RRRC: Voluntary repatriation of Rohingyas to begin at 2pm

Overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh are home to more than a million Rohingya who have fled waves of violence in Myanmar

Officials have stated that refugees from Cox's Bazar will be processed in one of the two centres built by Bangladesh and then transported back to Myanmar either by boat or on land to Hla Po Khaung transition camp, in Rakhine state. Following the meeting, representatives announced that they had a "very concrete plan" to begin repatriations in mid-November, with the first round to include 2,260 Rohingya from 485 families.

Elliott Prasse-Freeman, a professor at National University of Singapore, said Myanmar's authorities have been changing the landscape of the territory the Rohingya call home. "My wife and other family members have gone elsewhere, they do not want to go", 35-year-old Nurul Amin told The Associated Press outside the Jamtoli camp, where he and his family have been living for more than a year.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is one of the few humanitarian organizations operating in Rakhine state. A United Nations fact-finding mission found "sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw [armed forces] on charges of genocide".

Many people who fled earlier violence and moved into displacement camps inside Myanmar have been unable to leave those settlements for years.

Rohingya refugees now reside in vast camps in southeastern Bangladesh, including a massive settlement in the border district of Cox's Bazar, where community leaders said most of those marked for repatriation had headed to the hills.

As Bangladesh and Myanmar have pursued various iterations of repatriation agreements, United Nations officials have repeatedly said they were not involved adequately in the process.

This has led to panic among the refugees, many of whom experienced violence in Myanmar, lost family members or saw their homes burned.

Bangladesh appears set to begin repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar on Thursday despite overwhelming evidence that none are willing to return voluntarily.

He told several reporters that the conflict between the Rohingya and Myanmar's government is not resolved, and "so many" Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine are flattened that there is no place to go back to.

Volker Turk, the UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection said it is crucial that the Rohingya refugees are able to make a free and informed choice about whether they want to return to Myanmar.

The BBC's Yogita Limaye who is in one of the refugee camps says there is increased security presence with military trucks and busses as well as government officials.

"I'm scared about the repatriation", he said.

The Myanmar government have assured the global community the Rohingya will then be housed in new homes built in Maungdaw, one of the three areas the Rohingya had lived before the crackdown, though they will not be allowed to travel outside of the township. "They will kill us if we go back".

Some said their families have fled from their shanties in the refugee camps to avoid being sent back.

On Sunday, the Myanmar government said it was ready to welcome returning refugees.

"If we need to go, we demand that we go back to our homes, not to any camps there".

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But it was unclear whether the repatriation would begin smoothly amid reports that numerous refugees on the initial list have fled. "This is the third time they are going back, the same thing will happen. How can we go there?"

The biggest fear for the Rohingya is that they would be living among the Buddhist mobs accused of burning their villages and would be protected by the same army troops who are accused of committing genocidal acts against them.

Ethnic Rakhine villagers told me on a recent trip they believed all Rohingya were illegal and unsafe immigrants. The village administrator quietly said they were all "terrorists".

So while the Myanmar government talks about building temporary shelters, offering medical care and sufficient food rations for Rohingyas who return, many worldwide observers insist the root causes of the violence and hate-filled attitudes need to be properly tackled before Rohingyas can return home and live with safety and dignity.

Human Rights Watch echoed the concern on Thursday, asking Bangladesh to "immediately halt" the planned repatriation.

"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", Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

She warned that lives would be put at "serious risk" if the repatriation was to go ahead.

Bangladesh, which had been sheltering 400,000 Rohingyas before the latest influx, has urged the United Nations and the worldwide community to put pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption There's fear about the future in the camps Why are the Rohingya in Bangladesh?

"With an nearly complete lack of accountability, indeed with ongoing violations, returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades".

Last year, the Myanmar military launched a crackdown in Rakhine state after Rohingya militants carried out deadly attacks on police posts. "Bangladesh needs to uphold its global obligations - and maintain its well-earned worldwide reputation for providing refuge to the Rohingya - and not grab at quick and illusory solutions that will once again put desperate people at risk".

Myanmar's army has previously cleared itself of wrongdoing and has rejected the UN's allegations.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has faced widespread criticism for her handling of the Rohingya situation, told Mike Pence that she welcomes further talks.

US Vice President Mike Pence voiced the Trump administration's strongest condemnation yet of Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya Muslims on Wednesday, telling leader Aung San Suu Kyi that "persecution" by her country's army was "without excuse".

"Of course, people have different points of view, but the point is that we should exchange those views and learn to understand each other better", she responded.


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