Over the past two weeks, community feedback suggests that refugees are becoming increasingly concerned about the possibility of repatriation to Myanmar, with rumours circulating and a clear need for more information. Repatriation is currently one of the most discussed issues within the Rohingya community with lots of queries and apprehension. Many of the community’s concerns relate to a lack of knowledge about how repatriation decisions are being made and what the process will be. Given these concerns, this special edition of What Matters? provides an immediate snapshot of the rumours and worries currently present within the Rohingya community, gathered from individual community members as well as through mahjis and other influential people.
Process not clear
The process of repatriation is not clear to the community and lack of knowledge about this is a considerable issue.
Some are worried that the process will not be voluntary. Specifically, the lack of clarity over how the list of names is being developed, and no knowledge within the community about which names are on the list, was frequently mentioned by both the community in general and the mahjis as a major reason why people were fearful of the process, which is becoming a cause of tension in the community. People do not understand how names are added to the list and have been requesting mahjis not to include their names.
Prior to the most recent news reports about repatriation, refugees were already suspicious about filling in forms or providing personal information. People’s anxiety has increased with the latest reports, with many people now refusing to fill in any forms at all and many mahjis helping other community members to avoid having their names listed in any documents.
Worries about the implications of return
Many in the community strongly believe that they will be killed by the Myanmar military if they are sent back to Myanmar. There are also strong concerns from the community that they may be tortured or forced to come back to Bangladesh, if they return to Myanmar. Others are concerned that they might not get the chance to escape to Bangladesh a second time if they are repatriated now and experience violence back in Myanmar.
Community members have been requesting mahjis to raise concerns on their behalf, reinforcing the community leaders’ stated position that a return to Myanmar is impossible until certain conditions are met and their security can be guaranteed. All the mahjis seem to be aware of these conditions – the recognition of the Rohingya as an ethnic group; security of life; international acknowledgement of the Rohingya community; human rights including the right to move freely around Myanmar (for education, economic activities, etc); and access for media and NGOs to Rakhine.
One mahji voiced the concerns of the community more starkly, saying that dying in Bangladesh would be less painful than dying in Myanmar, where the community feel they may be tortured or raped before being killed. He also voiced the community’s belief that death in Bangladesh would at least allow for janazah (the Islamic funer al prayer) and dafan (burial).