The international community must help ensure that no Rohingya refugee is forced back to Myanmar as long as they remain at risk of serious human rights violations following an agreement between Bangladesh and Nay Pyi Taw to form a working group to discuss repatriation of Rohingyas, rights NGO Amnesty International said on Thursday.
The governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar announced on Monday that they have established a working group to discuss the repatriation of Rohingya refugees.
More than 5,00,000 Rohingya women, men and children fled a military operation in Rakhine State in a little more than a month.
"While it is positive that Myanmar and Bangladesh are discussing options for the safe return of Rohingya to their homes, this must be a voluntary process and not lead to a hasty and reckless effort to push people back against their will," said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International's Director of Global Issues.
"No one should be forced back to a situation where they will continue to face serious human rights violations and systemic discrimination and segregation," she added.
Gaughran said that the Myanmar military's "horrific campaign against the Rohingya in Rakhine" state amounts to crimes against humanity.
"The very first condition that must be met before any repatriation plan becomes reality is an unconditional end to the violence. The Myanmar government must also end the entrenched discrimination that has trapped Rohingya in a cycle of deprivation and abuse for decades," she said.
On October 2, Bangladesh's Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali said in Dhaka that Myanmar had "shown interest" in taking Rohingya refugees back after a meeting between officials from both countries.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees were returned from Bangladesh to Myanmar in a large-scale repatriation operation, with the assistance of the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
Those returned have continued to face systematic state-sponsored discrimination and waves of violence in Rakhine state, Amnesty International observed.
It said the forcible return of refugees violates the principle on non-refoulement, an absolute prohibition in international and customary law on returning people to a territory where they could face a risk to their lives or other serious human rights violations.
Gaughran said that there is also "a real need" for international and UN oversight of any repatriation process.
"Bangladesh has shown exceptional generosity by opening its borders...The international community must step up to help Dhaka deal with the current crisis and its aftermath," she said.