The military coup in Myanmar on Monday has raised fears in neighboring Bangladesh that the new regime may not honor commitments to repatriate Rohingya Muslim refugees currently in Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s military, which ruled the country (also known as Burma) for fifty years until 2011, again took power on Monday and arrested democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy party.
The military, which has characterized Suu Kyi’s recent electoral landslide victory as fraudulent, declared a one-year state of emergency, which means they can exercise extraordinary powers and curtail some freedoms.
Bangladesh is housing about 1 million Muslim Rohingya refugees who fled violence and discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in various camps.
A repatriation process supported by the United Nations has repeatedly stalled, prompting Dhaka to temporarily send some Rohingya refugees to an island in the Bay of Bengal.
Western powers, including the U.S., U.K. and EU, as well as India, have roundly condemned the military coup in Myanmar.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, saw her own reputation sullied when she failed to prevent the forced removal of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in 2017 – the vast majority of whom crossed the border to Muslim-dominated Bangladesh. Rohingya in Bangladesh now fear for their compatriots still in Myanmar, now under military rule – as the Burmese army has historically engaged in crackdowns against the Muslim minority. Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad, who has represented Rohingya Muslims in repatriation talks with the Myanmar government, urged global governments to help restore democracy in Myanmar “at any cost.” Bangladesh had earlier expected to begin repatriating some Rohingya back to Myanmar in the second quarter as part of a bilateral agreement between the two countries. Now this pact is uncertain. Khin Maung, head of the Rohingya Youth Association, told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency: “[The coup] will have a huge impact on our peaceful repatriation to the home country.”
“[Suu Kyi] was no good for us but there was still hope that through the democratic process we could achieve our rights. Now it seems Myanmar has no democratic future in the near term,” a Rohingya refugee told Reuters. “We are very concerned…. Terrified about what’s going to happen to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.”