Human rights groups called on for international agencies to be allowed to monitor the planned repatriation of hundreds of thousands Rohingya Muslim from Bangladesh to the homes they fled in Myanmar during the past three months.
The two governments signed a pact on Thursday settling terms for the repatriation process. They aim to start the return of Rohingya in two months in order to reduce pressures in the sprawling refugee camps that have mushroomed in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh.
“The idea that Burma will now welcome them back to their smoldering villages with open arms is laughable,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch, using the former name for Myanmar.
“Instead of signing on to a public relations stunt, the international community should make it clear that there can be no returns without international monitors to ensure security, an end to the idea of putting returnees in camps, the return of land and the rebuilding of destroyed homes and villages.”
More than 600,000 Rohingya sought sanctuary in Bangladesh after Myanmar’s military launched a brutal counter insurgency in their villages across northern parts of Rakhine State following attacks by Rohingya militants on an army base and police posts on Aug. 25.
The United Nations and United States have described the military’s actions as “ethnic cleansing”, and rights groups have accused security forces of atrocities, including mass rape, arson and killings.
While Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said repatriation of the largely stateless Muslim minority would be based on residency and would be “safe and voluntary”, there were concerns that the country’s autonomous military could prove obstructive.
The memorandum of understanding signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh on Thursday said a joint working group would be set up within three weeks to prepare the way for the Rohingya’s return.
But it gave scant details about the criteria of return and of what role, if any, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, could play.