18 DEC 2017
Rohingya refugees say no return to Myanmar without equal rights
Rohingya refugees interviewed by Oxfam in Bangladesh say they will not go back to Myanmar until their safety can be guaranteed and they have equal rights, including being able to work and travel freely. Many – especially women – were deeply traumatised by their experiences, including rape and seeing loved ones killed, and said they would commit suicide if forcibly repatriated before these conditions have been met.
Refugees are unwilling to return without these guarantees despite reporting feeling unsafe at night in the overcrowded, makeshift settlements, with a very real fear of kidnapping and sexual abuse.
Oxfam spoke to more than 200 Rohingya refugees living in the makeshift camps in the south-eastern district of Cox’s Bazar, some of whom were refugees for the third time. In a series of group discussions and in-depth interviews all agreed that peace and equal rights were absolute prerequisites for return.
Fatima Sultan*, a 20-year-old refugee, said: ‘I want to go back to my home – when we are treated as citizens, when there is no violence, when women are not tortured and kidnapped, when at last we can be free’. Sanjida Sajjad* added: ‘If we are forced to go back we will set ourselves on fire.’
Bangladesh and Myanmar recently agreed to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees at the end of January. Oxfam has warned that the conditions for people to return safely and voluntarily are not yet in place and that the UN should play a lead role in any repatriation process, with humanitarian aid allowed to reach all who need it.
Oxfam is calling on the Myanmar authorities to act to end the violence and live up to their commitment to fully implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Commission report, including ensuring that all people in Myanmar have equal rights. Returns need to be safe and voluntary, with guaranteed freedom of movement. Independent investigations into human rights violations are essential, with those responsible brought to justice, as well as compensation for lost land.
The international agency says that the current crisis, in which more than 626,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 100 days, is a tipping point which should spur the international community to find a permanent solution.
Trini Leung, Director General of Oxfam Hong Kong, visited refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to better understand the current situation there. She will meet with other aid agencies in Dhaka to discuss how they can coordinate their efforts, and will speak with government departments in the country and the international community to find lasting solutions.
She said, 'I visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar, which was an overwhelming experience. It’s extremely difficult for any community to be faced with a sudden influx of people - over 620,000 - who are desperate and traumatised. What makes it infinitely worse is that the host communities are already packed and dealing with poverty. But the people and government of Bangladesh have given remarkable help in many critical ways, despite the acute difficulties. Others in the international community must come forward to offer much greater support.'
Paolo Lubrano, Oxfam’s Asia humanitarian manager, said: ‘People we talked to were incredibly traumatised by what they had been through and now face new threats in the camps, from trafficking to sexual abuse. The fact that many refugees – particularly women – said they would rather kill themselves than return now shows the urgent need for a real and lasting solution to the decades-long oppression of Rohingya people.
‘The international community has collectively failed generations of Rohingya while they have been brutally attacked and systematically discriminated against. Instead of standing by while crimes against humanity go unchecked, the UN and world leaders should take their share of responsibility and work with the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments to find a durable resolution to this crisis, through diplomacy, emergency relief and development support.
‘The Bangladesh government has generously welcomed in the Rohingya – it should now recognise them all as refugees so they can receive the support they need and remove administrative barriers that are hampering the humanitarian response.’
There are now close to a million Rohingya in Bangladesh – more than in Myanmar. The UN appeal for funds to provide vital aid for the next three months is still US$280 million short. Refugees are living in overcrowded, disease-prone and dangerous sites that urgently need improving, many drinking contaminated water. Oxfam is providing aid including clean water and toilets, and has so far reached more than 185,000 people.
The majority of the refugees Oxfam spoke to said they felt unsafe at night. More than half of the groups reported having seen girls and women being approached by strangers – some of whom their families then lost track of. Many women were afraid of getting lost in the camps and felt unable to leave their tents without appropriate clothing. More lighting, signposting and designated safe spaces are needed in the camps to protect vulnerable people from harm.
- Ends -
Notes to editors
*All names have been changed
The following Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview:
- Trini Leung, Director General of Oxfam Hong Kong (in Bangladesh until 19 Dec 2017)
- Kate Lee, Programme Officer – Humanitarian & Disaster Risk Management
New footage: a mother who gave birth shortly after arriving in the refugee camp (available with and without titles)
Photos of Rohingya refugees: https://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=34707&k=131de40e1b
Oxfam’s briefing paper ‘I still don’t feel safe to go home’: Voices of Rohingya refugees will be published online. https://oxf.am/2l4a2nW
Oxfam spoke to 208 Rohingya people about their needs, hopes and fears, through 28 in-depth interviews, and 23 focus group discussions involving 180 people. The interviews and discussions took place in Kutupalong and Balukhali refugee camps between September and November 2017.
Oxfam is working in several camps and settlements in Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar, installing water points, toilets and showers and providing soap and other essentials to Rohingya refugees. We are currently developing a pilot project to reach more people with nutritious food via an innovative e-voucher system, working with local food sellers. So far we have reached at least 185,000 people and we are planning to reach more than 200,000.
Oxfam is a worldwide development organisation that mobilises the power of people against poverty.
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