The gradual repatriation of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar from Bangladesh has been delayed.
It was to begin Tuesday. It was not immediately clear when the process will begin.
Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh recently completed an agreement to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar to escape a brutal military crackdown.
Abdul Kalam, the Bangladesh refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner, told the Associated Press, “The main thing is that the process has to be voluntary.”
Aid workers and the Rohingyas are concerned that refugees will be forced to return to a place that they fled just a few months ago.
David Mathieson, a human rights researcher who has spent years working on Rohingya issues said both governments are in a “fantasyland.” He said “Now you’re expecting them to come back, as if they’re in a Conga line of joy after what you did to them?”
Many of the refugees have balked at the prospect of returning to Myanmar.
Entire Rohingya communities in Myanmar have been burned to the ground. In addition, Rohingya refugees have told human rights workers of a host of atrocities committed by Myanmar security forces, including random shootings, rapes and the total destruction of their homes and villages.
In addition, Kalam said that all the arrangements for a smooth transition of the refugees were not in place. “A lot of preparation is still needed,” he said.
Kalam said transit sites need to be established Bangladesh for those who wish to return to Myanmar. Also, a list of potential returnees must be created for verification by Myanmar. “This work is ongoing,” Kalam said.
In Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where most Rohingya lived before fleeing, a Buddhist leader said he was not looking forward to the return of the Rohingyas. Than Tun said, “International pressure, because of human rights and humanitarianism, means we have to accept them back, even though we don’t want to.”
Myanmar’s military has been accused of launching a scorched earth campaign in August against Rohingya villages in response to attacks on Myanmar police outposts by Rohingya militants.
The United Nations has described the reported actions carried out by Myanmar forces as “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”
The Rohingya minority has been denied citizenship and other rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Myanmar views the Rohingya as immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact that many families have lived in Myanmar for generations.