Frightened Rohingya fleeing to avoid Myanmar return
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By Siobhan Robbins, South East Asia correspondent, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
Hussein Ahmed’s wife and children are missing.
Five days ago, his family discovered some of their names were on the list of Rohingya to be repatriated from their refugee camp in Bangladesh back to Myanmar from 15 November.
The 45-year-old says a day later, his wife took the kids and ran.
“We are hearing that we will be sent back before justice has been done,” he says.
“We will be killed again like before. That’s why they were scared and ran away,” he explains.
Others are also in hiding – several of Hussein’s neighbours’ homes stand deserted, their terrified inhabitants have disappeared.
Bangladesh has promised all repatriations will be voluntary, but people say security has tightened in the camps over the last few days and they’re afraid of being forced back.
“Even if my wife is taken to Burma (Myanmar), I want to stay here,” Hussein sobs.
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“That’s the place we were persecuted. They are still killing people there. So it’s better to die here, than going back and dying there.”
Only a small group remains on Hussein’s block in Jamtoli camp; 400 people have already left.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled the brutal crackdown in Myanmar last year. They say soldiers and local Buddhists massacred families, burned hundreds of villages, and carried out gang rapes.
UN-mandated investigators have accused the army of “genocidal intent” and ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar denies almost all of the allegations, saying security forces were battling terrorists.
Attacks by Rohingya insurgents, calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, preceded the crackdown.
More than 2,000 Rohingya are supposed to go back Myanmar this month.
Halima Khatun, 40, is among them.
She says her village in Rakhine State was burned down and she can’t return now.
“Our effects.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">young children were thrown into the fire and the river,” she told Sky News.
“How can we go back to Myanmar? We are devastated. We don’t want to go back to Myanmar again.”
While all the refugees we spoke to said they wanted to return to their homes in Myanmar in the future, they don’t believe it’s safe yet.
The United Nations has also said conditions are not right for the refugees to go back, in part because Myanmar Buddhists have been protesting against the return of Rohingya.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it will not be part of the current government operation and that refugees should be allowed to go and see the conditions in Myanmar before they decide whether to return.
Every Rohingya Muslim we spoke to was frightened of repatriation, so the idea that thousands will voluntarily return in the next few weeks seems unrealistic.
Despite Bangladesh’s reassurance no-one will be forced to leave, rumours are now spreading through the camps that people will be taken from their homes in the night or arrested if no-one agrees to repatriation.
The Rohingya Muslims temporary homes maybe cramped, filthy and stinking, but until they trust that their safety and rights are guaranteed in Myanmar, many believe Bangladesh’s camps are a better option than alternative across the border.