Rohingya ethnic cleansing ongoing: UN

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh cannot be safely returned to Myanmar because ethnic cleansing is continuing, a UN rights chief has warned.

Assistant secretary general for human rights Andrew Gilmour, who was visiting Bangladesh refugees, said there were “credible accounts of continued killings, rape, torture and abductions, as well as forced starvation” in Rakhine State.

Myanmar denies all Rohingya allegations and in January declared that it was ready to accept refugees’ return.

Bangladesh handed a list of more than 8,000 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar last week to start their repatriation but community representatives say they are not willing to return yet.

Gilmour told the media: “It appears that widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya persists.

“The nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied bloodletting and mass rape of last year to a lower-intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation that seems to be designed to drive the remaining Rohingya from their homes and into Bangladesh.

“Safe, dignified and sustainable returns are, of course, impossible under current conditions.”

Ko Ko Linn, a Rohingya representative in Bangladesh, said refugees would not return to Myanmar because the authorities apparently wanted to force them into new settlements away from their villages.

He told the media: “Almost all of the around 300 villages of Rakhine, from where the Rohingyas were driven away, have been set on fire in the past months. At least 48 of those villages were completely flattened using bulldozers in the past weeks. It’s clear they do not want the Rohingyas to return to the villages where they lived. None from our community wants to enter Myanmar’s new settlements, which are nothing but open-air prisons.”

In Myanmar, the Rohingya are denied citizenship and are often referred to as “Bengali terrorists” in the media, implying they are murderers from across the border.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was concerned about displaced people living on the Myanmar side of the border.

The office was monitoring developments after several thousand camp dwellers “were reportedly ordered to vacate the area by the Myanmar authorities”, the refugee agency said.

“UNHCR underscores that everyone has the right to seek asylum, just as they also have the right to return home when they deem the time and circumstances right,” it announced.

“People who have fled violence in their country must be granted safety and protection and any decision to return must be voluntary and based upon a free and informed choice.”


Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Picture credit: Flickr