Even the Specter of Organized Return Terrifies Rohingya Refugees

WASHINGTON—Today, a plan to repatriate 3,450 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar fell apart when the refugees themselves refused to participate. This should not come as a surprise. As Refugees International has repeatedly warned, conditions inside Myanmar are not conducive for safe and dignified returns. A similar exercise in November 2018 failed for the very same reason. Refugees International remains deeply concerned that these premature return plans are causing more harm to an already traumatized community. The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh should refrain from such exercises until conditions inside Myanmar dramatically improve. 

“The idea of repatriating of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this time and under rushed circumstances raises serious concerns about whether the process is truly safe and voluntary,” said Daniel Sullivan, Refugees International’s Senior Advocate for Human Rights. “Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh say they haven’t been sufficiently consulted or informed, and it’s clear that Rakhine state remains too dangerous for them to return.” 

Earlier this year, Refugees International interviewed recent arrivals from Myanmar and noted that the government of Myanmar continues to pursue policies making the situation worse. Rohingya in Myanmar continue to be denied citizenship. They still face harassment, arbitrary detention, and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement and other basic rights. Until abuses stop and the perpetrators are held accountable, serious doubts remain about the safety of any returns.  

If the Rohingya in Myanmar still live under the constant threat of abuse, how can it be safe for those who have fled unspeakable atrocities to return? Even the specter of organized returns has caused widespread fear among Rohingya in Bangladesh, who have been highly traumatized. The government of Myanmar remains the main obstacle to return, and it is incumbent on Bangladesh and international actors to hold Myanmar to account. They must ensure that those who have sought refuge are not further harmed. Until conditions inside Myanmar have improved, there should be no further plans for organized returns.  

“This crisis began almost two years ago, and it’s not over yet,” Sullivan said. “Refugees International calls on the international community to further sanction Myanmar and prevent premature returns that will endanger the lives of those who have already fled crimes against humanity.” 


For press inquiries, please contact Chris Allbritton at chris@refugeesinternational.org or +1 305 741 9886.