By Alistair Dutton, Director, SCIAF

WE at SCIAF are deeply concerned by the plight of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who face the prospect of being returned to Myanmar against their will and we urge the Scottish and UK governments to do everything they can to protect them.

Some 730,000 Rohingya fled over the border from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh in the last year. Many saw their families, friends and neighbours shot or burned alive, their homes destroyed and their livestock and belongings stolen as part of a brutal campaign by the Myanmar military forces. Around 60 per cent of Rohingya refugees are children, including an estimated 12,000 orphans. Many are still deeply traumatised by the horrendous violence they experienced.

SCIAF has been working with Caritas Bangladesh since the crisis began. Donations from Scotland have helped to provide food, shelter and basic household materials like cooking pots and plates to thousands of refugees in the camps.

I have seen first-hand the trauma and suffering of the Rohingya people as a result of the brutal actions of the Myanmar military. It is the responsibility of us all to protect them from further harm.

Last year the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed a plan for the Rohingya to return home, which caused fear and alarm in the packed refugee settlements, but to date this has not been implemented. Now they have decided to restart the process, with 2,260 refugees to be sent back to Myanmar initially.

However, it’s not clear which refugees will be sent back or what will happen if they do not want to go. The Rohingya say they have not been consulted on the plans and are deeply worried about their safety and the threat of further violence.

It is completely understandable that they are frightened about going home. Many people I spoke to when I visited the refugee camps last December said they would rather die in Bangladesh than go back to the places where they experienced such appalling atrocities.

Many Rohingya refugees are reported to have gone into hiding in Bangladesh as they are afraid of being forced to return to Myanmar. Already vulnerable, they become at further risk as they leave the relative protection of refugee camps and ongoing aid efforts.

The Free Rohingya Coalition, a prominent global network of Rohingya activists, has stated that the Rohingya have widespread and well-founded fears that their lives, families and communities will face more attacks if they are back in their homeland. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said they will not be facilitating the repatriations.

According to international law, no refugee should be forced to return to a place where they are in danger of torture or violence, and SCIAF is calling on the Scottish and UK governments to defend that principle.

We want our governments and the international community to do whatever they can to put pressure on the Myanmar Government to ensure only those who have given their free and informed consent are returned, and to guarantee the safety of the Rohingya who do go back, along with other minority groups in the country.

We want the Scottish and UK governments to support the investigation by the International Criminal Court into what caused the refugees to flee last year.

Forcing them to return home to the possibility of further atrocities would be illegal and immoral and we at SCIAF urge the Scottish and UK governments to do everything they can to stop that from happening.