Return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar raises new risks
East and South Asia team,
Global Human Rights Defense,
The governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar have collaborated on a pilot program aimed at relocating the Rohingya population back to Myanmar, without the Rohingya community being afforded the opportunity for meaningful consultation or participation in the planning process concerning their return to Myanmar. (HRW, 31 March 2023). According to a Bangladeshi foreign ministry official, "We have been presenting similar proposals for a considerable period of time, and this time Myanmar has expressed agreement" (Daily Star, 3 May 2023). On May 5th, 2023, the initial group of 20 Rohingya refugees visited a resettlement camp in Rakhine State, Myanmar (HRW, 18 May 2023).
During the past decades, persecution has forced Rohingya people to seek refuge in Bangladesh (UN OCHA). Since 2017, there has been a sharp rise in the number of Rohingya refugees as a result of intensified violence, including incidents of rape, murder, and arson (CoFR, 23 January 2023). According to the United Nations, as of 2023, there are more than 900,000 stateless Rohingya refugees residing in different refugee camps in Bangladesh (UN OCHA).
Bangladesh finds itself increasingly burdened by hosting the Rohingya refugees (Aljazeera, 19 May 2023). However, repatriating them to the control of the Myanmar junta may lay the groundwork for another devastating exodus in the future (Aljazeera, 19 May 2023). As human rights expert Shayna Bauchner states “Bangladesh authorities shouldn’t forget the reasons why Rohingya became refugees in the first place, and recognize that none of those factors have changed” (HRW, 18 May 2023). This concern is entirely justified and aligns with the findings of UN OCHA, which indicate that despite some minor improvements in the treatment of the Rohingya people, they continue to exist in an exceedingly precarious situation (UN OCHA). While refugees have access to essential necessities such as food and healthcare, they remain highly vulnerable, residing in arduous conditions, exposed to the harsh elements of the monsoon season, and reliant on humanitarian assistance (UN OCHA). The relocation of thousands of Rohingya people is likely to exacerbate the already dire situation they face, making it even more unbearable. Therefore, the implementation of this program represents a significant milestone in shaping the future of the Rohingya community, their human rights and well-being.
Sources and further reading:
Daily Star (3 May 2023) Rohingya delegation to visit Rakhine on first-ever assessment trip on May 5. Available at https://www.thedailystar.net/news/bangladesh/news/rohingya-delegation-visit-rakhine-first-ever-assessment-trip-may-5-3309966
Human Rights Watch (31 March 2023) Bangladesh: Halt ‘Pilot’ Plan to Return Rohingya. Availabel at https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/03/31/bangladesh-halt-pilot-plan-return-rohingya
Human Rights Watch (18 May 2023) Bangladesh: New Risks for Rohingya Refugees. Available at < https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/05/18/bangladesh-new-risks-rohingya-refugees>
UN OCHA. Rohingya Refugee Crisis. Available at < https://www.unocha.org/rohingya-refugee-crisis>
Council on Foreign Relations (23 January 2023) The Rohingya Crisis: Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group, have fled persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, fueling a historic migration crisis. Available at < https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/rohingya-crisis>
Aljazeera (19 May 2023) HRW condemns Bangladesh, Myanmar on plan to repatriate Rohingya. Available at < https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/19/hrw-condemns-bangladesh-myanmar-on-plan-to-repatriate-rohingya>