Fearing for safety, Rohingya refuse repatriation to Myanmar

Fearing for safety, Rohingya refuse repatriation to Myanmar

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Rohingya Muslim staying in a makeshift camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh after fleeing ethnic cleansing in neighboring Myanmar protest repatriation efforts on Feb. 23. (Jafor Islam/VOA via Wikimedia Commons)

Bangladesh says it won't force Rohingya Muslims back to Myanmar, where they were victims of ethnic cleaning last year. But is that really worth celebrating?

UNITED NATIONS  Rohingya Muslims fleeing what the U.S. and U.N. have termed ethnic cleansing in Myanmar are refusing to leave refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh — complicating a deal between the two countries to see the displaced returned home.

UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac:

“The overwhelming majority of refugees are unwilling to be repatriated unless their safety can be guaranteed…For many, the trauma they witnessed during their exodus from Myanmar at the end of 2017 is still fresh in their mind.”

For Serena Parekh, a professor of philosophy at Northeastern University who’s written on the moral obligations owed to refugees, the notion the Rohingya should ever be sent back is absurd.

“I remember the first time I read something like, ‘Myanmar agrees to take back several thousand Rohingya,’ I think I laughed out loud, because it was like, well, of course they want to take them back – their goal is to kill them.”

A 22-year-old refugee from Myanmar and her 1-year-old son son wait to receive food, along with hundreds of other Rohingya refugees at Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Bangladesh. Courtesy: UNHCR/Andrew McConnell
A 22-year-old refugee from Myanmar and her 1-year-old son wait to receive food, along with hundreds of other Rohingya refugees, at Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Bangladesh. (Courtesy: UNHCR/Andrew McConnell)

How to deal with the more than 1 million Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh is vexing the region and the world.

The U.N. and other aid groups have praised Bangladesh for letting the Rohingya pour into the country in August 2017. That gesture proved a rare good news story as Europe and the U.S. took steps to keep refugees away.

Parekh is worried the bar for acceptable treatment of refugees is now dangerously low  so low that Bangladesh saw fit to sign off on a plan to send refugees back to the very killing grounds where they were systematically killed only months earlier.

“I think one of the problems is precisely that we can’t criticize countries that host refugees. We consider states to be generous just for letting refugees stay on their territory, and then turn a blind eye to what actually happens to them while they’re on that territory.”

Parekh doesn’t have a quick fix, but says it would help if the world stopped thinking of refugee crises are short-lived and capable of being fixed by simply sending refugees home. The U.N. now estimates refugee displacements last an average of 26 years.

By that measure, handing Bangladesh awards for its refugee treatment over the last 18 months might be a bit premature.

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