YANGON • Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Myanmar and Bangladesh to cancel today's plan to begin repatriating 3,454 Rohingya refugees from Bangladeshi camps back to Rakhine state.
"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," Ms Meenakshi Ganguly, the group's South Asia director, said in a statement yesterday.
Rohingya Muslims have long been denied citizenship and freedom of movement in Myanmar, and starting in 2017, more than 740,000 were expelled by the military in a campaign that United Nations investigators have said was genocidal.
More than 100,000 Rohingya who remain in Myanmar are confined to open-air detention camps.
The HRW statement quotes one refugee as saying: "We do not want to go back to Myanmar, where so many of our loved ones did not even get a funeral and ended up in mass graves after they were killed."
Dozens of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh held a protest on Tuesday demanding to return only with guarantees of safety and citizenship.
Bangladeshi refugee official Khaled Hossain says the heads of some 200 Rohingya families interviewed by officials from the UN refugee agency and the government have told them they will not go back to Myanmar unless their demands for citizenship and safety are ensured.
Although the repatriation is scheduled to begin today, it is unlikely to happen if no one comes forward voluntarily.
The current repatriation plan follows an earlier attempt by Myanmar and Bangladesh to repatriate more than 2,000 Rohingya refugees in November last year, which failed after the two governments neglected to consult the UN and refugees themselves. Many of the refugees on the list went into hiding.
"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," Ms Ganguly said.
DPA, ASSOCIATED PRESS