 international aid organizations came together and signed a letter to Myanmar and Bangladesh, all but pleading with them to reconsider the repatriation plan. They argue that otherwise it would be “dangerous and premature,” as well a violation to the principle that a nation should not send refugees back to places they have fled persecution. However, neither nation has acknowledged this petition.
With all of the violence and hatred in Myanmar, international entities cannot allow Rohingya refugees to return there so haphazardly with no safeguards or protections in place. Peace cannot be achieved and these groups of people cannot coexist in today’s state. Time and many diplomatic measures must be taken to resolve this. Above all, the Myanmarese government must be held accountable for its contribution to the crimes committed by its military and Buddhist citizens against the Rohingya.
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