By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ANKARA (AA) - Reports of a decision by Bangladesh and Myanmar to send back Rohingya refugees back to their native Rakhine state in Myanmar has raised concerns among the persecuted community, who have called for international observers to ensure their security upon return.
Several organizations called for international assistance in creating an appropriate environment for the repatriation.
On Aug. 15, Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay had announced that a total of 3,540 Rohingya refugees, out of more than 22,000 names sent by Bangladesh, "have been cleared for return to Myanmar."
The London-based Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) said similar repatriation agreements were planned before but were met with "massive resistance from the Rohingya population who said conditions were not safe or just enough for them to return voluntarily".
Slamming the move, the rights group alleged that the most recent announcement also seemed to have been planned "without input or consent of the Rohingya, and if carried out may amount to refoulment".
The BHRN called on the U.S., U.K., EU, UN, and members of the Association of South East Asian Nations to reject the plan and "clearly establish" the conditions required for repatriation to begin.
"These steps must include citizenship for the Rohingya, a functioning mechanism to ensure the safety of those returning, accountability for military figures involved in human rights violations, and a concrete plan to return Rohingya to their home villages and have their property restored or fully replaced if they were destroyed by the military," the BHRN said.
Though welcoming the move, president of the Rakhine Solidarity Organization (RSO), Mohammad Ayyub said so far, no returns had taken place. He sees the repatriation as an opportunity for Rohingya to return their own homeland.
Ayyub also noted that no attempts have been made to remove mistrust among the sides, while Rohingya refugee leaders were not consulted and were unaware of the plan.
He urged for the human and civil rights of the Rohingya to be restored before actual repatriation began.
"Myanmar must unconditionally stop the violence and ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state immediately and permanently to start the repatriation process," Ayyub said.
The SRO asked that an investigative UN team be sent to Myanmar to "ensure safety for all the citizens, irrespective of race and religion," as well as the building of a security zone in Myanmar under UN supervision.
He also called for the closure of camps where Rohingya were being held in Rakhine state, freedom of movement for their current inhabitants and the deployment of international security forces to "oversee or observe" the situation on the ground.
- Persecuted community
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.
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.
The UN has also documented mass gang rapes, killings – including of infants and young children – brutal beatings and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces.
In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.