News Release

Myanmar/Bangladesh: Prevent Premature Repatriation, Ensure Rights for Rohingya

Repatriation set to begin January 23, new film highlights Rohingya voices

(BANGKOK, January 22, 2018)—Myanmar and Bangladesh should ensure the repatriation of Rohingya refugees takes place through a voluntary, safe, and dignified process and only when Myanmar authorities have restored the rights of Rohingya, said Fortify Rights today. A new film released today by Fortify Rights focuses on the plan to repatriate Rohingya to Myanmar.

“You can throw us into the sea, but please don’t send us back,” said a Rohingya refugee woman in Bangladesh who fled recent Myanmar military-led atrocities in Rakhine State’s Buthidaung Township. “We will not go back to Myanmar.”

A Rohingya refugee girl, 16, also from Buthidaung Township, waited in desperation on the banks of the Naf River for one month before she and her family were able to cross to Bangladesh on November 11, 2017. “If we were willing to go back to Myanmar,” she told Fortify Rights, “we would not have stayed at the border for one month.”

The new film, entitled “No Man’s Land,” is based on interviews with dozens of newly arrived Rohingya refugees and others in Bangladesh, including a Rohingya boat owner who makes a living transporting refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and an ethnic-Rakhine Buddhist monk in Bangladesh who preaches inter-ethnic peace.

In November, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar announced a plan to repatriate Rohingya back to Myanmar, later clarifying it would take place during the next two years. The governments did not consult Rohingya or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees about the plan. The repatriation is scheduled to begin tomorrow, January 23.

None of the recently arrived Rohingya in Bangladesh told Fortify Rights they were interested to return to Myanmar under the current conditions.

In November, Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum published the findings of a yearlong investigation into alleged violations in Rakhine State, finding “mounting evidence” of the crime of genocide. The report was based on hundreds of interviews with Rohingya eyewitnesses and survivors of Myanmar Army-led massacres, mass gang-rapes, and arson attacks against Rohingya.

“Any repatriation now would be premature and dangerous,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Fortify Rights. “Repatriation should be safe, truly voluntary, and dignified, but the current situation fails to come close to this standard.”

As early as September 19, 2017, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi declared that Myanmar would repatriate Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, claiming in a major speech that the Myanmar Army had carried out “no clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State since September 5. In November 2017, a senior official with the Border Guards Bangladesh provided Fortify Rights with an internal intelligence report detailing daily Myanmar military activity near the shared border. The report includes dates, times, and geographic coordinates of automatic weapon fire on the Myanmar side of the border. The senior Bangladesh official told Fortify Rights the gunfire was by the Myanmar military.

“There were confirmed gunfire shots in the last two weeks that we heard,” the official told Fortify Rights. “Every night we were hearing the firing, seeing villages burning, and we were getting dead bodies also.”

Less than two weeks later, on November 23, while thousands of Rohingya continued to flee to Bangladesh on a weekly basis, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh signed their first pact to repatriate Rohingya refugees.

Fortify Rights confirmed that Rohingya refugees are continuing to cross the border in search of safety in Bangladesh.

“The Myanmar Army is committing genocide against an ethnic group in their country,” said Progganonda Vikko, an ethic-Rakhine Buddhist monk in Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh. “This isn’t right. It’s unjust and inhumane. It must be stopped.”

In Myanmar, the Government continues to confine more than 120,000 internally displaced Rohingya to more than 35 internment camps in eight townships of Rakhine State, depriving many of adequate humanitarian aid and lifesaving assistance. Rohingya throughout the country are also denied equal access to citizenship and face restrictions on their right to freedom of movement and other basic rights.

The conditions for potential returnees would likely be no different. The Government of Myanmar is planning to house returnees in “transit camps” rather than allowing them to return to their original places. The United Kingdom’s International Development Committee expressed its concern about repatriation following Fortify Rights and other groups’ submissions to its inquiry into the Rohingya crisis.

The Government of Myanmar has further refused to cooperate with a United Nations Fact-Finding Mission, established in March 2017 to look into the situation of human rights in Rakhine State and elsewhere in the country.

“There are no indications that Myanmar authorities plan to dismantle existing internment camps, lift restrictions on movement and aid, or provide much-needed protection,” said Matthew Smith. “The very idea of repatriations now is a farce. There must be genuine changes for Rohingya in Myanmar before there can be any serious discussions of repatriation.”