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Repatriation of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar postponed

The repatriation of tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar has been postponed just hours before it was due to begin.

Bangladeshi officials said a “rigorous process” was required before repatriation could begin, including building transit centres and compiling a list of potential returnees for verification by Myanmar.

In the huge refugee camps on the border there was no sign anyone was moving soon.

Instead, we watched as Rohingya busily unloaded trucks bursting with bamboo for new houses.

Siobhan Robbins - Repatriation of thousands of Rohingya refugees postponed
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Rohingya leader Abdul Rahim says refugees won’t return to Myanmar unless their safety is guaranteed

Many of the 688,000 who fled since last August witnessed unimaginable violence by Myanmar troops and pro-government vigilante groups.

Rohingya leader, Abdul Rahim, told Sky News they won’t return to Myanmar unless their safety is guaranteed.

“If they try to force us to go back without meeting our demands we will refuse,” he said.

“We would rather die here than die in Burma. If they say they will shoot us, at least we will die here in a Muslim land.”

The UN agrees Rohingya must know their rights before they return.

Siobhan Robbins - Repatriation of thousands of Rohingya refugees postponed
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Hindu Rohingya have also fled

It says more time is needed to address Rohingya citizenship and safety concerns.

But Ali Akbar has heard it all before.

He fled Myanmar in 1992 and was repatriated the following year.

He says the promises of safety were broken and the government in Myanmar can’t be trusted.

But Muslim Rohingya aren’t the only ones who fled.

Siobhan Robbins - Repatriation of thousands of Rohingya refugees postponed
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Bangladeshi officials said a ‘rigorous process’ was required

In a small Hindu Rohingya camp, Kushum Bala Dutt leads us to the tent she shares with five children.

She shows us a faded top; it’s all she could escape with before her house was torched.

She says the baby she is carrying was naked and her dress is a handout.

So while officials maybe finishing off holding camps and confirming who can leave, many in the camp say they will refuse repatriation unless they can return to their old homes.

Siobhan Robbins - Repatriation of thousands of Rohingya refugees postponed
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The UN agrees Rohingya must know their rights

It means very soon the Rohingya crisis could turn into a huge Rohingya problem for Bangladesh.

Nearly a million have now settled in the country’s refugee camps and repatriation is voluntary.

While the tents in Bangladesh are basic, they’re safe, so why would people ever volunteer to move to camps run by a government accused of ethnic cleansing?

The fear is patience will run out, that voluntary repatriation could become forced.

But finally safe, refugees who have already witnessed so much bloodshed aren’t taking any more risks.

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