February 18, 1993

The Burma Action Group (UK) is expressing grave concern at the continued forced repatriation of Rohngya refugees in Bangladesh to Burma. Recent reports from aid workers in the area continue to confirm that the situation is critical.

In the early months of 1992, 280 000 Rohingyas sought refuge in Bangladesh in order to escape the exactions of the Burmese army. As a Muslim minority from Arakan province in Burma, the Rohingyas fled the country in mass, to avoid conscription, forced labour, pillaging, the destruction of villages and systematic rape by the Burmese military.

The Bangladesh government has pledged strict adherence to the principle of voluntary repatriation, but despite this, the United Nations High Commission for refugees (UNHCR) has been prevented from conducting private interviews to ascertain whether those returning are indeed doing so voluntarily. Furthermore, the UNHCR has been denied free and unhindered access to the refugee camps, it is therefore unable to carry out its protection mandate, nor can it effectively monitor the relief program.

In a recent press statement High Commissioner Ogata was quoted as being “deeply concerned with the deterioration in security in refugee camps on the Bangladesh /  Myanmar border, including beatings, violence, demonstrations and other incidents that have resulted in loss of life.”

According to Medicin Sans Frontiers “ the Bangladeshi authorities are multiplying pressure for “ convincing the refugees to return to Burma. The refugees are victims of physical violence, their traditional leaders are being arrested and the ration cards that determine access to food aid are being confiscated. This is how more than 9000 refugees have been repatriated to Burma in two months, willingly or by force. Demonstrations against these tactics have led to severe reprisals by the army and the police. Refugees have been killed, and those wounded are forbidden access to care and are being arrested.”

Aid workers recently returning from working in the camps have verified reports of an increase in intimidation used by the Bangladeshi authorities in order to increase the rate of repatriation.

Coming soon (March) is the Paris Aid meeting in which all the major donors meet with the World Bank and pledge aid for the forthcoming year. Donors will be looking at aspects such as the human rights situation in order to assess suitability of giving aid. It is thus a good time to highlight current concerns.

The Burma Action Group UK (BAG) is protesting vigorously against the methods used by the Bangladeshi authorities for forcing the Rohingyas back into Burma. BAG is calling upon the international community to bring pressure to bear on the Bangladeshi authorities in order to convince them to respect the principle of voluntary repatriation and to allow the HCR to carry out its protective mandate to the fullest.

BAG is also calling for pressure on the Burmese authorities to allow the HCR to have access to the regions from which the refugees first fled in order to verify that their return is being done with dignity and in full security.

BAG urges the media to send representatives to Bangladesh immediately in order to cover the situation, and to keep the British and international community fully informed of any developments.

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