Bangladesh postpones plans to repatriate Rohingya

Wednesday 21st November 2018 02:39 EST

COX'S BAZAR (Bangladesh): Normal life returned to a Rohingya Muslim refugee camp in Bangladesh a day after government officials postponed plans to begin repatriating residents to Myanmar when no one volunteered to go. The checkpoints at the entrance to Unchiprang, one of the refugee camps near the city of Cox's Bazar, were temporarily left unguarded - a sign of easing tensions - as about 500 people crowded into a mosque for Friday prayers. One of the imams told the devotees that the government could not force Rohingya to go back without Myanmar guaranteeing them protection and civil rights, to which they raised their hands and replied, "Amen."

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar's Rakhine state since August 2017 to escape killings and destruction of their villages by the military and Buddhist vigilantes that have drawn widespread condemnation of Myanmar. Bangladesh's refugee commission had planned to begin a voluntary repatriation process under a United Nations-brokered deal with Myanmar by escorting about 150 refugees across the border last week.

But some people on the repatriation list left their shanties and disappeared into other camps to avoid being sent home. After a demonstration involving about 1,000 Rohingya broke out at Unchiprang, Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam said plans had been shelved because no refugees were willing to return. Nabi Hossain, 45, left his shanty at Unchiprang camp with his wife and six other family members after noticing extra security at the camp.

"We heard they will come and take us. We were in a panic," Hossain said, adding that the family slept outside and didn't eat much because they didn't want a cooking fire to attract attention. They returned after hearing about the protest. "If they allow us to have our rights, our citizenship, we want to go. But if we are forced, if our rights are not given, it is better to crush us under the wheels of cars or be thrown in a river," Hossain said. Not everyone who fled Unchiprang has returned.

Violence against Rohingya inexcusable, Pence tells Suu Kyi

In Singapore US Vice President Mike Pence told Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi that the treatment of her country's stateless Rohingya Muslim population was inexcusable. "This is a tragedy that has touched the hearts of millions of Americans. The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes which resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh is without excuse," Pence told Suu Kyi on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Singapore.

"I'm anxious to hear about the progress you're making in holding those accountable who are responsible," he was quoted as saying.

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