Rohingya in Bangladesh protest efforts to send them back to Myanmar

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Nov 15, 2018, 05.22 PM (IST)

Hundreds of Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh protested on Thursday against any attempt to send them back to Myanmar after sources in Bangladesh said the launch of a repatriation plan had been postponed.

Bangladesh had begun preparations to repatriate an initial batch of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar on Thursday, in line with a plan agreed with Myanmar in October.

But there have been extensive doubts about the plan and it has been opposed by the UN refugee agency and aid groups, who fear for the safety of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and by many Rohingya in camps in Bangladesh.

"No, no, we won't go," hundreds of Rohingya protesters chanted in the Unchiprang camp in southeast Bangladesh, near the Myanmar border.

Some protesters also waved placards that said "We want justice," and "We will never return to Myanmar without our citizenship".

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled a sweeping army crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state last year, according to UN agencies, launched in response to Rohingya insurgent attacks on the security forces.

The Rohingya refugees say soldiers and Buddhist civilians massacred families, burned hundreds of villages and carried out gang rapes. UN-mandated investigators have accused the Myanmar army of "genocidal intent" and ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar denies almost all of the accusations, saying its security forces have been engaged in a counter-insurgency operation against "terrorists".

Earlier, three sources directly briefed on the issue, said repatriation would not begin on Thursday as none of those selected to go back had agreed to.

"Nobody wants to go back," said one of the sources.

The repatriation of a first group of 2,200 refugees was to begin on Thursday, and officials in Myanmar had said they were ready to receive the returnees.

But Bangladesh has vowed not to force anyone to return and it has asked the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to make sure those short-listed to return really want to go back.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Bangladeshi officials were due to meet Myanmar counterparts at a border crossing to inform them that no one had agreed to return.

The Bangladesh government declined to comment.

Unverified images on social media showed officials on the Myanmar side of the border waiting at a reception centre.

UN rights boss Michelle Bachelet called on Bangladesh on Tuesday to halt the repatriation plan, warning that lives would be put at "serious risk".

The UN human rights office continued to receive reports of ongoing violations committed against Rohingya in Myanmar - including alleged killings, disappearances and arbitrary arrests, Bachelet said.

Myanmar does not consider the Rohingya a native ethnic group and most are stateless. Many in the Buddhist-majority country call the Rohingya "Bengalis", suggesting they belong in Bangladesh.

Story highlights

Hundreds of Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh protested on Thursday against any attempt to send them back to Myanmar after sources in Bangladesh said the launch of a repatriation plan had been postponed.