It would not be a good decision to repatriate the Rohingyas to their home country to the Rakhine state in Myanmar as there is no conducive environment there, said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

She advised the Rohingya people to be patient for repatriation. At the same time, she listened to the opinions of the Rohingya people on the decline in law and order situation in the camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Michelle Bachelet went to the Rohingya camps from Cox’s Bazar on Tuesday morning. There she talked to the Rohingya representatives and the local officials of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). She met a group of Rohingya women first. Later, she held meetings with Rohingya religious leaders and youths separately. She asked questions about how they are now, their thoughts and expectations on repatriation and law and order situation at the camps.

The Rohingya representatives who took part in the discussion confirmed the matter to Prothom Alo as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet did not talk to media after exchanging views with the Rohingya people.

Bachelet visited the Rohingya camps on the third day of her four-day official visit to Bangladesh. Later, she visited an e-voucher centre of World Food Programme (WFP) there.

Michelle Bachelet was the president of Chile from 2006 to 2010 and from 2014 to 2018. She joined as the 7th United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 1 September 2018.

Muhibullah, a source of inspiration

Abdul Motaleb from camp no. 4 in Ukhiya was one of the participants of the group of youths that met Michelle Bachelet. He told Prothom Alo, “The UN High Commissioner asked them about going back to Rakhine. She also wanted to know whether the Rohingya youths are more interested in religious education or general education. She also asked questions about opportunities of sports, education at the camps.”

While discussing with the youths, she asked questions about law and order situation at the camps. Abdul Motaleb said, “She asked questions about clashes.” In response they said they haven’t seen those incidents directly. One can know this when an ambulance is taking someone to hospital; some return after recovering while some died.

“The High Commissioner also asked whether local people or the Rohingya are involved with violence in the camps. We said we haven’t witnessed any such incident.”

Michelle Bachelet asked the Rohingya youths about the activities of their slain leader Muhibullah and his murder. They said as long as he (Muhibullah) lived they would know what is happening at the UN and the world and about torture and repatriation of Rohingya. They are all in the dark since his death, they told Bachelet.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at a Rohingya camp in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar on 16 August 2022
Prothom Alo

Morshed Alam, 18, another youth who took part in the discussion, mentioned that the death of Muhibullah has created a vacuum in leadership of Rohingya people. “A leader like him is helpful. We could have known what is happening about the Rohingya people around the world,” Morshed Alam said to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Repatriation not right now

Michelle Bachelet exchanged views with nine Rohingya women at a centre for women at camp no. 4. In the 40-minute-long discussion she asked them about the camp’s environment and their thoughts on repatriation. She also asked them about the recent deterioration in law and order situation at the camps.

Amina Khatun, a Rohingya woman, was present in the discussion. She told Prothom Alo that all of them said that they are in a better condition here than in Rakhine but this is not their country. They want to return to Rakhine but the place is not peaceful as yet. All of them requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to work for the development of situation in Rakhine state.

In response to a question of Michelle Bachelet, Amina Khatun said, “They would go back to Rakhine if peace returns there and they are given compensation for the past violence.”

Another Rohingya woman Gul Nahar told Prothom Alo that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights asked them about the recent deterioration in law and order situation at the camps. She was said that this is true but at the same time security measures are more stringent than before.

When Gul Nahar was asked about what Michelle Bachelet said when Rohingyas said they would not return to Rakhine if conducive environment is not created, she said, “She (Bachelet) remarked that it would not be right to repatriate them as long as the situation in Rakhine is not favourable. She also assured of UN assistance to send back the Rohingyas but she also said they (Rohingya) need to be patient about this.”

Advice to be patient

Michelle Bachelet also exchanged views with nine religious leaders of minority Muslim community from Myanmar. All of them have been acting at different positions at the mosques and madrasahs in the camps.

Mohammad Jamil, imam of a mosque at the camp, told Prothom Alo that the UN High Commissioner asked about the incidents of violence at the camps.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (C) visits a Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya on 16 August, 2022

Mentioning that they discussed about gradually declining law and order situation in the camps, Hafez Md Khurshid said, “The Rohingya youths aged between 12 and 20 have no works to do. They don’t even have any religious education. That’s the reason of decline in law and order situation.”

He further said they stressed on religious education for Rohingyas in the talks with Michelle Bachelet.

Regarding repatriation, Bachelet asked all to be patient, said Hafez Md Khurshid. “She also said that the UN will work for the repatriation of Rohingya ensuring their rights. Rohingya people would not be pushed towards an uncertain life,” he added.

Video message of Michelle Bachelet

After the visit at the Rohingya camps, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told in video message on Tuesday night that they (Rohingya) had no other alternatives than to coming Bangladesh after losing their dear ones, and property and jobs. Now, every one of them talked about returning to Myanmar. But before going back they wanted a guarantee of respect, dignity and livelihood alongside citizenship. The UN will continue its all-out effort to ensure safe and voluntary repatriation of Rohingyas.

In the video message, Michelle Bachelet also said the prices of food have increased in Cox’s Bazar like any other place in the world. As a result, Rohingyas could buy less amount of food with the same amount of money than before.

She requested the international community not to leave the Rohingya people behind and asked them to find out ways to increase funds for them.

*The report has originally been published in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and rewritten in English by Shameem Reza