Rohingya Refugees Say They Are Too Scared To Return To Myanmar
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
More than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar in recent months, escaping violent persecution. Most of them have crossed over the border into Bangladesh, one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world. Today, Bangladesh signed a deal with Myanmar to facilitate the return of these refugees. We're joined now by reporter Michael Sullivan who has been watching the story from Cambodia.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Michael, these refugees have horrific stories of systematic killings, villages being burned to the ground. You spent time with some of them in refugee camps in Bangladesh. How many of them do you expect will want to return to Myanmar?
SULLIVAN: Ari, I think all of them would want to return to Myanmar. But I think they would want guarantees that they were going home to a safe place, that they were going home to their own places and that they would have help in having their own places rebuilt after what happened to them because they were basically burned out of their villages and forced to Bangladesh. If they got all of those guarantees, I think you would see the majority go home - if they had those guarantees and if they were guaranteed to be treated as citizens of Myanmar, which they're not at this point.
SHAPIRO: Are those terms written into the deal that we're just hearing about today?
SULLIVAN: This deal is very, very tentative, and it's still got a long way to go. And I would be very, very skeptical of it. I'm reading that we will see more details on Saturday, and maybe we'll have a better idea then. But this is a tremendous undertaking here. And I'm not sure that both sides are sincere about actually having this happen. If they were, why are there 600,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh to begin with? Is the Myanmar military really going to allow these people to go back after it forced them all to flee?
SHAPIRO: Do we even know for certain that what the Myanmar government has described as clearance operations, what the American government has described as ethnic cleansing, do we even know that it's finished?
SULLIVAN: I think it's pretty much finished. But at the same time, I think that there's no guarantee that these people are going to be allowed to go home, as we said before. I mean, the government, for example, said it's harvesting the rice fields and the other fields that these people have left and that their land is going to be confiscated, and that's going to be it. So even if they go back, I mean, what are they going back to? And the fear for many is that they're going to be put in these camps that basically amount to large prisons, and that's where they're going to go. And I don't think that's going to wash with them.
SHAPIRO: It sounds like an absolutely awful decision between staying in a country that is poor and overcrowded and, frankly, does not want the Rohingya or returning to the country that violently drove them out in the first place.
SULLIVAN: Right. And 9 out of 10 Rohingya that I know in these camps will say that they'd rather stay in Bangladesh for one simple reason - that reason is safety. They know they won't be killed there.
SHAPIRO: You sound pretty skeptical of this deal. Do you think that it will hold together?
SULLIVAN: I don't because one of the things that the Myanmar authorities have insisted all along is that, sure, we'll take back the Rohingya. Who can prove that they're Myanmar citizens who have papers? But the problem is a lot of these people don't have papers. So what's going to happen to them? And even last week, you saw the Myanmar military commander on Facebook saying there's no way we can accept the number of returnees that the Bangladesh are suggesting. So it's clear to me that this is basically a dog-and-pony show from the Myanmar side and that they will allow some Rohingya to go back to placate the international community. But will they allow all of them to go home and go home to their own homes and have guarantees that they'll be able to stay in their homes or have their homes rebuilt and be Myanmar citizens? I sincerely doubt it.
SHAPIRO: That's reporter Michael Sullivan speaking with us about the deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar to return Rohingya refugees. Thanks very much.
SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.