Bangladesh Tries Again To Repatriate Rohingya To Myanmar

Aug 21, 2019
Originally published on August 21, 2019 11:53 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Bangladesh this week, another attempt to get the Muslim minority Rohingya, who fled there from Myanmar, to go home. Bangladeshi and United Nations officials are trying to interview about a thousand families that Myanmar says it will take back starting Thursday. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar two years ago after the military's brutal crackdown, which a U.N. fact-finding mission has labeled genocide. Here's reporter Michael Sullivan.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The last time authorities tried this was in November 2018. It didn't go so well. None of the refugees agreed to go back. This year looks no different. Phil Robertson is deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, which has spoken with several families on the list.

PHIL ROBERTSON: They said very clearly that they're not ready to go back. They don't feel it's safe for them to return. They're very worried about going back into the hands of the military and police who are involved in persecuting them and chasing them out in the first place. And they also said that, we're not going to have any international protection. There's not going to be anybody there that's going to be allowed to make sure that we're safe.

SULLIVAN: Robertson says it's clear that the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are still communicating with those left behind in Myanmar, many of them in camps for internally displaced persons.

ROBERTSON: There's over 128,000 Rohingya who are, essentially, confined to their area. They're surrounded by fences and police and military. They can't go anywhere. They don't have any livelihoods. Access to education and basic health services are very limited. The Rohingya in Bangladesh don't want to go back to that. They want to go back to a place where they are full citizens, where they have the right to pursue their livelihoods and they have their full rights guaranteed.

SULLIVAN: Right now, that's not Myanmar, which refuses to recognize the Rohingya as citizens even though their families have been living there for generations. Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, says no one will be sent back who doesn't want to go.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.