Human Rights Watch has demanded suspension of the bilateral plan between Bangladesh and Myanmar on return of the Rohingyas.
The US-based global rights watchdog said Myanmar has shown no ability to ensure a safe, dignified, and voluntary return of the Rohingyas as provided by international standards.
“Rohingya refugees shouldn't be returned to camps guarded by the very same Burmese forces which forced them to flee massacres and gang rapes, and torched villages,” said Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, said in a statement yesterday.
He said the repatriation plan appears to be a "public relations ploy" to hide the fact that Myanmar has not taken measures to ensure the safe and sustainable return of the Rohingyas.
The repatriation was scheduled to begin yesterday, two months after Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a deal and days after signing a physical arrangement on return of the Rohingyas, over 688,000 of whom fled military atrocities in Rakhine since August 25 last year.
As per the plan, Rohingya would be first accommodated in temporary camps in Rakhine before their homes are rebuilt.
However, the plan does not guarantee Rohingyas' citizenship in Myanmar where they have been denied the right and other basic rights including health, education and right to movement.
Bangladesh's Rohingya Refugee Rehabilitation Commissioner Abul Kalam said it would take some time for the officials to prepare the list of people to be sent to Myanmar for verification and setting up of transit camps within Bangladesh.
Ko Ko Naing, director general of Myanmar's Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, told Reuters they are ready to accept the refugees once they go back.
The international community, however, said as of now, the necessary safeguards for potential returnees are absent, and there are continued restrictions on access for aid agencies, the media and other independent observers.
At the same time, refugees from Myanmar continue to arrive in Bangladesh, UN Refugee Agency said yesterday amid reports that a huge fire burned houses and gunshots were heard in a village across the border in Rakhine on Monday evening.
It is believed the homes ablaze overnight belonged to Rohingyas, reports AFP, quoting a senior Bangladesh border official in Cox's Bazar as saying.
"The fire is designed to destroy the last remaining traces of Rohingya homes so that none of us can return to our villages," Rafique bin Habib, a Rohingya activist told AFP yesterday.
HRW said the Myanmar government has systematically oppressed the Rohingya Muslim population, and has a poor record for treating Rohingya displaced by past abuses or of providing sustainable conditions for their return.
Over 120,000 Rohingya who fled ethnic cleansing in 2012 remain in supposedly “temporary” camps in central Rakhine State, HRW said.
“All indications suggest the planned Burmese camps for Rohingya will be open-air prisons,” Brad Adams said.
Protecting the returning refugees will not be possible without significant monitoring efforts by international observers, he said, adding that there was a dire situation in Maungdaw Township, where “large areas have been razed and flattened by bulldozers, most stores are shuttered and a few people are on the streets..."
Under international standards, refugees should be provided with objective, up-to-date, and accurate information about conditions in areas of return. They need a genuine choice between staying or returning, HRW said.
It also urged Bangladesh and Myanmar to renegotiate the repatriation deal for voluntary, safe, and sustainable returns.
“Instead of underwriting forced returns, donors should demand that Burma ensures international participation in any return plan,” Adams said.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR yesterday said implementing the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission --- inter-communal dialogue, freedom of movement, access to livelihoods, citizenship for Muslim communities -- were essential for building confidence for return of the Rohingyas.
"Without this, the risk of dangerous and rushed returns into a situation where violence might reignite is too great to be ignored," said UNHCR, which has not been so far included in the refugee repatriation discussions for objections from Myanmar.
It called on Myanmar to allow unhindered humanitarian access in Rakhine, allowing assessment of the conditions and the long-term viability of the returns as well as help address the legitimate safety concerns for the refugees contemplating their return.
UNHCR said it remains prepared to work with both governments towards finding a long-term solution to this crisis in the interest of the refugees, of the governments, the host community in Bangladesh and all communities in Rakhine State.