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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh protest repatriation move

© AFP/File | Many Rohingya living in the crowded, unsanitary camps in Bangladesh have said they do not want to return to Rakhine

DHAKA (AFP) - 

Hundreds of Rohingya refugees staged protests in Bangladesh Friday against plans to send them back to Myanmar, where a military crackdown last year sparked a mass exodus.

The refugees chanted slogans and held banners demanding citizenship and guarantees of security before they return to their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar.

The protest came ahead of a visit by UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee to the camps in southeastern Bangladesh where around a million of the Muslim minority are now living.

Bangladesh has reached an agreement with Myanmar to send back the around 750,000 refugees who have arrived since October 2016 over the next two years, a process set to begin as early as next week.

But many Rohingya living in the crowded, unsanitary camps have said they do not want to return to Rakhine after fleeing atrocities including murder, rape and arson attacks on their homes.

Rights groups and the UN say any repatriations must be voluntary.

They have also expressed concerns about conditions in Myanmar, where many Rohingya settlements have been burned to the ground by soldiers and Buddhist mobs.

The government has said it is building temporary camps to accommodate the returnees, a prospect feared by Rohingya, said Mohibullah, a refugee and former teacher.

"We want safe zones in Arakan (Rakhine) before repatriation," he told AFP by phone from Cox's Bazar, where the camps are located.

"We want a UN peacekeeping force in Arakan. We want fundamental rights and citizenship. We do not want repatriation without life guarantees," Mohibullah said.

Police said they were unaware of the protests.

A Bangladesh official said around 6,500 Rohingya currently living in no man's land between the two countries would be among the first to be repatriated.

The repatriation deal does not cover the estimated 200,000 Rohingya refugees who were living in Bangladesh prior to October 2016, driven out by previous rounds of communal violence and military operations.

© 2018 AFP