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Rights groups warn about repatriation of Rohingya refugees

Overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh are home to more than a million Rohingya who have fled waves of violence in Myanmar

Bangladesh was due to send back the first 130 of 2,260 Rohingya scheduled to return in November.

"As the refugees showed no interest in going back, we could not repatriate them today".

As deadline day loomed, Rohingya leaders said almost all those on the repatriation list had fled to other camps and nearby hills. The military is in charge of security operations, including those in Rakhine.

The UN has called for Myanmar military leaders to be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims, something the country refutes.

In addition to those who arrived in Bangladesh past year, about 200,000 other Rohingya had fled Myanmar during previous waves of violence and persecution.

The refugees survived the ransacking of villages, rapes and killings in Myanmar, but for many, life in Bangladesh's squalid refugee camps has been bleak.

Myanmar has insisted they are ready for returns and laid the blame for any delays at Bangladesh's door.

This has led to panic among the refugees, many of whom experienced violence in Myanmar, lost family members or saw their homes burned.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Bangladeshi and Myanmarese authorities to halt plans to send Rohingya refugees back to Rakhine State.

"We can't go back", added Mohammad Amin, 45, who was among the protesters. It recently said that conditions in Myanmar were "not yet conducive for returns".

At the Jamtoli refugee camp, one of the sprawling refugee settlements near the city of Cox's Bazar, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, age 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not. Myanmar has said that it will process 150 returnees per day. Others believed to be on the list are reported to have gone into hiding or potentially planning onward and risky travel by boat to Southeast Asia. "But I feel they will be sending us there to die". "We have our land, we have our homes", he said. They will kill the rest of my family.

"If we get anyone willing to go, we will carry them to the border point with respect and dignity".

The biggest fear for the Rohingya is that they would be living among the Buddhist mobs accused of burning their villages and would be protected by the same army troops who are accused of committing genocidal acts against them. The official's statements feed the doubts about the departure of the first Rohingya group to the Burmese western state of Rakhine.

"Examples of things they're trying to take away from each other include iconography, coins, everything from skin lotion to wrestling", Prasse-Freeman said.

Our return to our homeland in Rakhine State must be protected by global observers.

The Bangladesh government declined to comment.

On Tuesday, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that forcing the first batch of about 2,200 Rohingya living in refugee camps in Bangladesh to return to ground zero of mass violence against the minority Muslim group would be a "clear violation" of core global legal principles.

"With an nearly complete lack of accountability - indeed with ongoing violations - returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades", she said in a statement.

She warned that lives would be put at "serious risk" if the repatriation was to go ahead.

According to a UN-brokered deal with Bangladesh and Myanmar, the Rohingya can not be forced to repatriate.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption There's fear about the future in the camps Why are the Rohingya in Bangladesh?

Myanmar does not consider the Rohingya a native ethnic group and most are stateless.

The Rohingya themselves have said they are terrified of returning to the Buddhist-majority country.

The huge exodus of Rohingya began in August past year after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts.

Since then, at least 700,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar's army has previously cleared itself of wrongdoing and has rejected the UN's allegations.

US Vice President Mike Pence told Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday that the violence against the Rohingya was "without excuse", adding pressure on Myanmar's civilian leader. The Chittagonian workforce from areas in what is now present-day Bangladesh has a connection to the Rohingya, the analyst said, but so do a group that also shared similar features, and were there before colonial rule.

She responded that there were "different points of view" and both sides should "learn to understand each other better".