The repatriation of Rohingya refugees in western Bangladesh is underway, and it’s happening against the wishes of the people being moved, the United Nations, and human rights groups, according to the New York Times.
After months of deliberation, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar have arrived at a framework for returning Rohingya to Rakhine state, where they were violently expelled in 2017 by the Myanmar military in circumstances that the UN has called a genocide.
The UN has called for the process to be halted.
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“The human rights violations committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar amount to the worst atrocities, including crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide,” Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s high commissioner on refugees, said in a statement.
“With an almost complete lack of accountability, indeed with ongoing violations, returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades,” she added.
Bangladesh has made clear that it doesn’t want Rohingya to stay in the country long-term, and has prevented refugee camps from building permanent structures. In the past, the government has suggested moving the refugees onto an uninhabited island that formed 20 years ago from the build-up of silt deposits.
The government’s gold standard for dealing with the refugee crisis, however, has been repatriation.
Officials from both Myanmar and Bangladesh said that protocols are in place to ensure a smooth transition.
“We have trained the police, different law and enforcement agencies in workshops – educating them against discrimination. Also, we have been raising awareness against such discriminations,” Myint Thu, Myanmar’s foreign secretary, said of the country’s new strategy for guarding the Rohingya.
Since Myanmar’s government hasn’t investigated or even condemned the genocide, human rights groups have long urged against repatriation.
“This is a reckless move which puts lives at risk,” Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia, said in a statement.
“These women, men, and children would be sent back into the Myanmar military’s grasp with no protection guarantees, to live alongside those who torched their homes and whose bullets they fled,” she added.
Regardless of the protests, the first wave of repatriation will include about 2,200 Rohingya.
Many of those selected are troubled by the prospect of returning to a country that has oppressed them for decades and subjected them to a catastrophic expulsion just last year. Two elderly men who were selected for repatriation have attempted suicide, the Times reports, and others have refused to go.
At a rate of about 150 people per day, the repatriations will begin on Thursday.
Dr. Win Myat Aye, the social affairs minister of Myanmar, told the Times that the Rohingya would be protected and could return to their homes if they still exist.
In addition to killing, raping, maiming, and injuring Rohingya, the Myanmar military also burned down whole villages in 2017. As a result, it’s unclear what refugees will do in they find empty lots where their homes used to be.
“It’s safe for them to live here,” Win claimed. “They can live here for the long term.”