A Rohingya refugee collects her belongings in a house in Nayapara refugee camp in Bangladesh a day after Cyclone Mocha made landfall in May 15, 2023.  (AFP or licensors)

By Zeus Legaspi

May 20 2023

Human Rights Watch criticizes the Bangladeshi government’s plan to return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, saying their repatriation poses “great risks to their lives and liberty.”

Donor governments and the United Nations should intervene and call for a halt to any Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar’s Rakhine State until the conditions for them are safe, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Thursday.

Bangladesh and Myanmar authorities are looking to return about 1,100 Rohingya refugees in a pilot project which, on 5 May, has already seen 20 refugees visit resettlement camps in Rakhine State.

“Bangladesh authorities should not forget the reasons why Rohingya became refugees in the first place, and recognize that none of those factors have changed,” said Shayna Bauchner, HRW’s Asia researcher.

Over a million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in successive waves since the early 1990s. In 2017, when violence broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, over 742,000 people sought refuge in Bangladesh.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) pointed out that during the first waves of the refugees’ arrival in Bangladesh, the local government has “responded generously” and “spared no effort to help.”

But recently, Bangladesh’s resources appear to have been strained, prompting its authorities to mull over sending refugees back to Rakhine State.

“Bangladesh is frustrated with its burden as host, but sending refugees back to the control of a ruthless Myanmar junta will just be setting the stage for the next devastating exodus,” Bauchner cautioned.

The Visit

HRW interviewed some of the Rohingya refugees who were part of the visit to the Rakhine State.

“We are not at all satisfied seeing the Rakhine situation,” a refugee told HRW. They said that the conditions and lack of full citizenship rights were not ideal for a safe return.

“It is another trap by Myanmar to take us back and continue the abuses like they have been doing to us for decades,” the refugee added.

The Rohingya delegation visited the barb-wire-surrounded Hla Poe Kaung transit camp and Kyein Chaung resettlement camp in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw township.

“The Hla Poe Kaung transit camp land used to be my home. My house was destroyed, my school is now a health center. Three whole Rohingya villages used to be where the transit camp is now,” another refugee said.

“Rohingya refugees have consistently said they want to go home, but only when their security, access to land and livelihoods, freedom of movement, and citizenship rights can be ensured,” HRW said.

HRW claimed that some Rohingya told them that Bangladesh authorities forced them to join the visit and ordered them to speak positively to the media about the conditions in Rakhine State.

But Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, denied that they are forcing any refugee to return, saying that it is voluntary. – Vatican News