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Bangladesh Calls off 'Rushed' Repatriation Plan of Rohingyas to Myanmar After Protests

More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar's Rakhine state since August last year after a brutal military crackdown was launched, dubbed by the UN as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" and "genocide" by international rights watchdogs, sparking a global uproar.

PTI

Updated:November 15, 2018, 10:42 PM IST
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Bangladesh Calls off 'Rushed' Repatriation Plan of Rohingyas to Myanmar After Protests
Rohingya children walk across a bamboo bridge in the morning wearing new clothes to celebrate Eid al-Adha in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (Image: Reuters)
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Dhaka: Bangladesh on Thursday called-off its plan to repatriate hundreds of Rohingya refugees in the country after they refused to return to Myanmar where the minority Muslim community feared for their lives.

More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar's Rakhine state since August last year after a brutal military crackdown was launched, dubbed by the UN as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" and "genocide" by international rights watchdogs, sparking a global uproar.

On Thursday, Bangladesh began preparations to repatriate an initial batch of 2,000 Rohingya Muslims from 485 families to Myanmar, in line with a plan agreed with Myanmar in October.

However, several thousand Rohingya instead staged protests declining to go back to Myanmar as four trucks and three buses have been stationed at Unchiprang camp in Cox's Bazar, ready to carry refugees who have been "approved" to a transit camp by the border but not one refugee has been willing to board them, officials said.

"Nobody is willing to return to Myanmar, Rohingya repatriation will be called-off for the day if nobody volunteers by 4pm on Thursday," Bangladesh's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission's (RRRC) chief, Md Abul Kalam was quoted as saying by the Dhaka Tribune.

"The buses were ready and we readied three days of rations for those who were set to return, in the first batch but none boarded on the buses," an official of the relief commissioner's office at the scene said.

The Rohingyas staged protest marches demanding realisation of a five-point demand as the precondition that included deployment of UN peacekeeping forces in the Rakhine State to ensure their safety and giving them the full citizenship status in Myanmar.

"We want our security and dignity, we don't believe them (Myanmar authorities)," a Rohingya protestors told a private TV channel.

Kalam earlier said none of the 50 families spoken to so far "expressed their willingness to go back under the present circumstances" and "We cannot force them to go back against their will"We are waiting, we will start the repatriation if someone agrees to go back by 4pm," Kalam said.

Bangladesh officials on Thursday held several rounds of meetings with the Rohingya in their effort to motivate them to return home but said they were at liberty to decide on their return.

The authorities in Dhaka, however, are yet to make any announcement on the situation.

The UN rights body chief Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation plans fearing that sending them back would put their lives at "serious risk".

The date for the beginning the repatriation was set on October 30 in line with Myanmar officials talks with Bangladesh while they visited the crammed Rohingya camps in the country's southeastern Cox's Bazar visibly in their effort to start a process as Naypyidaw agreed to begin their repatriation by November.

Bangladeshi officials said they so far provided Myanmar a list of 24,000 Rohingyas in two phases, while Myanmar said they verified 5,000 of them while media reports quoting Naypyidaw sources suggested they could return initially 2,000.

Myanmar earlier announced a large-scale repatriation plan in November 2017 but Dhaka alleged the country took little steps to keep their promise.

Myanmar, however, is still refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing in its treatment of the Rohingyas.

The UN investigators said Myanmar's top military officials should be prosecuted for genocide but the country has rejected the calls, insisting it was defending itself against armed fighters.

The UN has called on both governments to halt the "rushed" repatriation plans but the pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Bangladesh, however, tried to quell the panic by instructing NGOs it maintained its commitment to voluntary returns and that all NGOs should continue their work as usual.

US Vice President Mike Pence told Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday that the violence against the Rohingya was "without excuse", adding pressure on Myanmar's civilian leader.

Bangladesh, which had been extending refuge to another 300,000 Rohingyas ahead of the fresh exodus since last year, demanded greater UN and global pressure on Myanmar for their safe and dignified return.

Rohingyas who took refuge in Bangladesh said their movement was restricted in their homeland ahead of the cleansing campaign while "fear and mistrust" had exposed them to hardship and economic vulnerability.
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