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Stop the unsafe return of Rohingya refugees

Stop the unsafe return of Rohingya refugees
4 min read

Rushanara Ali and Anne Main call on the government as a matter of urgency to help halt Bangladesh’s plans to forcibly repatriate Rohingya refugees back to Burma

Over the last few days, we’ve heard concerning reports of increased army and police presence in Cox’s Bazar ahead of the planned repatriation. Cox’s Bazar is home to the world’s largest refugee camp, with over 700,000 Rohingya refugees crammed into an area of only five square miles. They were forced to relocate there after fleeing a brutal crackdown by the Burmese military in August last year, which was described by a UN fact-finding mission as genocide.

As joint chairs of the cross-party parliamentary group on the Rights of the Rohingya, we have campaigned for many years for the international community to take seriously the persecution of the Rohingya population, and other minorities by the Burmese military, both before and after the transition to Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration, in which the Burmese military continues to act with impunity. We have put pressure on the international community for increased funding and humanitarian aid, as well as calling for a long-term sustainable political solution. The terrible situation faced by the Rohingya must be tackled with urgency.

Justice and accountability are key to ensuring the safe return of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. It will never be safe as long as the Burmese military believes the international community will allow them to get away with the slaughter, rape, torture and displacement of Rohingya on such a scale that it constitutes genocide.

Last week up to 2,000 Rohingya refugees were reported to have been placed on a list for repatriation to Burma against their will. The repatriation was due to take place on Thursday 15 November, but most of those on the list went into hiding to avoid being forced to return. Of the 50 families who were located, all of them refused as they were too afraid to return to Burma in the current conditions. It is imperative that any return is safe, dignified and crucially, voluntary.

For decades Bangladesh has hosted refugees who face persecution in Burma. Over recent years, where thousands were killed by the Burmese military, and hundreds of thousands sought refuge, Bangladesh kept its borders open and provided them with sanctuary. We hope that they are able to demonstrate the same compassion as they did then and reconsider the repatriation plans.

We, along with the UN, charities and NGO’s working in the refugee camps believe that the rush towards repatriation must be stopped.

The Burmese military have not been held to account for their atrocities by the international community and so far the UK Government has not been able to convince other permanent members of the UN Security Council to refer Burma to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as recommended by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar earlier this year.

There can be no basis for the international community to continue to stand-by and watch those who have been persecuted, forced back into the hands of the perpetrators, only to face further persecution.

This is particularly concerning, considering the International Criminal Court’s recent move to open a preliminary investigation into the alleged deportation of the Rohingya from Burma to Bangladesh, as a possible crime against humanity. The ICC’s chief prosecutor compared this deportation to a “cross-border shooting”. We believe that the forced repatriation from Bangladesh to Burma would have similar, if not more severe consequences, which could amount to crimes against humanity in the eyes of the ICC.

The refugees deserve justice, dignity and the choice to return to safe conditions in Burma if they wish. The international community must do everything it can to ensure these conditions have been met before any repatriation can take place, or a cycle of violence and acts of genocide will continue. 

Rushanara Ali is Labour Bethnal Green & Bow, and Anne Main is Conservative MP for St Albans, and are joint chairs of the Rohingya APPG


Foreign affairs