Biden signs bill banning goods from China’s Xinjiang over forced labor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law legislation that bans imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labor, the White House said.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is part of the U.S. pushback against Beijing’s treatment of the China’s Uyghur Muslim minority, which Washington has labeled genocide.

The bill passed Congress this month after lawmakers reached a compromise between House and Senate versions.

Key to the legislation is a “rebuttable presumption” that assumes all goods from Xinjiang, where Beijing has established detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, are made with forced labor. It bars imports unless it can be proven otherwise.

Some goods – such as cotton, tomatoes, and polysilicon used in solar-panel manufacturing – are designated “high priority” for enforcement action.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, a major cotton producer that also supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels.

Its Washington embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

Nury Turkel, Uyghur-American vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told Reuters this month the bill’s effectiveness would depend on the willingness of Biden’s administration to ensure it is effective, especially when companies seek waivers.

One of the bill’s co-authors, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, said it was necessary to “send a resounding and unequivocal message against genocide and slave labor.”

“Now … we can finally ensure that American consumers and businesses can buy goods without inadvertent complicity in China’s horrific human rights abuses,” he said in a statement.

In its final days in January, the Trump administration announced a ban on all Xinjiang cotton and tomato products.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency estimated then that about $9 billion of cotton products and $10 million of tomato products were imported from China in the past year.

(Reporting by Paul Grant and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. imposes sweeping human rights sanctions on China, Myanmar and N Korea

By Daphne Psaledakis, David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Friday imposed extensive human rights-related sanctions on dozens of people and entities tied to China, Myanmar, North Korea and Bangladesh, and added Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime Group to an investment blacklist.

Canada and the United Kingdom joined the United States in imposing sanctions related to human rights abuses in Myanmar, while Washington also imposed the first new sanctions on North Korea https://www.reuters.com/world/china/us-maintain-troop-level-south-korea-minister-2021-12-02 under President Joe Biden’s administration and targeted Myanmar military entities, among others, in action marking Human Rights Day.

“Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.

The North Korean mission at the United Nations and China’s, Myanmar’s and Bangladesh’s embassies in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Biden gathered over 100 world leaders at a virtual summit this week and made a plea for bolstering democracies around the world, calling safeguarding rights and freedoms in the face of rising authoritarianism the “defining challenge” of the current era. The U.S. Treasury Department has taken a series of sanctions actions this week to mark the summit.

The Treasury on Friday added Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime to a list of “Chinese military-industrial complex companies,” accusing it of having developed facial recognition programs that can determine a target’s ethnicity, with a particular focus on identifying ethnic Uyghurs.

As a result the company will fall under an investment ban for U.S. investors. SenseTime is close to selling 1.5 billion shares in an initial public offering (IPO). After news of the Treasury restrictions earlier this week, the company began discussing the fate of the planned $767 million offering with Hong Kong’s stock exchange, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

U.N. experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in China’s far-west region of Xinjiang.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, but the U.S. government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.

The Treasury said it was imposing sanctions on two Myanmar military entities and an organization that provides reserves for the military. The Directorate of Defense Industries, one of the entities targeted, makes weapons for the military and police that have been used in a brutal crackdown on opponents of the military’s Feb. 1 coup.

The Treasury also targeted four regional chief ministers, including Myo Swe Win, who heads the junta’s administration in the Bago region where the Treasury said at least 82 people were killed in a single day in April.

Canada imposed sanctions against four entities affiliated with the Myanmar military government, while the United Kingdom imposed fresh sanctions against the military.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis when the military overthrew leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government on Feb. 1, triggering daily protests in towns and cities and fighting in borderlands between the military and ethnic minority insurgents.

Junta forces seeking to crush opposition have killed more than 1,300 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group.

The Treasury also blacklisted North Korea’s Central Public Prosecutors Office had been designated, along with the former minister of social security and recently assigned Minister of People’s Armed Forces Ri Yong Gil, as well as a Russian university for facilitating the export of workers from North Korea.

North Korea has long sought a lifting of punishing U.S. and international sanctions imposed over its weapons programs and has denounced U.S. criticism of its human rights record as evidence of a hostile policy against it.

The Biden administration has repeatedly called on North Korea to engage in dialogue over its nuclear and missiles programs, without success.

The U.S. State Department on Friday also barred 12 people from traveling to the United States, including officials in China, Belarus and Sri Lanka.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Simon Lewis, David Brunnstrom, Matt Spetalnick, Alexandra Alper, Tim Ahmann and David Ljunggren; Editing by Chris Sanders, Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis)

Germany jails Islamic State member for life over role in Yazidi genocide

FRANKFURT (Reuters) -A German court on Tuesday jailed a former Islamic State militant for life for involvement in genocide and crimes against humanity against minority Yazidis in Iraq and Syria, including the murder of a five-year-old girl.

It was the first genocide verdict against a member of Islamic State, an offshoot of al Qaeda that seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014 before being ousted by U.S.-backed counter-offensives, losing its last territorial redoubt in 2019.

