The UN rights chief on Tuesday urged Bangladesh to halt plans to repatriate more than 2,200 Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, amid reports of continued violations against the minority.
Bangladeshi authorities plan to begin returning Rohingya refugees, who have fled what the UN has called ethnic cleansing, to the Buddhist majority country from Thursday.
But the prospect has created panic in the camps, prompting some families who were due to be among the first to be repatriated to flee, according to community leaders.
"We are witnessing terror and panic among those Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar who are at imminent risk of being returned to Myanmar against their will," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
"Forcibly expelling or returning refugees and asylum seekers to their home country would be a clear violation of the core legal principle of non-refoulement, which forbids repatriation where there are threats of persecution or serious risks to the life and physical integrity or liberty of the individuals," she said.More than 725,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar's western Rakhine state following a military crackdown from August last year, bringing with them stories of murders, rapes and torture.
They have joined some 300,000 Rohingya already living in squalid camps in Bangladesh's southeast for years.
Many of them witnessed the killing of members of their families and the burning of their homes and villages, the UN rights office said, adding that it continued to receive reports of ongoing violations against Rohingya still in Rakhine.
Despite the fact that the refugees have repeatedly said they do not wish to return under the current conditions, some 2,260 of them are scheduled to enter Myanmar from Bangladesh's southeastern Cox's Bazar district in the first repatriations starting Thursday.
The UN pointed out several of the refugee families apparently listed for return are headed by women or children."Some of the refugees have threatened suicide if they are forced to repatriate, and two elderly men in Cox’s Bazar have already attempted suicide," the rights office said.
Bachelet stressed that "the human rights violations committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar amount to the worst atrocities, including crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide."
"With an almost complete lack of accountability – indeed with ongoing violations – returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades."