Rohingya refugees say Aung San Suu Kyi's promise to allow their return is hollow

Rohingya refugees say Aung San Suu Kyi's promise to allow their return is hollow

Rohingya refugees say Aung San Suu Kyi's promise to allow their return is hollow

Updated 20 September 2017, 19:15 AEST

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh say a vow by Myanmar's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to allow their repatriation is meaningless, as they're being asked to meet impossible criteria.

In Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees have condemned as meaningless a vow by Myanmar's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to allow their repatriation, saying they're being asked to meet impossible criteria.

Yesterday, in a keenly anticipated response to allegations of ethnic cleansing by Myanmar's military, Ms Suu Kyi condemned rights violations and said 'verified' refugees could return.

The Nobel Peace laureate's remarks came in her first address to the nation since attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on August 25 sparked a military response that has forced 421,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighbouring Bangladesh.

But few Rohingya have documents to prove their existence, and in the squalid muddy camps, many are deliberately avoiding registration, fearing they could be forced back.

"Yes, it is hard here," said Islam Hussein, who arrived in the Kutupalong camp five days ago with eight family members, "but we have shelter, no-one is being raped, no-one is being killed".

Few with whom the ABC has spoken expressed any desire to return, but Bangladesh has said it cannot support them indefinitely and wants them to go back.

Ms Suu Kyi did not mention the Rohingya by name in yesterday's speech, but did address their potential return.

"There has been a call for the repatriation of refugees who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh," she said.

"We are prepared to start the verification process at any time."

But refugees say its an empty promise, because Ms Suu Kyi said they'd only be allowed under the same rules as earlier returns.

"A verification process was set up as early as 1993," she said.

"Based on the principles to which both countries agreed at this time, we can continue with the verification process of refugees who wish to return to Myanmar."

The ABC has obtained a copy of that agreement — struck in 1992 — after earlier violence against Rohingya living in Rakhine state triggered a similar mass exodus.

It states that only refugees registered by the Bangladesh Government can be considered.

That would currently rule out 99 per cent of the new arrivals.

A Bangladeshi official overseeing that process last night told the ABC that a mere 5,800 of the more than 400,000 fresh refugees have so far been registered.

According to the 1992 agreement, even those who meet that criteria must then provide bona-fide evidence of their residence in Myanmar, with documents such citizenship cards or proof of their addresses.

But Myanmar denies the Rohingya citizenship, and few have any papers to indicate where they once lived.

"We don't have proper documents, it's very hard to prove," said Mohammed Faruque, a long-term refugee, who has lived in the Kutupalong camp since 1991, when his father brought him as a one-year-old boy.

"If it is the same agreement [as 1992], then it is impossible," he told the ABC.

Bangladesh's Government says it will document all of the new arrivals, but recent history would suggest that is an impossible task.

Most of the several hundred thousand Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh before this latest wave still aren't registered.

Refugees like Mr Hussein have told the ABC they're deliberately avoiding doing so, after rumours spread through the camps that it could lead to them being forcibly sent back.