Rohingya refugees Sitara Begum with her son Mohammed Abbas, who is waiting in the list for repatriation in the Jamtoli refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Thursday, 15. The authorities said Thursday that the return of some of the more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled the army led violence in Myanmar will start according to plan when people are ready to leave, even though the representatives of the United Nations and human rights groups seeking refugee security demand homeland first. (AP Photo / Dar Yasin) The Associated Press
By JULHAS ALAM, Associated Press
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) – Around 1,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees demonstrated on Thursday in A camp in Bangladesh against plans To repatriate them to Myanmar, from where hundreds of thousands fled last year from army violence.
In the camp Unchiprang, one of the sprawling refugee settlements near the town of Cox's Bazaar, a Bangladeshi refugee pleaded with the Rohingya to land over a loudspeaker.
"We arranged everything for you, we have six buses, we have trucks, we have food, we want to offer you everything, and if you agree, we'll take you to the border, to the transit camp," he said.
"We will not go!" Hundreds of voices, including children, sang in response.
The authorities in Bangladesh said that the return of some of the more than 700,000 Rohingya would start on Thursday, when people were ready to leave, even though the UN and human rights groups were invited to hold back. However, it is not clear if there are volunteers.
Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam declined to say what the Bangladeshi authorities would do if refugees refused, but after a UN treaty with Bangladesh and Myanmar, the Rohingya can not be forced to repatriate.
"If they agree, we will take them to a transit camp and give them three days of food before they are handed over to the authorities of Myanmar," he said.
Rohingya's massive exodus began last August. In Myanmar, security forces brutally cracked after attacks by an insurgent group on sentries. The scale, organization and cruelty of the operation led to indictments by the international community, including the United Nations, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Most people in the Buddhist majority in Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are an indigenous ethnic group. Considered as "Bengalis" who have illegally arrived from Bangladesh, although generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar. Almost all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.
Despite assurances from Myanmar, human rights activists said the conditions for Rohingya refugees are still uncertain.
"Nothing The government of Myanmar has said or done that the Rohingya will be safe on their return," said human rights watch director Human Rights Watch Bill Frelick in a statement.
The group said 150 people from 30 families had already been put into a transit camp preparing for their return.
The authorities in Bangladesh have indicated that they have worked with the UN refugee agency to draw up lists of people who are prepared to return to Myanmar.
At the Jamtoli refugee camp, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, ages 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but their parents were not. She said she never asked to return to Myanmar, and she sent her children to an assistant-led school on Thursday morning, as usual.
"They killed my husband, now I live here with my parents," said Setara, who gave only one name. "I do not want to go back."
She said other refugees, whose names are on the repatriation list of the Bangladeshi government, had fled to other camps, hoping to disappear amidst the crowded streets of refugees, aid workers and Bangladeshi soldiers
The repatriation negotiations have been going on since Months, but plans to send refugees back to Myanmar's Rakhine state last January were canceled in the face of concern among the aides and Rohingya that their return would be forcibly taken.
Foreign leaders, including US Vice-President Mike Pence, this week criticized Nobel Peace Prize winner Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi for dealing with the Rohingya crisis on the sidelines of a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore.
But on Thursday, Pence said US officials were "encouraged to hear that the repatriation process would begin."
In addition to those who arrived in Bangladesh last year, around 2 00,000 other Rohingya had fled Myanmar during previous waves of violence and persecution.
Annabelle Liang, author of the Associated Press in Singapore, contributed to this report.
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