UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on Bangladesh to halt plans for the repatriation of more than 2,200 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, warning that they would be placed in danger.
Rohingya refugees have been fleeing the camps in Bangladesh, and some have gone into hiding to avoid being sent back, according to aid groups.
The first batch of 4,000 “approved” refugees were put on a list for return without their consent and most say they do not want to go back to Myanmar.
In August 2017, more than 725,000 members of the largely Muslim community fled from a state-run security crackdown that has been labelled internationally as “genocide”.
Refugees have stated repeatedly they do not wish to return to troubled Rakhine State under current conditions.
The UN office said it continued to receive reports of ongoing violations of Rohingya rights in northern Rakhine, including allegations of killings, disappearances and arbitrary arrests, as well as widespread restrictions on the rights to freedom of movement, health and education. About 130,000 refugees, many of whom are Rohingya, remain in central Rakhine camps. An estimated 5,000 Rohingya are reportedly trapped in the border zone between Myanmar and Bangladesh and more than 4,000 live under heavy restrictions in Aung Mingalar ward in the state capital, Sittwe.
Bachelet said: “We are witnessing terror and panic among those Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar who are at imminent risk of being returned to Myanmar against their will.
“Forcibly expelling or returning refugees and asylum seekers to their home country would be a clear violation of the core legal principle of non-refoulement, which forbids repatriation where there are threats of persecution or serious risks to the life and physical integrity or liberty of the individuals,” she added.
The NGO Crisis Group said its interviews “indicate that some of the refugees on the list for return have gone into hiding out of fear of being repatriated”.
The Guardian has reported on two suicide attempts by Rohingya who has been listed for return.
The United States says it will continue efforts to support the Rohingya through humanitarian aid and diplomacy. A delegation visiting refugees in camps near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh said the situation in areas where the refugees were expected to resettle in Myanmar was not suitable for a safe return.
“Right now, the conditions on the ground in the areas of potential return are not adequate to support a sustainable return of the population,” said delegation chief Richard Albright, deputy assistant secretary of state.
The Rohingya have suffered from severe restrictions in Rakhine State for decades. Picture credit: YouTube