'Can't eat, can't sleep': Rohingya on Myanmar repatriation list
Cox's Bazar, Nov 10: For Nurul Amin, a Rohingya Muslim living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, the days since learning he and his family were among a group of people set to potentially be repatriated to Myanmar have been among the most frightening since they fled their home.
"I can hardly sleep at night for fear of getting forcibly repatriated. Since the time I heard that my name is on the list I can't even eat," says Amin, 35, who has four daughters, a wife and sister with him in the Jamtoli Camp in southeast Bangladesh.
Reuters identified and spoke to more than 20 of the roughly 2,000 Rohingya refugees on a list of people Myanmar has agreed to take back. Though officials say no-one will be forced to return against their will, all say they have been terrified since learning this month their names were on the list prepared by Bangladeshi officials and vetted by Myanmar.
The list has not been made public and not all those whose names are on it have been informed, say Bangladeshi camp officials, due to concerns of sparking widespread panic in a camp that shelters 52,000 refugees.
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in late October to this month begin the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled across the border to escape a Myanmar army crackdown, even though the United Nations' refugee agency and aid groups say doubts persist about their safety and conditions in Myanmar should they return.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed from Rakhine state, in mostly Buddhist Myanmar, into Bangladesh from August last year after Rohingya insurgent attacks on security forces triggered a sweeping military response.
Refugees said soldiers and local Buddhists carried out mass killings and rape during the violence in 2017, while UN-mandated investigators have accused the military of unleashing a campaign with "genocidal intent".
Myanmar has denied almost all the allegations. It has rejected the UN findings as one-sided, and said the military action was a legitimate counterinsurgency operation.
This week, the UN's human rights investigator on Myanmar urged Bangladesh to drop the repatriation plan, warning that Rohingya still faced a high risk of persecution in Myanmar.
A Bangladesh foreign ministry official, who asked not to be named, said on Friday the country would not send any Rohingya back forcefully.
"The Bangladesh government is in talks with them to motivate them," he said.
Separately, another foreign ministry official told Reuters the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would verify whether those shortlisted were willing to return.
Firas Al-Khateeb, a UNHCR representative in Cox's Bazar, told Reuters that effort would start within a few days. -Reuters