A fresh push to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar appeared to fall flat today, with no one turning up to hop on five buses and 10 trucks laid on by Bangladesh.
Members of the Muslim minority, 740,000 of whom fled a military offensive in 2017 that the United Nations likened to ethnic cleansing, are refusing to return without guarantees for their safety and a promise that they will at last be given citizenship by Myanmar.
“The Myanmar government raped us, and killed us. So we need security. Without security we will never go back,” Rohingya leader Nosima said, according to a statement released by the refugees.
“We need a real guarantee of citizenship, security and promise of original homelands,” said Mohammad Islam, a Rohingya from Camp 26, one of a string of sites in south-east Bangladesh that are home to around a million people.
“So we must talk with the Myanmar government about this before repatriation.”
The vehicles provided to transport a first batch out of 3,450 earmarked for return turned up at 9:00am at a camp in Teknaf.
But four hours later none had showed up.
“We’ve interviewed 295 families. But nobody has yet shown any interest to repatriate,” Bangladesh Refugee Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam told reporters.
He said the buses and trucks would wait at the camp until 4:00pm and that they would continue to interview families.
The Rohingya are not recognized as an official minority by the Myanmar government, which considers them Bengali interlopers despite many families having lived in the country for generations.
UN investigators say the 2017 violence warrants the prosecution of top generals for “genocide” and the International Criminal Court has started a preliminary probe.
It has sullied the international standing of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and former political prisoner who has risen to be the top civilian official in Myanmar but who has not spoken out about the alleged abuses.
The latest repatriation attempt — a previous push failed in November with many of those on a returnees list going into hiding — follows a visit last month to the camps by high-ranking officials from Myanmar led by Permanent Foreign Secretary Myint Thu.
Bangladesh’s foreign ministry forwarded a list of more than 22,000 refugees to Myanmar for verification and Naypyidaw cleared 3,450 individuals for “return”.
Rohingya community leader Jafar Alam told AFP the refugees had been gripped by fear since authorities announced the fresh repatriation process.
They also feared being sent to camps for internally displaced people (IDP) if they went back to Myanmar.
In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that repatriations had to be “voluntary”.
“Any return should be voluntary and sustainable and in safety and in dignity to their place of origin and choice,” Dujarric told reporters.
The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on the issue on Wednesday.
“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,” Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
Just two days after eliminating a number of China-based pages and accounts engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” aimed at the Hong Kong protest movement, Facebook is once again performing a similar house-cleaning in Myanmar.
In a statement released last night, the social media giant said they had “removed 89 Facebook accounts, 107 Facebook Pages, 15 Facebook Groups, and five Instagram accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Myanmar.”
While the people behind the accounts, which were said to have “frequently repurposed legitimate news and entertainment content,” attempted to hide their identity, some were traced back to — you guessed it — the Myanmar military.
Only a year ago, the platform took its first serious stab at tackling what was an increasingly public black eye, namely, the role social media had played in the unfolding ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state. While some debated how much Facebook could be fairly blamed for violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority, there was little doubt it had a significant role in the rapid proliferation of hate speech.
Among the accounts deleted at the time was that of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, supreme commander of the Myanmar Armed Forces. In its statement at the time, Facebook specifically referenced “truly horrific” ethnic violence, and cited human rights violations outlined by a UN fact-finding mission.
In the next four months, the social media platform would go on to remove more than 570 pages and accounts, again citing “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” They also closed at least 15 accounts on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
Twitter was slower to react, only just this past May finally suspending the account of Min Aung Hlaing, who had routinely used the platform to insist that there was no use of “excessive force” in the August 2017 military campaign that drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh.