Last week, Myanmar and Bangladesh announced they would soon begin repatriating the first batch of Rohingya refugees, in a move that came as something of a surprise to international nongovernmental organizations, foreign governments and, not least, the Rohingyas themselves.
In the crowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, rumors run rife and fears of refoulement are high.
A list of 3,540 individuals has reportedly been cleared by both governments, whittled down from an initial list of over 20,000.
Both Myanmar and Bangladesh are under pressure to act, but previous announcements of this sort have failed to deliver. For the international community to support returns, conditions must allow for them to be “safe, dignified and voluntary.” To send Rohingyas back at this juncture would be none of those things.
Almost two years on from the August 25, 2017 militant attacks that precipitated the Myanmar military’s second wave of ethnic cleansing, Rakhine state remains unstable and volatile. Over 1,000 people have fled to Bangladesh since the beginning of the year.
Heavy fighting between the Myanmar military, called the Tatmadaw, and the Arakan Army has spread across the state, and a government-imposed mobile internet blackout is in place, severely curtailing the flow of information. Rights groups say they have credible information that war crimes are ongoing. Humanitarian access is severely hampered, and media access is minimal.