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Myanmar/Bangladesh: Prevent Forced Returns, Protect Rohingya Refugees

“Repatriation” scheduled to begin August 22

(Cox’s Bazar, August 21, 2019)—The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh should suspend any immediate plans to return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, said Fortify Rights today. The authorities should ensure Rohingya have basic rights and protections in Myanmar and engage in meaningful consultations with Rohingya refugees before facilitating future refugee returns to Myanmar.

Bangladesh and Myanmar authorities agreed to begin refugee returns tomorrow, August 22, 2019.

“Repatriations now would be dangerous and reckless,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights. “Governments should focus on ensuring accountability for mass atrocities, restoring Rohingya citizenship rights, and ending deprivations of basic human rights that are ongoing in Rakhine State.”

Myanmar reportedly added 3,450 Rohingya to a “repatriation list” derived from a list of more than 22,000 Rohingya provided by the Government of Bangladesh.

In 2016 and 2017, Myanmar Army-led genocidal attacks forced nearly 800,000 Rohingya to flee from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh. The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority, indigenous to Myanmar.

“My house was set on fire and burned during the military operations [in August 2017],” a Rohingya refugee woman, 40, told Fortify Rights in Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh. “Before we go home, I want citizenship.”

In November 2017, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar first announced a plan to return Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, but Bangladesh authorities postponed the plan in January 2018, citing a lack of preparedness. In another attempt in November 2018, Fortify Rights documented how Bangladesh authorities in Cox’s Bazar District attempted to coercively collect biometric data from Rohingya refugees by assaulting and threatening refugee leaders, raising concerns about possible forced returns to Myanmar.

The Government of Myanmar plans to house returnees in “transit centers,” where Rohingya will be required to accept National Verification Cards (NVCs), which do not confer rights nor citizenship and, through an NVC application process, effectively identify Rohingya as “Bengali” or more generally as “foreigners.”

The situation in Rakhine State is unsafe for returns and Rohingya continue to cross into Bangladesh seeking safety, Fortify Rights said.

From 1992 to 1995, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees forcibly repatriated an estimated 250,000 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to northern Rakhine State, and in 1995 Myanmar began issuing Temporary Resident Cards (“White Cards”) to Rohingya, which, like NVCs, did not confer rights.

The Government of Myanmar should urgently amend the 1982 Citizenship Law to bring it in line with international laws and standards and to ensure equal access to full citizenship rights for Rohingya, said Fortify Rights today.

“There’s a long history of abuse against Rohingya in the course of returns to Myanmar,” said Matthew Smith. “Rohingya need to be fully consulted and engaged in this process, and so far they’ve not been.”

On September 3, Fortify Rights will publish a full-length report exposing new information on human rights violations and international crimes by Myanmar authorities related to NVCs and the denial of citizenship to Rohingya.

© August 2019 Fortify Rights International. All Rights Reserved.

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