TEKNAF (Bangladesh) • A fresh push yesterday to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar appeared to fall flat, with no one turning up to hop on five buses and 10 trucks provided 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 Mr Mohammad Islam, a Rohingya from Camp 26, one of many sites in Bangladesh that are home to about a million people. "So we must talk with the Myanmar government about this before repatriation."
The vehicles to transport a first batch out of 3,450 earmarked for return turned up at 9am local time at a camp in Teknaf. But four hours later, no one 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.
The Rohingya are not recognised 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.
In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday said that repatriations had to be "voluntary".
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 Myanmar officials.
Bangladesh's foreign ministry had forwarded a list of more than 22,000 refugees to Myanmar for verification and Naypyitaw cleared 3,450 individuals for "return".
Rohingya community leader Jafar Alam said the refugees had been gripped by fear since the authorities announced the fresh repatriation process. They also feared being sent to camps for internally displaced people if they went back.
"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 yesterday.