Rohingya flee camps fearing forcible return to Myanmar

Lamar Ellis
November 17, 2018

Suu Kyi is subject to growing worldwide criticism for the way she has handled the ethnic crisis, including from within the ranks of fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), specifically from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed.

"They are trying to convince the refugees that repatriation will only occur if the Burmese government has promised they will not harm the Rohingya", he said, using an alternative name for Myanmar.

The military's presence at vast Rohingya camps in Bangladesh has been bolstered, stoking fears among refugees as authorities prepare to return them to Myanmar despite strong United Nations objections, leaders of the Muslim minority said on Wednesday.

Urging Myanmar to play a constructive role in resolving the Rohingya issue, the U.S. said the country should address the root causes of the crisis in the Rakhine state and provide access to a transparent and efficient citizenship verification process, freedom of movement and access to livelihoods to the minority Muslims.

Pence said he was eager to discuss with Aung San Suu Kyi the importance of ensuring a "free and independent press" in Myanmar. High Commissioner Syed Moazzem Ali here addressed diplomats of 78 countries that have concurrent diplomatic accreditation to Bangladesh and said that Myanmar's actions have imposed a heavy price on Bangladesh.

Amnesty International said on Tuesday it had withdrawn its most prestigious human rights prize from Suu Kyi, accusing her of perpetuating human rights abuses by not speaking out about violence against the Rohingya. "I'm sure you will say the same of yours, that you understand your own country better than anybody else".

Former MP for the military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party U Shwe Maung, a Rohingya who now lives in exile, told The National that he feels as though history is repeating itself, referring to two previous waves of mass displacement.

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While many Rohingya want to return home, they said, they fear doing so without protections like citizenship and those responsible for the slaughter being held accountable.

A day earlier Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed made an unusually harsh public criticism of Suu Kyi, saying that as a former political prisoner she should better understand suffering.

"I've been a refugee three times", said Rashida, a 50-year-old Rohingya woman we met in the camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

"They had a very candid exchange of views on that", a senior White House official said.

Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in Yangon in December 2017.

Myanmar authorities say they have verified the identities of 4,000 Rohingya to be returned, but no one quite knows who is on that list.

Instead of calling for speedy repatriation now, ASEAN governments should support the government of Myanmar to create the conditions in Rakhine state that will allow Rohingya refugees to return in safety and with equal rights. The stateless Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years.

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