Impending Plans to Return Rohingya Refugees to Imperil Thousands

Refugees International Denounces Impending Plans to Return Rohingya Refugees, Welcomes U.S. Vice President Pence’s Statements in Meeting with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi

Refugees International (RI) is gravely concerned about announced plans to begin returning Rohingya refugees to an unacceptably dangerous situation in Myanmar. We believe that returnees will be at grave risk of persecution and other violations of human rights. RI urges the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to refrain from returns until the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Rohingya refugees themselves are properly consulted and deem conditions in Myanmar to be safe for returns.

Refugees International welcomes the statements of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in his November 14 meeting with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, in which he called for accountability for atrocities and emphasized the need for voluntary returns. RI agrees with the vice president that commission of atrocities against the Rohingya “is without excuse.” We further urge the vice president to use the occasion of his visit to Southeast Asia and his meetings with regional leaders to strongly condemn the planned repatriation and to urge regional partners to pressure Myanmar to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis.

As Refugees International wrote in a policy brief earlier this fall:

“Any future moves toward repatriation will require input from the refugees, greater transparency, and guarantees of independent international monitoring to ensure the process is safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable. To date, those conditions clearly are not present.”

The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh have announced an agreement to begin repatriating at least 2,000 Rohingya refugees starting on November 15. But Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh continue to express well-founded fears of persecution and reoccurrence of the atrocities that have caused more than 700,000 of them to flee Myanmar since August 2017. More than 100,000 Rohingya remain in displacement camps—essentially open-air prisons—inside Myanmar. An additional 14,000 Rohingya have fled the conditions in Myanmar just this year. Myanmar continues to restrict access for humanitarian aid, independent journalists, and human rights investigators. Further, UNHCR has not been included in the agreement for returns and has clearly stated that conditions are not conducive for returns at this time.

RI urges that governments of the world agree to further targeted sanctions, a global arms embargo, and referral to the International Criminal Court in light of Myanmar’s failure to address ongoing impunity for atrocities committed in the country.

Most immediately, we strongly urge the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to refrain from repatriations until the conditions for safe and dignified returns are in place.