A Rohingya refugee attempted suicide this week after being told he was on a repatriation list to Burma, highlighting deep-seated fears among the Muslim minority about being forced out of their current refuge in Bangladesh.
Dil Mohammad, 60, was one of some 750,000 Rohingya who fled a campaign of violence and terror waged by the Burmese military in the country’s western Rakhine state last year.
Since then he and his family have sheltered in the squalid, dusty refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, where refugees long to return to their homes when their rights and safety can be guaranteed.
Mr Mohammad’s drastic actions were prompted by false rumours that he was going to be repatriated against his will. Doctors managed to save his life after he was rushed to a nearby hospital.
“My husband said Burma, where we may face rape, murder and other violence again, is unsafe for all Rohingyas and so we should not return,” Somira Begum, his wife, told the Telegraph.
Bangladesh and Burma, a country also known as Myanmar, announced last week that the first repatriations of about 2,000 refugees would begin in “mid-November.”
United Nations officials have objected to the plan, underlining that the conditions in Rakhine state are “not yet conducive for returns”.
“I think we can’t stress enough that returns cannot be rushed or premature, and the decision on whether or not for a refugee to return should be determined by the refugees themselves when they feel the time and the circumstances are right,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres.
On Tuesday, Yanghee Lee, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, said that repatriation plans should be dropped, warning that Burma had "failed to provide guarantees they [Rohingya] would not suffer the same persecution and horrific violence all over again.”
Mr Mohammad said it was a huge relief to find that his name was not a list of those required to return, but many others in the camps are living in fear of being forced to go.
Rohingya refugees | Camp life in Cox’s Bazar
Monu Mia, a Rohingya camp leader who is married with six children, said he was told by a Bangladeshi official that his name was on a repatriation list.
“He told me that I have to return to Myanmar. I indeed want to go back to my home land, but only after the situation for the Rohingya improves there.
"He told me: ‘The call to cross the border may come any day from November 15. Stay prepared,’” he said. “I am very scared.”
Another refugee, Siam Mia, said he knew of about 200 refugees who were on the list and who did not wish to return.
“The security forces who unleashed genocide-like violence against us are still around there. I can never trust them. There is no guarantee that they will not turn against us again as they did last year,” he said.
“I certainly want to go back to my homeland. But I cannot return until our demands are met.”
Monu Mia and Siam Mia both stressed that their names appeared in the list without their consent. “They did not ask me whether I wanted to return to Myanmar,” Siam Mia said.
Telegraph photographer Heathcliff O'Malley's pictures of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh
Refugees have held many protests in recent months against the repatriation process. Among their demands is the guarantee of citizenship rights.
Human rights groups have joined the UN in criticising attempts to remove the refugees from Bangladesh.
“Neither the Bangladesh nor the Myanmar governments are consulting the Rohingya about this so-called repatriation, raising concerns that it is more of the public relations ruse by the two governments to persuade the international community that there is progress in returning the Rohingya when there really is none,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
“Having faced crimes against humanity and quite possible genocide at the hands of Myanmar’s military generals, no wonder that the Rohingya are worried. They are being told it’s alright to head back to within striking distance of the military, with no protection at all.
"If the Rohingya don’t stand up for their own security, the sad reality is no one else will either,” he said.