Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Forced back to Myanmar

The Bangladeshi army, police and paramilitary troops have moved into several of the camps, where over 700,000 Rohingya are living after fleeing a campaign of violence, described as genocide by a UN fact-finding mission.

It is the latest signal that the repatriations, due to begin on Thursday, may not be voluntary, despite multiple assurances by the Bangladesh foreign secretary and the refugee commissioner that they would not force any Rohingya to go back against their will. Dozens of Rohingya families interviewed by the Guardian, who were placed on a list of 2,200 refugees “approved” for return by Myanmar without their consent, said they did not want to return under the current conditions. Many had fled the camps and gone into hiding, while for others the prospect of going back was so alarming they had attempted suicide.

The security presence had doubled in the past two days in several settlements, elevating the panic among the Rohingya. “When the sun sets the security teams come to every entry point in the camps and they don’t leave till the morning,” he said. “People are running away and spending days and nights in the forest or other camps.”

Noor Qadar, a 29-year-old Rohingya refugee in Jamtoli camp, said many families, even those not among the list approved for return by Myanmar, had gone into hiding.
“The army is in every corner of the Jamtoli and Hakimpara camps, sitting and checking people and not letting them move between camps,” said Qadar. “People are too afraid to leave their houses or eat. Some left our block at midnight using secret paths for other camps, especially Kutupalong, where there is not so much fear about repatriation.”

Nurul Islam, a Rohingya community leader in Unchiprang refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, said that up to 50 families in the vicinity hadgone into hiding. “Last week the officials told several families sternly that they would no more be allowed to stay in Bangladesh and have to return to Myanmar and almost all of them have disappeared from their shacks in our camp in the past three or four days,” Islam told the Guardian. “Like all other Rohingya they are too scared to return to Burma. So, they have gone into hiding.”
The UN has repeatedly called for a halt to the repatriation plans. UNHCR said it would not be facilitating or providing assistance for return, other than interviewing Rohingya on the list and assessing their willingness to go back. On Tuesday Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, condemned the “terror and panic” it was causing Rohingya who were at “imminent risk of being returned to Myanmar against their will.”

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