Responding to an announcement by the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry that it will aim to repatriate all Rohingya refugees within two years, James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said:
“With memories of rape, killing and torture still fresh in the minds of Rohingya refugees, plans for their return to Myanmar are alarmingly premature. The timeframe announced on Tuesday was made without any consultation with the Rohingya themselves, and offers no assurances that people will be able to return voluntarily.
The most recent campaign of violence against the Rohingya was preceded by years of entrenched discrimination and abuse and for most of the 650,000 refugees who fled Myanmar last year, returning so soon will be a terrifying prospect.
The obfuscation and denials of the Myanmar authorities give no reason to hope that the rights of returning Rohingya would be protected, or that the reasons for their original flight no longer exist.
The Rohingya have an absolute right to return to and reside in Myanmar, but there must be no rush to return people to a system of apartheid. Any forcible returns would be a violation of international law.
Rohingya refugees are entitled to continue to seek asylum in Bangladesh and the government should focus on exploring all options to ensure continued international protection for this community.
Returns cannot be safe or dignified until there is a fundamental change in Myanmar, including accountability for crimes against humanity and an end to the apartheid system.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed that the repatriation process will commence on 23 January 2018.