NEW YORK, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Rohingya refugees are nervous about repatriation that was scheduled to take place on Thursday because of past violence and lack of guarantees from the Myanmar government.
Mohiuddin Mohamad-Yusof, a Rohingya refugee and head of the World Rohingya Organization in New York, told UPI his family is in camps and that he's skeptical about their safety.
"Unless they have some guarantees of rights and protections, sending them back is not justified," he said. "This is the third time they are going back, the same thing will happen. They are victims of genocide."
By Wednesday reports indicated the plan to repatriate the refugees could be postponed following warnings from the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
The United Nations could be ambivalent about repatriation after receiving feedback from refugees at Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are overseeing the camps.
Chris Melzer, a UNHCR spokesman based in Bangladesh, told UPI by phone the refugees are fearful of returning home.
"I haven't met a single refugee telling me 'I would like to go right now'," Melzer said. "No one knows what the situation really is in Myanmar, in Rakhine state."
The plan to repatriate 2,000 Rohingya refugees to their homeland this week was reached last week between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Bangladesh may be eager to have the refugees return home, and Myanmar, after being denounced for the slaughter, rape and village fires that forced 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee across the border, could be looking to prove the country has turned a new leaf.
Elliott Prasse-Freeman, a professor at National University of Singapore, said Myanmar's authorities have been changing the landscape of the territory the Rohingya call home.
"The military right now is bulldozing that area, supposedly preparing for people to come back safely and have houses, prefabricated and produced by national business tycoons as their way of contributing to the nation," he said. "But it also gets rid of the bodies and the fabric of Rohingya existence that was there."
The mass exodus of Rohingya began after the Myanmar military responded to an initial attack from a group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on Aug. 25, 2017.
Prasse-Freeman said the army responded to the attack with "extreme prejudice," and most likely received help from the Rakhine ethnic group, a Buddhist faction.
Stories of mass violence shook the world last year but the Rohingya have been the target of persecution before, including in 1978 and 1992, when there were other mass extrusions of the population, the analyst said.
"Some of these people have been forced across the border multiple times."
Prasse-Freeman said Arakan state, which the Rohingya call home, was not always a conflict zone.
The analyst, whose research focuses on Burma, said identities were more fluid in the past, and the area was described as a "very cosmopolitan place" in the 16th century. Poets in the royal courts at the time wrote poems for kings who practiced Buddhism but also went by Muslim names.
New identities began to emerge in the period of British rule that began in the 19th century, a movement that came with labor flow that accompanied colonialism. The Chittagonian workforce from areas in what is now present-day Bangladesh has a connection to the Rohingya, the analyst said, but so do a group that also shared similar features, and were there before colonial rule. The Burmese government has called the Rohingyas "Bengali" in order to deny their claims of belonging.
But the Rohingya also use the past to assert indigenousness over the Rakhine, the rival group, even as the two groups share similar cultures.
"Examples of things they're trying to take away from each other include iconography, coins, everything from skin lotion to wrestling," Prasse-Freeman said. "Religious traditions are becoming increasingly ossified and divided."
The Rohingya are also not allowed to participate in what's called Rakhine wrestling, he said.
Mohiuddin, the New York-based activist, said the solution to the conflict is for Myanmar to confer legitimacy to the Rohingya, who were stripped of citizenship in 1982.
"We were citizens, it was taken away," he said, adding the more than 1 million Rohingya are "the most uneducated, the most illiterate, the most poor, the most downtrodden."
"We don't want a separate state. We don't want any kind of independence," he said. "These people are trying to survive as human beings with their rights, honor, and dignity with their freedom of religion, but they are being labeled as terrorists."
"The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse," Pence said on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Singapore.
Suu Kyi was recently stripped of a human rights award by Amnesty International.