Bangladesh: Halt Rohingya Repatriation Plan

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More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled the brutal crackdown in Myanmar previous year.

"All necessary arrangements and preparation have been taken", Bangladesh's refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam told reporters, adding: "Our primary target for tomorrow (Thursday) is 150 (Rohingya refugees) from 30 families".

With the United Nations and worldwide aid groups also fighting the controversial plan, Rohingya leaders said many on a Bangladesh repatriation list of 2,260 people had gone into hiding.

As buses gathered on Thursday to carry returnees to transit camps, around 1,000 Rohingya demonstrated against the repatriations. I escaped to Bangladesh with two others. They will kill the rest of my family.

"According to the UNHCR voluntariness assessment, none of the 50 families interviewed expressed their willingness to go back under the present circumstances". "These people are trying to survive as human beings with their rights, honor, and dignity with their freedom of religion, but they are being labeled as terrorists".

"Unless they have some guarantees of rights and protections, sending them back is not justified", he said. "That´s why we protested today".

The refugees who've arrived in the a year ago joined a wave of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims who escaped forced labour, religious persecution and violent attacks from Buddhist mobs in Myanmar during the early 1990s. The Myanmar government says that any violence previous year was related to clearance operations against Rohingya insurgents, who launched coordinated attacks on police posts and an army base in August 2017.

Officials at Bangladesh's Refugee Repatriation and Relief Commission waited throughout the day, but no-one agreed to make the journey back to Myanmar.

The UN had urged Bangladesh to suspend the programme, with rights chief Michelle Bachelet saying it would be like "throwing them back to the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades".

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Richard Albright during his Nov 10-15 visit emphasised the value of "go-and-see" visits, as recommended by UNHCR, the USA embassy in Dhaka said. "None feels safe to go back now", Kalam told AFP.

He said they had come to Bangladesh after Myanmar came up with the idea of issuing National Verification Cards (NVC) for Rohingya.

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But he lashed out at Bangladesh for being "weak regarding the logistical arrangements" and accused the United Nations refugee agency of interfering with the process. Another teenager was seen holding a sign that said in English: "We want justice".

Following pressure from the global community and widespread criticism, Myanmar signed an agreement with Bangladesh in the beginning of this year to take back the recently displaced Rohingyas, but the process was delayed for different reasons.

Given the reluctance of officials in Myanmar to admit to any systematic violence committed by the military, which ruled the country for almost half a century and still wields considerable power, worldwide human rights groups have expressed concern about the future well-being of any potential returnees.

The UN human rights office continued to receive reports of ongoing violations committed against Rohingya in Myanmar - including alleged killings, disappearances and arbitrary arrests, Bachelet said.

Albright visited Rohingya refugee camps and host communities in Cox's Bazar from November 11 to 13 to assess conditions and speak directly with Bangladeshis and refugees, including some who had just recently arrived from Myanmar.

It has left the poor South Asian nation struggling to cope with about one million Rohingya facing an uncertain future in the vast camps with huge social problems.

At the Jamtoli refugee camp, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, ages 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not.

Amnesty International called the organized return of the Rohingya a "reckless move, which puts lives at risk".

The Rohingya themselves have said they are terrified of returning to the Buddhist-majority country.

"The Bangladesh government will be stunned to see how quickly worldwide opinion turns against it if it starts sending unwilling Rohingya refugees back into harm's way in Myanmar", said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch.

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