None of the first Rohingya Muslims on a list to return Myanmar showed up at their departure points in Bangladesh Thursday, the first day they were scheduled to be sent back under a repatriation agreement between the two nations.
About 150 Rohingya refugees were slated to be transported from the crowded camps in Cox's Bazar back to northern Rakhine state, the region where they and more than 700,000 others escaped in August 2017 from a scorched earth campaign by Myanmar's military in response to a series of attacks committed by Rohingya militants. Some of the refugees on the list are believed to have gone into hiding to avoid being sent back.
Meanwhile, about 1,000 angry Rohingyas, including children, demonstrated against the repatriation effort at one of the camps.
Bangladesh Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam told reporters that the refugees cannot be forced to return to Myanmar under the terms of the agreement.
Human rights groups are calling on Myanmar and Bangladesh to end their plans to send Rohingya Muslims back to Rakhine State, where the United Nations says they are subject to extrajudicial killings and other atrocities carried out by Myanmar's military.
Amnesty International called the organized return of the Rohingya a "reckless move, which puts lives at risk."
"These women, men and children would be sent back into the Myanmar military's grasp with no protection guarantees, to live alongside those who torched their homes and whose bullets they fled," said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty's East and Southeast Asia director.
Bill Frelick, the refugee rights director for Human Rights Watch, said Dhaka "will be stunned to see how quickly international opinion turns against it if it starts sending unwilling Rohingya refugees back into harm's way in Myanmar."
A special U.N. fact-finding mission said the military acted "with genocidal intent" against the Rohingyas, citing numerous atrocities such as extrajudicial killings, gang rapes and the torching of entire villages.