Rohingya Refugees Refuse Repatriation from Bangladesh

Rohingya camp

"We won't go!" hundreds of voices, including children's, chanted in reply.

UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday urged the Bangladesh government to halt plans for the repatriation saying it would put the lives of refugees at stake and violate worldwide law.

They said Canada has consistently emphasized that the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar must be: voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable-and that it must uphold their human rights. "I hope the Myanmar authority will keep their words".

"If we have to go back, that is our fate".

Myanmar's army has driven the Muslim minority out in waves and denies them citizenship and self-identification as "Rohingya", instead labelling them "Bengalis" - illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. "Though they are trying to reassure us, I'm not convinced".

Bangladesh has stressed that it will not repatriate anyone against their will.

He added that he was eager to hear about how Myanmar will enable the voluntarily return.

The few who are reportedly willing to return are 450 Hindu families who are on the list of 2,260 refugees who have been vetted and approved by Myanmar to come back.

Qadar, who like many Rohingya uses one name, told the Guardian that, from Jamtoli camp alone, several thousand refugees had gone into hiding in the forests and nearby hills since Wednesday evening to make sure they were not sent back to Myanmar against their will.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in October past year to start repatriations. We seek compensation and reparations for the properties we lost and we demand the return of confiscated lands since 1992. There is no question of forcible repatriation.

The UN refugee agency has publicly cautioned against the repatriation going ahead and, in an internal briefing paper seen by AFP, laid out stringent conditions under which it would offer humanitarian assistance to anyone who ends up returning.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR also has advised against the returns, saying safety should be assessed first.

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"The Bangladesh government will be stunned to see how quickly global opinion turns against it if it starts sending unwilling Rohingya refugees back into harm's way in Myanmar", said Bill Frelick, HRW refugee rights director. "We don't want any kind of independence", he said. It's right that we could not start the process.

It said returning Rohingya would stay at repatriation camps for two days and receive food and clothing before moving on to transit camps.

"We made all preparations". In September, the International Criminal Court, which rules on war crimes and crimes against humanity, opened an initial inquiry into some of these "crimes of persecution and other inhumane acts".

"None feels safe to go back now".

"To some extent, it is important to clarify where the responsibility lies".

Such efforts will help Myanmar develop its economy and society and benefit both peoples, he added.

She welcomed "small improvements" Myanmar had made so far and hoped that the global community and everybody else can work on making more progress on that so that the refugees are able to exercise their rights to return.

Several hundred Rohingya joined a protest at the camps as the Bangladeshi authorities brought five buses to carry 27 Rohingya families from Unchiprang to the departure point in Teknaf to start repatriation to Myanmar.

The plan to begin returning the Rohingya to Myanmar comes just days after United Nations investigators warned of an "ongoing genocide" against the Muslim minority.

Following pressure from the global community and widespread criticism, Myanmar signed an agreement with Bangladesh in the beginning of this year to take back the recently displaced Rohingyas, but the process was delayed for different reasons. "We never return to Myanmar without citizenship and our rights", read one placard held by a youth.

Finally on Oct 30, the two countries agreed to start the process in mid-November.

Earlier in the day, the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch issued an "immediate release" calling upon the Bangladesh government to halt the Rohingya repatriation plan, saying conditions would be unsafe "until Myanmar ensures rights and security".

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