Myanmar has detained dozens of Rohingya Muslim refugees it claims voluntarily crossed the border back into their home country from Bangladesh over the last four months, pending a decision to “pardon” them before resettlement.
A total of 58 Rohingya refugees have returned to Myanmar after they could “no longer find it tenable” to live in overcrowded, ill-equipped camps in southern Bangladesh, the office of Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in a statement on Monday.
Suu Kyi’s spokesman Zaw Htay said the refugees were detained for what he called failing to follow proper repatriation procedures until the decision to “pardon” them and allow them to resettle in the country.
Htay added that the returnees would be “temporarily” housed in a transit camp, without identifying them.
However, Bangladeshi authorities said they were unaware of the reports.
“We haven’t heard of any such incidents of refugees returning to Rakhine through their own volition or under their own arrangement from the camps,” said Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the state-sponsored military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State to southeast Bangladesh over the past nine months.
Members of the minority community have been subjected to random shootings, arbitrary arrests and rape by Myanmar’s forces and extremist Buddhists, who have also burned and destroyed Rohingya villages in mass arson attacks.
The UN has described the campaign as textbook example of ethnic cleansing, saying it possibly amounts to genocide in a court of law.
Myanmar signed a repatriation deal with Bangladesh in January to “restore normalcy in Northern Rakhine (State) and to encourage those who had left Myanmar to return voluntarily and safely to their own households” or “to a safe and secure place nearest to it of their choice,” according to the Bangladeshi government.
However, the United Nations said in March that conditions in Rakhine State are not yet ripe for repatriation.
“The Government of Myanmar is busy telling the world that it is ready to receive Rohingya returnees, while at the same time its forces are continuing to drive them into Bangladesh,” said UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour said in March.
The Rohingya refugees say they will not return to Myanmar without solid guarantees about their future safety.
The Myanmarese government does not recognize the Rohingya as their nationals even though they have been there for generations.