Unimaginable Violence Faced by Rohingya Must Serve as Warning Against Premature Returns

Pregnant women, new mothers and children who risked everything to escape Myanmar face prospect of return with no guarantee of safety or justice for crimes committed against them

Rohingya Crisis Children's Relief Fund

Rajuma_and_Laila
Rajuma*, 27 years old, sits in a makeshift tent in Cox's Bazar with 3-month-old baby Laila*. The baby was born on a boat during the tough journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (December 5, 2017)— The process of returning Rohingya refugees cannot begin until it is guaranteed that they will be safe in Myanmar’s Rakhine State with a clear process in place to ensure justice and accountability for the serious human rights abuses they have suffered, Save the Children is warning. An independent and internationally supported protection monitoring mechanism should also be established and be granted unhindered access to returnees and other communities throughout Rakhine State.

As the UN Human Rights Council meets in a special session on the crisis tomorrow, it is imperative that its members condemn the grave human rights violations that have occurred and demand the Myanmar authorities hold those responsible for the atrocities to account and provide full and unhindered humanitarian access to Rakhine State.

The council must also oppose the prospect of returns until it is guaranteed that Rohingya refugees will not be forced to return and will be allowed to do so in a safe and dignified manner, in accordance with international standards and with the substantive involvement of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.

Fears for the Rohingya refugees have been growing since it was announced that Bangladesh could start returning them to Myanmar in a matter of weeks. The push came despite aid agencies like Save the Children reporting on the systematic violence and campaign of rape used against the Rohingya people.

"We are still not fully aware of the extent of the horrors faced by Rohingya people," said Mark Pierce, Bangladesh Country Director for Save the Children. "Testimonies from mothers indicate that pregnant women and infants were among those targeted in a brutal wave of violence with reports of women being raped immediately after giving birth, having their wombs cut open and babies being burnt alive.

"Heavily pregnant women have repeatedly told us how the only chance of survival for them and their babies was to run through the jungle and crawl in the mud for days. It is abhorrent to make these people return to a place they have just recently fled with no guarantee they will be safe and will not be left at the mercy of their persecutors once again."

Expectant mother Mina,* who was sheltering in a transit camp close to the border, told Save the Children that she fled her village after it was attacked and her three-year-old son killed in front of her eyes. "They snatched him from my arm and threw him into the fire that was blazing intensely. When we screamed, they dragged us parents away across the ground. He was burnt to ashes to paper, his skin turned black."

Save the Children’s Bangladesh Country Director Mark Pierce stressed that the plight of the Rohingya cannot be forgotten and the issue swept away by pushing for premature returns. "So far, Myanmar authorities have not even acknowledged the grave atrocities on their soil," Pierce continued. "Until this happens, the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities must refrain from calling for premature returns.

"We have to see concrete actions taken to ensure that those who choose to return will be able to do so safely and only voluntarily. It is essential that clear and firm assurances are made that those who have carried out abuses will be held to account. We must see clear and immediate steps put in place to begin this process starting with unfettered access for an independent investigation to be carried out into the crimes committed. Given the level and extent of violence perpetrated against the Rohingya in their home country, it is difficult to imagine that this could happen in a matter of weeks.

"Without these guarantees, no one in good conscience can support returns. We only risk re-traumatizing people who’ve seen unimaginable horrors and risk leaving the most vulnerable, including pregnant mothers and children, at the mercy of the very people who raped, murdered and brutalized them."

Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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