GENEVA — United Nations human rights boss Michelle Bachelet called on Bangladesh on Tuesday to halt plans to repatriate 2,200 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, warning that their lives would be at “serious risk.”
Forcibly returning or expelling refugees and asylum-seekers to their home country would violate international law which forbids it to places where returnees face threats of persecution or their lives would be endangered, she said.
More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees crossed into Bangladesh from western Myanmar, U.N. agencies say, after Rohingya insurgent attacks on Myanmar security forces in August, 2017 triggered a sweeping military crackdown.
The two countries agreed on Oct. 30 to begin the returns to Myanmar in mid-November. Earlier on Tuesday, a senior official of the U.N. refugee agency Volker Turk said that conditions in Rakhine state were not yet conducive for Rohingya to return, citing restrictions on their movement and lack of political rights including citizenship.
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“We are witnessing terror and panic among those Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar who are at imminent risk of being returned to Myanmar against their will,” Bachelet said in a statement, adding that two men have attempted suicide.
Human rights violations committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar amount to the worst atrocities, including crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide, she said, referring to atrocities documented by U.N. investigators.
“With an almost complete lack of accountability – indeed with ongoing violations – returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades,” she said.
The U.N. human rights office continued to receive reports of ongoing violations committed against Rohingya in northern Rakhine, Myanmar – including alleged killings, disappearances and arbitrary arrests, Bachelet said.