By Bayram Altug
GENEVA (AA) - UNICEF voiced concern on Friday over reports on forcible repatriation of Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh to Myanmar.
“This week we have seen widespread reports that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh may be forcibly repatriated to Myanmar, reports that UNICEF views with the utmost concern, with particular concern at how such a move would affect children,” Christophe Boulierac, UNICEF’s spokesperson told a press briefing in Geneva.
Boulierac said his colleagues working in one of refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar witnessed a large protest by Rohingya against the plans for repatriation.
“The camp authorities reinforced the message that while they are ready to repatriate refugees on a voluntary basis, no Rohingya refugees will be forced to return to Myanmar if they do not wish to do so,” he said.
He noted an “overwhelming majority” of the refugees were reluctant to be repatriated unless their safety was ensured, according to unofficial polls conducted in the camps by UNICEF.
“For many, the trauma they witnessed during their exodus from Myanmar at the end of 2017 is still fresh in their minds,” he added.
He also called on the international community to continue working with Bangladesh and Myanmar governments to support Rohingya children and families.
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 international law.
- Bangladesh suspended 1st scheduled repatriation
On Thursday, the Bangladeshi government halted the first scheduled Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar following protests by over 700,000 refugees.
Md Abul Kalam, commissioner of the Bangladesh Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, told Anadolu Agency that all preparations were complete from their side, but the Rohingya were not willing to return to their home country.
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.
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.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children, and women, fled Myanmar and crossed into neighboring Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.
The UN has 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.