By SM Najmus Sakib
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) - The planned repatriation of some 3,500 Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh to Myanmar on Thursday did not happen, said officials, as the members of the persecuted group were unwilling to return due to safety fears and other concerns.
Not a single one of 3,450 Rohingya Muslims slated for return expressed a willingness to go, citing security issues, while Bangladeshi officials made assurances that no one would be sent back by force.
“If any Rohingya refugee express a willingness to return we will repatriate them to Myanmar, but none of the listed Rohingya people expressed a willingness to go back to their country,” Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Anadolu Agency.
Bangladesh will not force any refugees to return, he added, speaking at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.
All preparations including five vehicles will remain ready at the refugee camps until next week if any Rohingya want to return willingly, he added.
In order to return, the displaced Rohingya sought conditions including full citizenship, the safety to freely move in Myanmar, return of their property, and safety monitoring from the international community.
“We never return without a grant or getting our full citizenship rights. There is no safety, security inside of Myanmar’s Rakhine state for the Rohingya,” Khin Maung, a refugee in Cox’s Bazar, told the Anadolu Agency over phone.
The Rohingya are ready if Myanmar’s government agreed to restore full citizenships rights, he added, saying Myanmar is not changing at all because it faced no consequences from its actions.
Myanmar reportedly put 3,450 Rohingya on a “repatriation list” from a list of more than 22,000 Rohingya provided by the government of Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency said in a statement that the global body had interviewed scores of Rohingya refugees along with the Bangladeshi government and none of them were willing to go to Myanmar.
"UNHCR has been assisting the Government of Bangladesh in surveying these refugees on whether they wish to return to Myanmar and to confirm the voluntariness of any individual decision to do so," said the agency on Thursday.
"So far, none of those interviewed have indicated a willingness to repatriate at this time."
"Many [Rohingya refugees] stated that they do hope to go home to Myanmar as soon as conditions allow and that assurances regarding their citizenship status, freedom of movement, and security in Myanmar could be provided," read the statement.
Rohingya groups and human rights bodies have expressed concern over the possibility of an even worse crisis in Myanmar and called for refugees’ involvement in any return plan.
An earlier planned repatriation of Rohingya was repeatedly postponed, also due to safety concerns.
- Persecuted people
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience".
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.