No forced return for the Rohingya
We are urging the UK Government to do everything it can to protect the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who face the prospect of being returned to Myanmar against their will.
We are deeply concerned by the plight of refugees, with many still deeply traumatised by the horrendous violence they experienced at the hands of the Myanmar military.
In the past year around 730,000 Rohingya surged into Bangladesh to escape horrific violence and a brutal campaign by the Myanmar military forces. Many saw their families, friends and neighbours shot or burned alive, their homes destroyed and their livestock and other belongings stolen.
Last year the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed a plan for the Rohingya to return but this has not been implemented. Now they have decided to restart the process, with 2,260 refugees to be sent back to Myanmar initially.
However, it’s not clear which refugees will be sent back or what will happen if they do not want to go. The Rohingya say they have not been consulted on the plans and are deeply worried about their safety and the threat of further violence.
The Free Rohingya Coalition, a prominent global network of Rohingya activists, has stated that amongst the Rohingya there are widespread and well-founded fears that their lives, families, and communities will once again face further attacks once they are back in their homeland.
Many Rohingya refugees are now going into hiding within Bangladesh as they are fearful of forced return to Myanmar. Already vulnerable, they become at further risk as they leave the relative protection of refugee camps and ongoing aid efforts.
We have been working with Caritas Bangladesh since the crisis began, providing food, shelter and basic household materials like cooking pots and plates to thousands of refugees in the camps.
According to international law, no refugee should be forced to return to a place where they have experienced or witnessed torture or violence, and so we are urging the UK Government to defend that principle.
We want the government to put pressure on the Myanmar Government to guarantee the safety of the Rohingya that return, support an investigation into what caused the refugees to flee last year, and protect all minority groups in the country.
SCIAF's Director Alistair Dutton has written to the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to urge the UK Government to:
· Champion the principle of non-refoulement (not forced to return to torture or violence) in international refugee law and that people should only be repatriated voluntarily on the basis of free and informed consent;
· Work with the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, the international community, UN and NGOs to ensure these principles are a reality for the Rohingya refugees;
· Support an independent investigation into the events that caused the displacement in 2017.
· Use their good offices, together with the international community, to bring pressure to bear on the Government of Myanmar to ensure credible guarantees for the safety and treatment of the Rohingya that return and other minority groups, with trustworthy verification mechanisms.
A copy of the letter has also been sent to the Scottish Government's Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development Ben Macpherson, asking the government to support these efforts in any way it can.