Monday, February 18, 2019 | ePaper

Rohingya repatriation stalled

They refused to go back amid safety concern

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Hundreds of Rohingya refugees shout slogans as they protest against their repatriation at the Unchiprang camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh on Thursday.

Special Correspondent  :
Bangladesh has halted the repatriation of Rohingya refugees as they refused to go back to Rakhine state of Myanmar voluntarily on safety concern.
Besides, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also expressed concern about the security of those who will return there saying,  "Conditions of Rakhine state were not conducive yet for Rohingyas to return."
Bangladesh and Myanmar authorities announced that they have to start repatriation of the first batch of 150 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar on Thursday.
The repatriation was supposed to begin through land at Ghumdhum point of Bandarban at 2:00pm.
 "The repatriation process has been halted as the refugees listed in the first phase of repatriation did not want to return to Myanmar," Mohammad Abul Kalam, Refugee Rehabilitation and Relief Commissioner, told The New Nation in the afternoon.
He said that about 150 Rohingyas (30 families) were supposed to be repatriated through the Ghundhum point of Bandarban on Thursday.
"We were fully prepared and made all arrangements. But we finally halted the process as Rohingyas refused to go back voluntarily," added Kalam.
Aid officials said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) earlier formed 14 teams to interview the short-listed refugee families and they have said no to repatriation. Even, many Rohingya families waiting for repatriation fled camps amid fear of persecution and lack of rights in Myanmar.
 "Conditions in Rakhine state were not yet conducive for Rohingya to return," Firas Al-Khateeb, UNHCR spokesperson based in Cox's Bazar, told The New Nation yesterday,
He said the UNHCR has assessed the situation in Rakhine and appraised it to the Rohingya families and nobody wanted to go back.
"The refugee families have expressed anxiety about their future knowing the situation in Myanmar. They disagreed to return to their homes until questions of citizenship, legal rights and access to services, justice and restitution are addressed. As our principal is to ensure the repatriation must be safe, dignified and with voluntary as well as sustainable, we will work on that."
Firas Al-Khateeb also said that the UN is pursuing voluntary return of the refugees. If they do not wish to go back, we cannot force them to do so. It is the international practice.
Meanwhile, about 27 refugee families were chosen for repatriation broke out into a protest at a camp in Teknaf in the afternoon saying that they would not go back to Myanmar unless they are not granted citizenship.
They chanted slogan saying, "We won't go back… We won't go back... We demand punishment of Aung San Suu Kyi."
Earlier this week, dozens of Rohingya families on the list of refugees to be repatriated began fleeing camps in Bangladesh.
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on Bangladesh on Tuesday to halt plans to repatriate 2,200 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, warning their lives would be at "serious risk." Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on October 30 to begin the returns in mid-November to Myanmar.
An estimated 700,000 Rohingyas fled across the border in 2017 when the Myanmar army launched a crackdown on the Muslim community after insurgent attacks on security forces outposts near the border.
The refugees are living in crowded camps in Cox's Bazar.

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