At the refugee camps in the district of Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, the Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar are now living in fear of repatriation. On 23 November last year, the two countries had signed an agreement to repatriate the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees that are currently residing in Bangladesh. Two months later, the countries agreed on a “physical arrangement” to facilitate the repatriation process, which was scheduled to be completed within two years. Bangladesh subsequently postponed the process indefinitely—Abul Kalam, the host country’s commissioner of refugee relief and rehabilitation in Cox’s Bazar, told me there was a lot of “preparatory work” remaining, including finalising the list of refugees to be sent back.
There is little certainty about when the repatriation process will begin, but the Rohingyas are fearful of what awaits them in Myanmar. A 22-year-old refugee told me that Myanmarese soldiers had murdered her family in front of her and then raped her. “I am afraid of repatriation,” she said, requesting that I withhold her name. “I survived once, this time they will kill all of us.” The fear of forced repatriation is reinforced by the apparent resentment brewing among the local Bangladeshis against the Rohingya community. Mizanur Rahman Milky, the joint secretary of the Tour Operator Owners Association of Cox’s Bazar, or TOAC—a collective of tourism agencies in the district—told me he believed that there were no longer any threats to the Rohingyas’ security in Myanmar. “Now the locals are saying enough is enough—it is the time Rohingya should go back to their country.”
Targeted attacks against the Rohingya Muslim community, which began in late August last year, resulted in the mass exodus of the community fromthe western province of Rakhine in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, into neighbouring Bangladesh. In December 2017, the Human Rights Watch published a report noting that the Myanmarese army had torched over 350 Rohingya villages, and Doctors Without Borders reported that at least 6,700 Rohingyas had been murdered in the violence. United Nations officials, in separate instances, have stated that Myanmar military’s operation “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” and that it had the “hallmarks of a genocide.” The violent persecution of the community has forced around 700,000 Rohingyas to flee their homes into neighbouring Bangladesh.