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Rohingya Muslims

Don’t send Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar until their safety can be guaranteed

Jade Huynh says the 10-point proposal to repatriate Rohingya refugees cannot ensure their well-being in Myanmar and the international community should step in to prevent it

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 November, 2017, 4:20pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 9:29am

As of October 31, more than 600,000 Rohingya had crossed from Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Thousands more are stranded along the border.

As the crisis enters its third month, refugee flows and violence against Rohingya show few signs of abating. Reports that Myanmar and Bangladesh planned to repatriate Rohingya refugees emerged as early as October 2, culminating in a 10-point October 25 agreement calling for “repatriation of refugees at the earliest date and restoring normalcy in Rakhine Region for their resettlement”.

The repatriation deal appears to have been stalled by the two countries’ squabbling. Thus, the Rohingya have been granted temporary respite from forced return to Myanmar. However, the risk of the plan resurfacing is acute.

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If we are truly concerned about the Rohingya, we must nip the repatriation deal in the bud. Yet little protest has been raised, and high-profile individuals like former UN secretary general Kofi Annan have underscored the responsibility to ensure a safe return.

These statements come with conditions: returns must be voluntary, Rohingya ought to play a key role in planning and managing their homecoming and Myanmar must provide full citizenship. Yet, such statements fail to underscore the risk of premature returns.

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To allow the deal is to subject the Rohingya to refoulement – forcible return of refugees to a country where they face persecution. Bangladesh and Myanmar are not signatories to the Refugee Convention, but the duty to avoid returning refugees to danger remains a customary principle of international law.

How can we regard repatriation as acceptable when anti-Rohingya pogroms by Myanmar’s military and Buddhist nationalists blaze throughout Rakhine, when international relief organisations and Rohingya sympathisers are attacked, and when Myanmar’s military denies responsibility for the Rohingya flight?

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Moreover, the wishes and concerns of the Rohingya have not been considered. Even before the most recent influx, there were at least 200,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh who fled earlier waves of violence. Commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces Min Aung Hlaing has made it clear there is no end in sight to these cyclical waves of anti-Rohingya violence.

While allowing refugees to someday return to their homes with full dignity is ideal, conditions at home are far too perilous at present. Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya is now widely recognised as an example of ethnic cleansing. We must form a united front against the repatriation plan.

Jade Huynh is an alumna of the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre. The views expressed here are solely those of the author