CARE calls for voluntary, informed and respectful repatriation of Myanmar refugees

Bangladesh, August 2018: As refugees from Myanmar complete one year in Bangladesh, their return to Myanmar with safety and dignity still remains a major concern for CARE and other humanitarian organisations.

Many, including the refugee population, have already voiced their concerns for not being more involved in the return negotiation process.

Zia Choudhury, Country Director of CARE Bangladesh, said:

CARE calls out to all parties involved to ensure refugee returns are voluntary, informed, respectful, and conducted with safety and dignity. The key principle of ‘non-refoulement’ must be upheld and returns should commence only if there are no significant ongoing security risk in the area of return.

Between August 25, 2017 and now, over 700,000 people from Myanmar have fled to Bangladesh , following an escalation of violence in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine State.

An estimated 919,000 refugees are now living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, close to the Myanmar border. 

In response to the recent agreement on the return of refugees signed on November 23, 2017 between Bangladesh and Myanmar, CARE is urging both the governments to ensure safe return of the refugees.

Given the extreme levels of violence refugees have experienced, returns in the near future will be extremely challenging.

Twenty-two year old Omar, a refugee from Potibonia, Cox's Bazar, said:

We will go back if our homes are rebuilt like they used to be before they were burned down; if we are given citizen rights as Rohingyas and as Muslims, and if we are given the freedom of movement.

Most of the refugees who fled Myanmar since August 2017 are traumatised and have lost everything; many lost their family members.

Forty-year-old Khatiza, a refugee living in Cox's Bazar, said:

It was a Thursday night, and we heard some distant gunshots. But we didn’t bother much and went to sleep. Then in the morning they came and started burning down all our houses. We only managed to escape with our lives. People who couldn’t leave their homes were burnt alive. I don’t even know how many people died, so…so many.

CARE urges both the governments to ensure that the challenges associated with safe returns are recognised in the ongoing negotiations.

One way of doing this could be to consult with affected communities to make their voices heard.

Also a transparent process should be followed at all times so that humanitarian agencies are aware of all major developments regarding safe and successful returns. 

Thirty-year-old Tosmin, a refugee whose husband went missing, now assumed dead, while going to work in Myanmar said:

Since my husband is not alive, life there (in Myanmar) will be very difficult. I won’t be allowed to work and it will be very difficult for me to support my children.

The speed and scale of the influx of refugees has resulted in a critical humanitarian situation. The vast majority of refugees are reliant on humanitarian assistance for food, shelter, health and other life-saving services.

Despite this, most refugees are reluctant to go back since the situation and quality of life back home in Myanmar would be worse in comparison.

Elias, 22, said:

We couldn't move freely, we had difficulty even going to the market for basic supplies.

Fatema Bibi, 27, said:

We feel safe even if we leave the doors open, but back in Burma (Myanmar), even locking the doors failed to make us feel safe. We are able to live here with peace.

CARE has been active on the ground since the early stage of the refugee crisis and directly reached nearly 250,000 people till date by providing support and services as to health and nutrition, shelter, water and sanitation, site management, protection of women and girls against gender based violence (GBV) and distribution of food and non-food items.

Choudhary said: 

CARE’s work with refugees globally underlines the importance of ensuring that all returns must be based on well-informed voluntary decisions and international standards must be upheld at the time when a voluntary return of refugees becomes possible. Security must be ensured at the area of return before returns are commenced.


About CARE

Founded in 1945, CARE is a leading humanitarian organisation fighting poverty and providing assistance in emergencies. Our emergency responses focus on the needs of the most vulnerable populations, particularly women and girls. CARE works in 93 countries, supporting 950 poverty-fighting development and humanitarian aid projects, reaching more than 62 million people directly (as per fundraising year 2017).

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