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Repatriation stalls as Rohingya refuse to return to Myanmar

MANDALAY (UCAN): Authorities in Bangladesh have pushed back a plan to repatriate thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar to next year after the latest attempt stalled amid opposition and safety concerns from Rohingya, rights groups and aid agencies.
“We have tried to send back the first batch of Rohingya but none of 150 people on the list were willing to return. The plan is put on hold for now in line with our promise that their return must be voluntary, not enforced,” Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, said on November 19. 
A total of 2,260 refugees, verified by Myanmar had been slated for repatriation according to a bilateral deal between the countries inked in January.
Kalam said Myanmar needs to address key demands, including citizenship and safety to assure the Rohingya that they can return.
“We believe all Rohingya want to go back home only after they have their principal demands met. We need to discuss the issues in the next meeting of the bilateral Joint Working Group,” he added.
Refugees say they are not against returning if their demands are met.
“We have demanded that our land and property must be returned and we must be allowed to go back to our villages, not in camps. Also, we want a written guarantee of our safety, freedom of movement and basic rights including citizenship in Myanmar,” Hosein Johur, a 35-year-old father of four from Balukhali refugee camp, explained.
The Rohingya don’t want to go back only to be tortured and forced to flee again, he said.
“We have endured enough suffering and we have lost everything. We want the international community including the United Nations (UN) to intervene strongly this time so that our plight will come to an end,” Johur, a former resident of Maungdaw in Rakhine, said.
Abu Morshed Chowdhury, a human rights advocate in Cox’s Bazar, said repatriation should be delayed for the sake of sustainability.
“In 1992, there was an influx of more than 200,000 Rohingya following violence in Rakhine. Later, most of them returned and it took more than two years. As it was done without a third party or international oversight, many were pushed back again. This should not happen again,” Chowdhury said adding that the Rohingya’s demands are logical and the UN has to play a strong role to ensure Myanmar has a conducive situation for their return.
Bangladesh, which is hosting more than a million Rohingya who fled deadly persecution in Rakhine State, will move ahead with repatriation after its national election on December 30.

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