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10 November, 2018 12:30:32 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 10 November, 2018 12:08:33 PM

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Rohingyas ‘terrified’ about repatriation, say aid groups

Refugees fear living in enclosed camps like the one in central Rakhine state, where 120,000 Rohingyas are confined to camps for 6 years
AFP, Bangkok
Rohingyas ‘terrified’ about repatriation, say aid groups

A plan to start repatriating Rohingya Muslims back to Myanmar is premature and the refugees are "terrified" about leaving Bangladesh where they sought refuge, dozens of aid agencies working in the region said yesterday. More than 720,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar's northern Rakhine state after a heavy-handed army crackdown in August last year that survivors say involved mass rape and extrajudicial killings.

UN officials say the country's military leaders should be investigated for genocide but Myanmar has rebuffed the calls, arguing it was only defending itself against Rohingya militants who attacked police posts.

Both Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation agreement in November last year to allow Rohingya to return but many fear going back without guarantees of citizenship, freedom of movement and safety.

However the governments confirmed in recent weeks that they were pushing ahead with the first large-scale repatriation set for mid-November, prompting an outcry from activists who say conditions on the ground in Rakhine are not adequate to take the refugees back.

"They are terrified about what will happen to them if they are returned to Myanmar now, and distressed by the lack of information they have received," the group of 42 aid agencies and civil society groups said in a statement that referred to the push as "dangerous."

"They fled to Bangladesh to seek safety and they are very grateful to the Government of Bangladesh for giving them a safe haven."

Oxfam, World Vision and Save the Children were among the groups working in Myanmar and Bangladesh that signed the statement.

They said refugees fear living in enclosed settlements like the one in central Rakhine state, where more than 120,000 Rohingya have been confined to camps for six years since inter-communal violence erupted in the region in 2012.

Myint Khaing, the Maungdaw township administrator in northern Rakhine, told AFP that November 15 is the estimated repatriation start date and that the plan is to receive more than 2,200 people in total at a rate of 150 per day.

But he seemed unsure if it would go ahead.

"We can confirm only on the 15th whether the people from our given list are coming or not," he said.

Northern Rakhine has been largely sealed off since the crackdown except for tightly organised government trips for media and senior visiting diplomats.

The UN has been granted access to the area to assess conditions on the ground but the approvals have been slow and the amount of territory accessible has been limited.

Authorities in Bangladesh worry that Rohingya may once again risk travelling to other parts of Southeast Asia by boat, a route previously popular with those seeking economic opportunities outside

the grim camps. This week Bangladesh’s coast guard rescued 33 Rohingya and detained six alleged human traffickers from a fishing trawler headed for Malaysia in the Bay of Bengal.

Meanwhile, the incitement case against three Myanmar journalists who reported critically on the financial management of Yangon’s government has been withdrawn, their lawyer told AFP, in rare good news for the country’s beleaguered press. Eleven Media’s executive editors Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nayi Min and chief reporter Phyo Wai Win were arrested in October but allowed out on bail after a few weeks in detention.

They were accused of incitement after an article raised questions about budgeting within the city government, which is run by Phyo Min Thein, a close confidante of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Article 505 (b) criminalises published or circulated information that causes “fear or alarm to the public”.

The case prompted an outcry amid fears of declining press freedom in Suu Kyi’s Myanmar and was lodged weeks after Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years on state secrets charges while reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims.

But the lawyer for Eleven Media’s staff said the Yangon government had sent a letter to the court asking to drop the charges and take up their grievance through arbitration at Myanmar’s Press Council.

“The judge allowed them to withdraw and gave a verdict (Friday) right away. So the case is finished,” lawyer Kyee Myint told AFP.

In an interview on Thursday, however, Phyo Min Thein told state media the city government would seek a correction through the council, and could resume the legal tack if it was not satisfied with the outcome.

“If they do not follow and if negotiation by the press council is not a success, we will continue this case legally,” he said.

Cases against journalists in Myanmar have further tarnished the reputation of one-time rights icon Suu Kyi, whose legacy fell apart during the Rohingya crisis.

Suu Kyi has said little in defence of the Reuters journalists, who will have spent a year in prison next month. They are appealing.

MK

 

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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