Rohingya refugees pressured to return to Myanmar by Australian Government

“Did you know in the time that I have been here (Australia,) most of my family have died,” said Abdul*

Rohingya refugees who have been sent to an offshore detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea are being pressured by the Australian government to return to Myanmar.

This is despite the fact that thousands of Rohingya have fled their homes due to ethnic persecution during the last few weeks and have been forced to cross the border to Bangladesh, a country that is already struggling with a large number of refugees and very limited infrastructure. The violence carried out during government-led military operations in Rohingya villages has been branded “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations’ top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.

In the last few weeks, JRS Australia has met with a number of Rohingya people through casework and legal appointments, and all have expressed how distressed and worried they are for their families who have been forced to flee across the border into Bangladesh.

“Did you know in the time that I have been here (Australia,) most of my family have died,” said Abdul*.

Some watch the news hoping that it’s not their village that is burning and others spend all day and night trying to track where relatives and friends may have ended up. Some, like Abdul, are resigned to the fact that their family members may not have made it out alive.

While those seeking protection in Australia are still waiting to present their claims for protection, those in offshore detention face continued pressure to return home. The pressure from the Australian government comes after Papua New Guinea’s supreme court last year ruled that the detention centre breached human rights, was illegal and must close. Since then, the Australian government has been aiming to clear the centre, offering up to $25,000 to refugees agreeing to go home.

But the money offered by the government will put the lives of Rohingya people seeking asylum in serious danger. If they return to Myanmar it is certain they will face persecution.

“It is almost unthinkable that the Australian Government could be still offering money to Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar, when they are clearly aware of the scale of destruction, arson and persecution that is taking place against Rohingyas in the Rhakine State in Burma,” said Carolina Gottardo, the Director of JRS Australia.

“The international community is witnessing one of the most recent stories of ethnic cleansing and genocide in front of their eyes, while the Australian Government still considers it safe for Rohingya refugees that have escaped from persecution only to face indefinite detention, to now go back to a country where they are likely to suffer serious human rights abuses and persecution and where they are at risk of loosing their lives.

“JRS urges the Australian Government to stop any attempt to try to repatriate Rohingyas to Burma and asks the Government to process all Rohingya cases promptly and to bring them to Australia or ensure that they are resettled to a safe country.”

*Name has been changed to protect identity
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