Bangladesh must halt plans to return refugees to Myanmar: UN

14 November 2018
Bangladesh must halt plans to return refugees to Myanmar: UN
In this file photo taken on August 12, 2018 Rohingya refugees queue at an aid relief distribution centre at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar. Photo: Ed Jones/AFP

The UN rights chief on Tuesday urged Bangladesh to halt plans to repatriate more than 2,200 Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, amid reports of continued violations against the minority.

Bangladeshi authorities plan to begin returning Rohingya refugees, who have fled what the UN has called ethnic cleansing, to the Buddhist majority country from Thursday.

But the prospect has created panic in the camps, prompting some families who were due to be among the first to be repatriated to flee, according to community leaders.

"We are witnessing terror and panic among those Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar who are at imminent risk of being returned to Myanmar against their will," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

"Forcibly expelling or returning refugees and asylum seekers to their home country would be a clear violation of the core legal principle of non-refoulement, which forbids repatriation where there are threats of persecution or serious risks to the life and physical integrity or liberty of the individuals," she said.

More than 725,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar's western Rakhine state following a military crackdown from August last year.

They have joined some 300,000 Rohingya already living in squalid camps in Bangladesh's southeast for years.

Despite the fact that the refugees have repeatedly said they do not wish to return under the current conditions, some 2,260 of them are scheduled to enter Myanmar from Bangladesh's southeastern Cox's Bazar district in the first repatriations starting Thursday.

The UN pointed out several of the refugee families apparently listed for return are headed by women or children.

"Some of the refugees have threatened suicide if they are forced to repatriate, and two elderly men in Cox’s Bazar have already attempted suicide," the rights office said.