A second attempt to repatriate Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled a brutal military crackdown two years ago has failed, with no members of the minority group boarding buses to head back to Myanmar, said a district official from Rakhine state on Tuesday.
Myanmar had approved the return of about 3,450 Rohingya cleared from a list of more than 22,000 provided by Bangladesh, but no one took up the offer, saying that they first want guarantees for a safe and voluntary return along with full citizenship and other basic rights, which they have so far been denied in Maynmar.
“We had everything prepared just like before, but nobody turned up,” Soe Aung, administrator of Rakhine’s Maungdaw district told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “They [Bangladesh] haven’t notified us about anything.”
“Anyway, we will keep everything ready at the reception center in case they show up,” he added, referring to the facility built in the district to process returning Rohingya refugees.
In the days before the repatriation was to begin, United Nations staff and Bangladeshi officials interviewed some Rohingya families approved for return, but none of them expressed a willingness to return now.
Sounding a somewhat optimistic note, however, the U.N. refugee agency said in a statement issued Thursday: “Many stated that they do hope to go home to Myanmar as soon as conditions allow and that assurances regarding their citizenship status, freedom of movement, and security in Myanmar could be provided.”
But many remain apprehensive about returning to Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and are subjected to systematic discrimination, including denials of citizenship and access to basic services.
Myanmar’s government and powerful military have rejected the findings of U.N. and other independent investigations of the events of August 2017 and have done little to hold anyone accountable for the violent campaign to expel the Rohingya.
“We do not have trust towards them,” said Khin Maung, a Rohingya refugee living in the Thinkali camp in southeastern Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. “People are saying that they will not go back until our demands are met. And that is why we don’t think this latest repatriation program will succeed.”
Some rights groups said Myanmar officials have yet to resolve the problems that have led to the Rohingya crisis.
“Let’s say all these Rohingya come back to Myanmar, but where is the guarantee that the military would not commit rights violations again,” said Nickey Diamond, a Myanmar human rights specialist with Fortify Rights. “These people need guarantees for their safety.”
“The government itself might have some problems in handling this entire situation,” he added. “There will only be progress if the government tries to solve the problem with the help of the interested parties and the international community.”
First attempt fizzles
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement in November 2017 to repatriate Rohingya refugees who wanted to return to Rakhine state and who had proof that they lived in the region.
But a previous attempt to return some of the Rohingya refugees in 2018 failed when no one showed up at the border following protests by thousands in the Bangladesh camps against what they thought might amount to forced repatriations.
The Myanmar military carried out a violent crackdown on Rohingya communities in Rakhine state in August 2017 after a group of Rohingya militants launched deadly attacks on police outposts.
The campaign, which included indiscriminate killings, torture, rape, and arson, drove more than 740,000 members of the minority group across the border to Bangladesh where they now live in sprawling displacement camps.
Myanmar has largely denied any wrongdoing and has defended the brutal crackdown as a counterinsurgency against Rohingya militants.
About a year ago, a U.N.-mandated independent fact-finding mission that investigated atrocities committed against the Rohingya called for the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
Read More: Two Years After Exodus, Wary Rohingya Again Reject Myanmar Repatriation Plan