London, November 24, 2017 — Responding to the announcement that the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed an agreement to send Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, Sanna Johnson, Regional Director for Asia at the International Rescue Committee said:
"This announcement is deeply worrying. Refugees are still arriving in camps in Cox’s Bazar on a daily basis, indicating that the Rohingya population continues to face significant threat, so talk of repatriation is, at best, premature.
It is absolutely vital that the principle of non-refoulement is upheld; no one should be returned to a country in which they face persecution. With reports of the mining of the border by the Myanmar military, the violent clearance of up to 200 villages, it is clear that the conditions for safe, voluntary and informed returns are not being met.”
A recent IRC survey in Cox’s Bazar found just 11% of refugees wished to return to Myanmar, with the remaining 89% wanting to either stay where they were or move to other sites in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s decision not to recognise newly displaced Rohingya as refugees limits their rights under International Refugee Law. Without refugee status nor citizenship in Myanmar, displaced Rohingya are faced with only two options: to stay trapped in camps in Bangladesh in dire conditions, or return to Myanmar with limited protection.
The right to return must always be an option, but with limited access in Rakhine, the IRC has been unable to assess the conditions that displaced people would be returning to. What we do know is that the conditions in which the Rohingya live, stripped of their basic rights and freedoms, unrecognized as an ethic group and denied citizen status, must urgently change in order for this crisis to be resolved.
Johnson added: “This agreement raises more questions than it answers; it is imperative that if any returns do take place, they are monitored and assured to be voluntary not forced, safe and informed, that full UN oversight of the process is in place. We must not see mass returns of people to camps in Rakhine.
The IRC is calling for aid agencies to be granted full access to refugee populations in order to meet immediate humanitarian needs, until a long-term humanitarian response is put in place.