Members of the persecuted ethnic minority were being sent by authorities in Bangladesh, along with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), back to Myanmar on Thursday.
Having surveyed more than 3,000 refugees from a list of 3,454 approved for return, UNHCR officials found out that the Rohingya were deeply opposed to the repatriation, with one saying he would rather “drink poison” than be returned to Myanmar’s northwestern state of Rahkine, Presstv Reported.
“With nothing but our lives, we came to Bangladesh. Here in Bangladesh, we have shelter now, we have a little peace. Now they want to send us back,” Sabbir Ahmaed, a Rohingya refugee, told Reuters.
“It is better to kill us here, but don’t send us to that country of brutal people. Better to give us poison, I will die drinking that poison, I will take poison, but will not go back,” he added.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh following a military-led crackdown in 2017 that the UN has said was perpetrated with “genocidal intent.”
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were killed, injured, arbitrarily arrested, or raped by Myanmarese soldiers and Buddhist mobs mainly between November 2016 and August 2017.
“They killed my father, mother, and brothers, and they sexually abused the women, just because we are Muslim. Many of our Muslim brothers are now suffering in that jail of a country (Myanmar). If there is no peace there, how can we go back there?!” Rokeya Begum, another Rohingya refugee, told Reuters.
“It’s our country, obviously we want to go back, but only if there is peace. If there is no peace, then don’t send us back, kill us here — just don’t force us to go. We suffered a lot there,” she added.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Bangladeshi refugee relief official said not even a single family had been found willing to return to Myanmar during surveying on Thursday.
“Almost all of the 214 families we interviewed today said they would not return until their key demands are met. Rakhine is still hostile and unsafe for them, they said,” said the official.
Previous attempts at persuading Rohingya to return to Rakhine have failed due to opposition from the refugees.
Do not repatriate Rohingyas: HRW
In a statement on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Myanmar and Bangladesh to cancel plans for repatriating the Rohingya refugees from Bangladeshi camps to Rakhine.
“Myanmar has yet to address the systematic persecution and violence against the Rohingya, so refugees have every reason to fear for their safety if they return,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the group’s South Asia director.
“Bangladesh has been generous with the Rohingya — though conditions in the camps have been difficult — but no refugee should feel compelled to return to a place that isn’t safe,” she said.
On Tuesday, Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh held a protest to demand that those responsible for atrocities in Rakhine be held to account. They also called on the Myanmarese government to guarantee full citizenship rights and their safety.
The HRW statement quoted one refugee as saying, “We do not want to go back to Myanmar, where so many of our loved ones did not even get a funeral and ended up in mass graves after they were killed.”
The Rohingya had inhabited Rakhine for centuries, but the state denies them citizenship.