Beginning in late 1991, wide-scale atrocities committed by the Burmese military, including rape, forced labor, and religious persecution, triggered an exodus of ethnic Rohingya Muslims from the northwestern Burmese state of Arakan into Bangladesh. Nearly 240,000 refugees, now housed in 19 camps in and around the Bangladeshi town of Cox’s Bazar, face the prospect of possible mass repatriation when the 1993 rainy season ends in October. That repatriation would be cause for concern on two grounds. First, though talks have taken place between Burmese authorities and Mrs. Sadako Ogata, head of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) to allow a UNHCR presence inside Burma, no final agreement has yet been reached, and grave concerns remain about military abuses in Arakan and thus about the safety of repatriated refugees. Second, when mass repatriations took place in 1992, they became the occasion for coercion and physical abuse of refugees by Bangladeshi authorities, raising serious doubts about whether most returned voluntarily.
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