GENEVA (8 June 2023) –Bangladesh must immediately suspend a pilot repatriation project for Rohingya to return to Myanmar, where they face serious risks to their lives and liberty, a UN expert said today.
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said there were reports that Bangladeshi authorities were using deceptive and coercive measures to compel Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar.
“Conditions in Myanmar are anything but conducive for the safe, dignified, sustainable, and voluntary return of Rohingya refugees,” Andrews said. “Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who commanded the forces that launched the genocidal attacks against the Rohingya, now leads a brutal military junta that is attacking civilian populations while denying the Rohingya citizenship and other basic rights,” he said.
Bangladesh officials have stated that an initial group of 1140 Rohingya refugees will be repatriated to Myanmar at an unspecified date and 6000 will be returned by the end of the year. Actions by Bangladesh authorities suggest that the first return could be imminent.
Bangladesh authorities have reportedly threatened arrest, confiscation of documents, and other forms of retaliation for those who resist the government’s plans.
“There are also reports of refugees being promised large sums of money, if they agree to return. These promises are allegedly being made even as food rations are being cut to $.27 per person per day for those in the Bangladesh camps. It remains unclear where the funds for repatriated families will come from,” Andrews said.
Under the pilot project, Rohingya refugees will not be allowed to return to their own villages, many of which were razed to the ground during the genocidal attacks of 2017. The refugees would pass through “reception” and “transit” centers in Maungdaw Township, after which they would be moved to a designated area of 15 newly constructed “villages” – places they will not be allowed to leave freely.
In March, Bangladesh authorities facilitated two visits by Myanmar junta authorities (SAC) to the Bangladesh camps. According to reports, at least some of the refugees were coerced into participating in ‘verification’ interviews with SAC officials. Bangladesh and SAC officials also coordinated a ‘go and see’ visit to Rakhine State for some Rohingya refugees. Bangladeshi officials said the refugees had expressed “general satisfaction” with arrangements made for their return, but these assurances were contradicted by reports that those who participated in the trip had unequivocally rejected the repatriation plans.
“The return of Rohingya refugees under these conditions would likely violate Bangladesh’s obligations under international law and expose Rohingya to gross human rights violations and, potentially, future atrocity crimes,” the Special Rapporteur said.
“I implore Bangladesh to immediately suspend the repatriation pilot programme,” Andrews said.
“I also urge the international community to stand with Rohingya refugees in both word and deed. This must include reversing the failure to provide a humane level of support for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who are unable to pursue livelihoods, continue to face hunger and malnutrition, and whose children have very limited educational opportunities,” the expert said.
Mr. Thomas Andrews (United States of America) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. A former member of the US Congress from Maine, Andrews is a Robina Senior Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School and an Associate of Harvard University’s Asia Center. He has worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and parliamentarians, NGOs and political parties in Cambodia, Indonesia, Algeria, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yemen. He has been a consultant for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the Euro-Burma Network and has run advocacy NGOs including Win Without War and United to End Genocide.
Endorsed by: Mr. Fabián Salvioli: Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Ms. Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
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