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Myanmar Coup

Rohingya Muslims fear repatriation to Myanmar after coup

Bangladesh, keen to send refugees back, wants to continue talks with Naypyitaw

Rohingya Muslims fear that the military, which drove them out of Rakhine State in 2017, will continue to persecute them if they return. (Source photos by Reuters)

MUMBAI/YANGON --The repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar from camps in neighboring Bangladesh is becoming increasingly difficult as the military tightens its grip on the country after overthrowing the elected government on Feb. 1.

Rohingya Muslims were driven out of Rakhine State in August 2017 by the military who attacked them and torched their villages. Army generals do not consider the persecution of the Rohingya a crime and are opposed to an international tribunal seeking to indict those responsible.

Rohingya refugees, who are stateless despite having settled in Rakhine State for many generations, feel their safety will not be guaranteed after repatriation.

"The coup is tragic and terrible," Mohammad, a Rohingya Muslim living in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh, told Nikkei. "If I can get citizenship in my country, I want to go back. But I don't know when that will be."

Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to encourage the Rohingya to return voluntarily, but few refugees are willing to do so. Buddhists are the majority in Myanmar.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague announced in November 2019 that it would launch a formal investigation into the persecution of the Rohingya and in September last year, it arrested two soldiers. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar's commander-in-chief, may also be held accountable.

Elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested by the military on Feb. 1, admitted at the International Court of Justice, another tribunal in The Hague, in December 2019 that "it cannot be ruled out that disproportionate force was used by members of the defense services in some cases in disregard of international humanitarian law." The testimony as the de facto head of the state sent shock waves through the military.

Bangladesh had reluctantly taken in Rohingya refugees, who now number around 1 million in border camps, but had been in negotiations with Myanmar for their repatriation. In a statement after the coup, the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed hope those negotiations would continue.

The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper in Bangladesh, reported on Feb. 3 that the government has tightened border controls to prevent more Rohingya refugees from entering the country.

The Bangladesh government began relocating the refugees to a remote island, Bhasan Char, in the Bay of Bengal in December 2020, citing security issues. A total of 5,000 refugees have been sent there so far -- the goal is to transfer a total of 100,000 people.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expressed concerns about this move after some Rohingya said they were being forced to migrate.

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