UPDATED at 7:50 p.m. EDT on 8-16-22
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet advised Rohingya to wait for repatriation because the present situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is not stable, according to refugees who met with her at camps in southeastern Bangladesh on Tuesday.
Bachelet spent the day holding separate talks with Rohingya leaders, women, youth and religious representatives in camps along the border with Myanmar, as part of the first-ever visit to Bangladesh by a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Bachelet will be finishing her job in that role when her term expires on Aug. 31.
Reporters were not allowed into Bachelet’s meetings with the Rohingya.
Amena Khatun, one of nine Rohingya women who participated in one of the meetings, said they discussed gender-based violence.
“The High Commissioner asked us why we came here. In reply, we said we came here to save our lives from torture. We want to return to our homeland if we can have citizenship,” Khatun told BenarNews.
Kamrun Nesa, another participant in the women’s meeting, said she and others called for compensation for a crackdown by Myanmar’s military against Rohingya Muslims that forced nearly 750,000 members of the stateless minority group to flee across the border and seek shelter, starting in August 2017.
The sprawling Rohingya camps and settlements in Cox’s Bazar house about 1 million refugees from Rakhine state.
“Expressing my will to return to my Rakhine home, I said to the High Commissioner that I took shelter in Bangladesh five times [while] fleeing from Myanmar. Bangladesh has given us shelter on its land, but we are living here as prisoners,” Nesa told BenarNews, referring to a Bangladeshi government policy that prohibits Rohingya from venturing outside the confines of the camps.
“In reply, Bachelet said the situation in Rakhine is not stable now, so until the situation is normal, sending us there will not be wise,” she said, adding Bachelet told her that the United Nations would have a role in supervising repatriation.
Bachelet did not immediately release a statement after her four-hour visit to Cox’s Bazar district.
Since she landed in Dhaka on Sunday morning, she has met with the country’s foreign, law, home, and education ministers, and is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday before holding a press conference to mark the end of her visit.
Mawlana Md. Jamil, who participated in the meeting with religious leaders in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews that the high commissioner asked them about stopping violence and other unethical activities in the camps.
“We replied to her that religious leaders were always advising people to keep away from bad activities,” he said.
His group also raised concerns about repatriation.
Jamil said he and others called for repatriation under Responsibility to Protect – known as R2P – an “international norm that seeks to ensure that the international community never again fails to halt the mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”
The concept emerged in response to mass atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, according to the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect.
“She asked us to wait for everything,” Jamil said.
Access to education
Other Rohingya expressed worries about a lack of access to education for their children.
Hafez Khurshid, who attended the meeting of religious leaders, said law and order efforts would improve if access to education for all Rohingya boys and girls was ensured.
He said 10- to 12-year-olds do not have access to education inside the camps.
“We demanded at least religious education for them,” he said.
The future is dark for young people because of the lack of learning programs, according to Abdul Aziz, a Rohingya youth leader.
“I asked her [Bachelet] to take steps to start arranging education for Rohingya refugees under the Myanmar curriculum,” he said.
Shah Rezwan Hayat, Bangladesh’s commissioner for refugee relief and repatriation, said his delegation and U.N. officials discussed relief efforts for Rohingya along with repatriation. He did not release details about the discussions.
Low trust in junta
On Aug. 10, the Myanmar military junta in Rakhine state announced on social media that it would accept Rohingya refugees back to Bangladesh, and the state’s attorney general Hla Thein told RFA that authorities had a list of 500,000 Rohingya refugees and was set to begin accepting them back at a rate of 150 per day next month.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh accused the junta of acting in bad faith as it faces a trial for crimes against humanity at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
“We have questions as to whether they are doing it in good faith,” said Khin Maung, Director of the Rohingya Youth Association.
“They are doing this to deceive the international community,” he told RFA.
Ali Jaina, a Rohingya refugee from the Baluhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, he is ready to return if he is given full rights, including citizenship, a return to his orginal home, and compensation for lost property.
“If these conditions are met, we are ready to return. With their (current) policy, there is no reason for us to return.”
Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told BenarNews that Dhaka has not heard from Myanmar about the refugees for several months.
“I don’t know what they mean about 500,000 Rohingyas. I do not understand what they are talking about with the number, when we had already shared the names of 840,000 Rohingyas,” the minister said.
Nur Khan Liton, a prominent human rights defender, said trusting Myanmar’s claim is tough as they breached agreements several times earlier.
Although most Rohingyas want to return to their home as soon as possible with dignity, there is a high risk of sending them to Rakhine at this time when several armed groups are active there.
“You cannot put any life in danger, even while they are already vulnerable,” he said.
Updated to include a recent Myanmar Rohingya repatriation offer and responses from Rohingya refugees and Bangladesh.
BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.