Should Rohingya refugees return to Myanmar?

KUALA LUMPUR/DHAKA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A second attempt to repatriate thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in Bangladesh to Myanmar risks exposing refugees to ethnic violence which many of them fled two years ago, human rights groups said on Wednesday.

Bangladesh and the United Nations are consulting Rohingya refugees to determine if they will accept Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s offer to return home, nearly a year after a major repatriation plan failed.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine state in August 2017 for camps in Bangladesh after a military-led crackdown the U.N. said was perpetrated with “genocidal intent”.

Myanmar has said 3,450 refugees have been cleared for repatriation on August 22 but many refugees fear violence and refuse to go back. An effort in November to return Rohingya sowed confusion in the camps and sparked protests.

Here are some comments on the latest repatriation plan from human rights groups, charities and a Rohingya community leader:

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director, Human Rights Watch

“Myanmar has yet to address the systematic persecution and violence against the Rohingya, so refugees have every reason to fear for their safety if they return.

Bangladesh has been generous with the Rohingya - though conditions in the camps have been difficult - but no refugee should feel compelled to return to a place that isn’t safe.”

Dil Mohammad, Rohingya community leader involved in repatriation talks

“We haven’t asked for too much. We have three main demands. Firstly, we need international protection, secondly we need our citizenship back. Thirdly, we want to go back directly to our homes.

We don’t want to stay in the transit camp in Myanmar. The Myanmar government said that they are ready to take us back, but there is no sincerity. They are doing it just to lessen the international pressure.”

Matthew Smith, chief executive officer, Fortify Rights

“Repatriations now would be dangerous and reckless. Governments should focus on ensuring accountability for mass atrocities, restoring Rohingya citizenship rights, and ending deprivations of basic human rights that are ongoing in Rakhine state.

There’s a long history of abuse against Rohingya in the course of returns to Myanmar. Rohingya need to be fully consulted and engaged in this process, and so far they’ve not been.”

David Skinner, head of Rohingya response in Cox’s Bazar, Save the Children

It is time for the world to create conditions to support the Rohingya’s safe and voluntary return to Myanmar, where the government must fulfil one of the most basic responsibilities of any government – to guarantee the same level of safety and humanity for all.

The Rohingya deserve justice for what they have suffered - perpetrators of human rights violations and crimes against humanity must be held to account so Rohingya children are protected from these atrocities ever happening again.”

Elizabeth Hallinan, advocacy and campaigns manager for the Rohingya crisis, Oxfam

“It is paramount that Rohingya refugees can participate in decisions that are made about their lives and futures. They must be able to make a free and informed choice about whether to return to Myanmar. Above all, any repatriation must be voluntary.

Joy Icayan, East Asia and ASEAN programme officer, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development

“The government of Myanmar has not met the conditions necessary to ensure voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees and the protection of their rights, including equal access to citizenship.

Repatriation of refugees under current circumstances only risks further victimising the Rohingya.”

Arash Bordbar, former refugee and chairperson, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network

“Refugees are too often forced to live precarious lives, not knowing what their future may look like.

Whilst we appreciate the Bangladesh government’s support up until now, we do hope they can continue to provide security and protection for this incredibly marginalised and persecuted population.”

Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi in KUALA LUMPUR and Naimul Karim in DHAKA; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit