Dozens of Rohingya Muslim families have escaped from refugee camps in Bangladesh to avoid being repatriated to Myanmar, Reuters and local Bangladeshi newspapers report.
The repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh in 2016 and 2017 is supposed to begin on November 15, with the first batch of 2,000 refugees who have been screened under the terms of an agreement Myanmar and Bangladesh reached in October.
But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and aid groups in the camps say doubts persist about the safety and conditions in Myanmar of those who have been shortlisted for repatriation.
Bangladesh has said that it would not force anyone to return and has asked UNHCR to verify whether those on the list are willing to go back to Myanmar.
Rohingya activists have also lobbied against repatriation and even threatened foreign workers and camp elders who have suggested that the refugees should return.
But if they cannot or will not return to Myanmar, it is unclear what will happen to them as the political ground shifts in Bangladesh.
Elections will be held in Bangladesh on December 30 and the question of how to handle the refugee crisis is bound to become one of the most important issues that any future government of Bangladesh would have to tackle.
Meanwhile, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members will call for those responsible for atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state to be held “fully accountable,” according to a provisional statement prepared for the 10-member grouping’s regional summit being held in Singapore, Reuters reported.
The draft statement repeated ASEAN’s previous calls on the importance of the repatriation of refugees to Myanmar, humanitarian relief and reconciliation among communities, but will apparently go further in calling for accountability for alleged atrocities the United Nations has said constitute crimes against humanity.