Humairaa Mayet | 15 November 2018 | Image: Fatima Sookharia of Salaam Foundation at a Rohingya refugee camp – August 2018
The repatriation of over 2 000 Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh to Myanmar has been terminated following a call from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights claiming that their expulsion violated international law. The Rohingya are afraid to return to Myanmar- a country led by a Buddhist-majority coalition- and instead choose to live in refugee camps in Bangladesh. They fear returning to the country of their origin as a result of the genocide against them by the Myanmar military and Buddhist mobs in 2017.
In an interview with Salaamedia, Advocate Shabnam Mayet from Protect the Rohingya elaborated on the struggles faced by the Rohingya refugees. Mayet described the possible repatriation as “premature and dangerous,” and the halting of the repatriation as “good news.” Yet far more activism is required in order to make a significant impact. She further states that Bangladesh will benefit from returning the Rohingya in the wake of the upcoming elections, as will Myanmar, because if the Rohingya are repatriated, the international community is likely to shift their focus away from Burma.
As per an agreement made between Bangladesh and Myanmar in November 2017, the first phase of repatriation was set to take place today; 15 November 2018. Yet returning the Rohingya to an unsafe environment will be a blatant infringement on their basic human rights. International bodies, such as Amnesty International and the United Nations, have urged Bangladesh to cease all repatriation plans that are underway, and only attempt to revive the process once the safety status of the Rohingya can be ascertained. Leaders of the Rohingya in Bangladesh have expressed disdain towards the repatriation plans, stating that if they were to be returned at this moment, their security would not be guaranteed, and the Rohingya would likely face the same plight that they escaped from in the past.
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar’s ruling party, has openly condoned the violation of the human rights of the Rohingya, allowing for the displacement, killing, and rape of Rohingya Muslims. Following the military crackdown by the National League for Democracy in August 2017, thousands of Rohingya fled Myanmar, seeking asylum in the neighbouring country of Bangladesh, where they have been living in refugee camps for over a year.
It comes as no surprise that the Rohingya are visibly sceptical to return to their country of origin after witnessing atrocities committed against the Muslim population in Myanmar by the government. The Myanmar government has neglected to explicitly state exactly what the Rohingya will face upon their return. With no guarantee of freedom and safety, Mayet suggests that the Rohingya first travel to Myanmar to determine what awaits them. The Rohingya have been promised transfer camps; but not homes, and the status of their citizenship has not been specified.
Upon finding out about the repatriation plans, the Rohingya were terrified, went into hiding, and even attempted to escape to Malaysia on boats. Pressure in camps regarding the repatriation, particularly from Bangladeshi officials, has frightened the Rohingya, and certain individuals went as far as threatening to commit suicide rather than return to Myanmar.
While life in Bangladesh’s refugee camps is not much better than life in Myanmar, Rohingya in Bangladesh are marginally safer and face fewer threats. However, if promised security, housing, and international protection, the Rohingya would be able to return safely to Myanmar. Although small groups of Rohingya Muslims have been resettled in many countries including Australia and Canada, they would ideally prefer to return “home” to Myanmar.
Ultimately, extensive activism is required around the world in order to allow for the safe return of the Rohingya. Criticism and pressure from powerful countries and international organisations will assist greatly in ensuring the security of the Rohingya following their return to Myanmar.