Refugees International notes with alarm reports that Bangladesh and Myanmar have reached agreement on repatriation of Rohingya refugees to begin as early as January 23. The two governments reportedly reached this agreement at a bilateral meeting of a Joint Working Group on Returns held on January 16 in Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital.
Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, said,
“The military in Myanmar are responsible for some of the most grotesque and massive crimes against a vulnerable population that we’ve witnessed in recent memory. Before governments begin considering any steps toward returns, there must be: 1) verifiable safeguards that returns are voluntary; 2) international monitoring of the safety of the Rohingya upon return; 3) compensation for property destroyed; and 4) recognition of the rights of the Rohingya, including freedom of movement within Rakhine state and basic civil and political rights. In the absence of indications that any such safeguards have been negotiated, it is baffling – and horrifying – that governments are discussing return of these victims to the very forces that perpetrated their oppression.”
Refugees International notes that the Government of Myanmar has blocked access to both the United Nations fact-finding mission and the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights; that access to Rakhine state for humanitarian organizations continues to be restricted; that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has had little or no involvement in repatriation discussions; that Rohingya refugees have apparently played no part in discussions about repatriations which will so dramatically impact their well-being; and that there is no indication that the government of Myanmar is prepared to grant Rohingya rights to freedom of movement upon return.
Under these circumstances, any repatriation program is wholly premature and risks compounding the misery visited upon this population.