A United Nations’ special envoy has called to stop plans to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled ethnic violence in Myanmar for Bangladesh.
The 2 countries have agreed to start the return of the ethnic minority in the middle of this month.
UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, in a statement said that the Myanmar government has failed to guarantee Rohingya will not face persecution and horrific violence back home.
She said there is no evidence that Myanmar’s government is taking concrete measures to create an environment for a safe return. She also said there is a deep fear from refugees in Bangladesh being named to the list of people to be repatriated.
She added Rohingya’s right to citizenship and freedom of movement needs to be guaranteed before they can return.
The repatriation was originally planned to start in January this year, but has been stalled due to safety concerns.
Lee has repeatedly said that any returns before the root causes of the crisis were dealt with was highly premature and unjust. She has received credible information from the refugees in Cox’s Bazar that they are in deep fear of their names being on the list to be repatriated causing distress and anguish.
“Not only did the Rohingya face horrific violence at the hands of security forces in 2016 and 2017 with no accountability, they have been subjected to decades-long systematic discrimination and persecution in Myanmar,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Lee reiterated that the refugees must be given the opportunity to participate in the process, as it was their decision alone to return to Myanmar. “Any returns under current conditions where there is high risk of persecution, may violate obligations under customary international law to uphold the principle of non-refoulement,” she added.
The Government of Myanmar has reportedly been developing the area from which the Rohingya fled, but building some physical infrastructure to house returnees does not resolve these issues, stressed the Special Rapporteur.
“Living safely and in a dignified manner includes a right to citizenship, freedom of movement, and access to services, health, education and livelihoods,” Lee said.
“I urge the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to halt these rushed plans for repatriation, to ensure the protection of the Rohingya refugees and to adhere to their international human rights and refugee law obligations to ensure any returns are safe, sustainable, voluntary and dignified.”
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh after Myanmar’s security forces launched a crackdown on Rohingya militants in the western state of Rakhine.
UN investigators have concluded that Myanmar’s military carried out “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” something Myanmar denies.