In a landmark ruling, the court in Frankfurt found Taha al-Jumailly, 29, an Iraqi national, guilty of involvement in the slaughter of more than 3,000 Yazidis and enslavement of 7,000 women and girls by IS jihadists in 2014-15.

This, the court ruled, included the murder of a five-year-old girl the defendant had enslaved and chained to a window, leaving her to die in scorching heat in 2015 in Iraq.

Al-Jumailly, who entered the court covering his face with a file folder, was arrested in Greece in 2019 and extradited to Germany where relatives of slain Yazidis acted as plaintiffs supporting the prosecution.

“Today’s ruling marks the first ever worldwide confirmation by a court that the crimes of Islamic State against the Yazidi religious group are genocide,” said Meike Olszak of Amnesty International’s branch in Germany.

The defendant’s German wife, identified only as Jennifer W., was used as a prosecution witness at his trial. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month for involvement in the enslavement of the Yazidi girl and her mother.

The Yazidis are an ancient religious minority in eastern Syria and northwest Iraq that Islamic State viewed as supposed devil worshippers for their faith that combines Zoroastrian, Christian, Manichean, Jewish and Muslim beliefs.

Islamic State’s depredations also displaced most of the 550,000-strong Yazidi community.

(Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Bosnia’s Mladic orchestrated Europe’s worst atrocities since World War Two

By Ivana Sekularac and Anthony Deutsch

BELGRADE/THE HAGUE (Reuters) -Ratko Mladic was dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia” for terrorizing the capital Sarajevo with a 43-month siege and presiding over the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in a U.N.-designated “safe area,” Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.

The Srebrenica slaughter was the grisly culmination of a 3-1/2-year war in which nationalist Bosnian Serb forces under Mladic pounded Sarajevo daily with artillery, tanks, mortars and heavy machine guns, killing 10,000.

The dead from Srebrenica were bulldozed into mass graves over four days in July 1995, some of which were dug up and relocated to remote mountains to hide evidence of the killings.

The goal, as determined by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), was “ethnic cleansing” – the forcible expulsion of Bosnian Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs to clear Bosnian lands for a Greater Serbia.

The tribunal, in a judgment upheld by appeals judges on Tuesday, ruled at his 2017 trial that Mladic was part of “a criminal conspiracy” with Bosnian Serb political leaders. It found Mladic was in “direct contact” with then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 shortly before the verdict in his ICTY trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.

“I do not recognize this court,” Mladic said at a hearing in The Hague in 2018. When he was sentenced to life in prison in 2017 on charges if genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, he shouted: “This is all lies, you are all liars!”

Karadzic, who was convicted of genocide in 2016, and Mladic topped the ICTY wanted list for years after Western powers ended the war in 1995. Mladic lived securely, if discreetly, in Belgrade until a popular uprising toppled Milosevic in 2000.

Milosevic died in his prison cell of a heart attack at age 64, near the end of his four-year tribunal trial. Karadzic, now 75, is serving out his life sentence in a British prison.

“For me Mladic is a symbol of all the horrible crimes that happened during the war – our girls were raped, and boys killed, only because they were Muslim. Germans had Hitler, Serbs have Mladic,” said Munira Subasic, whose son and husband were killed by Bosnian Serb forces that overran Srebrenica.

“I watched him in the courtroom and he was proud of everything he had done, I saw no regrets on his face.”

The army Mladic created to fight against Bosnia’s 1992 secession from Serbian-led Yugoslavia was a model of ruthlessness and brutality.

Some of its prisoners suffocated in the heat after being forced to eat salt and refused water. Others were starved and raped in prison camps, made to jump off a bridge and shot or gunned down at night by the hundreds after being driven out of detention with gas.

Mladic had a cameraman film his blitz on the encircled enclave of Srebrenica, to show him extolling his “lads” and haranguing Dutch U.N. peacekeepers who misguidedly accepted his solemn word that the inhabitants would be safe in his hands.

“We give this town to the Serb people as a gift,” he said to the camera, claiming the victory as revenge against Muslim Turks, who once held the area as part of the Ottoman Empire.

The next day, Mladic’s forces were filmed handing out sweets to children, promising their safe passage, while at the same time thousands of men and boys were being readied for execution.

When NATO tried in 1995 to rein in his forces with the threat of air strikes, his troops defiantly seized U.N. peacekeepers as human shields, chaining them to likely targets.

SON OF PARTISAN FIGHTER

The son of a World War Two Serb partisan fighter killed in 1945, Mladic was an officer in the old communist Yugoslav Federal Army (JNA) when the country began to break up in 1991.

When Bosnian Serbs rose in 1992 against Bosnia’s Muslim-led secession, Mladic was picked to command a new Bosnian Serb army that swiftly overran 70 percent of the country.

Towns were besieged with heavy weapons that once belonged to the JNA. Villages were burned as 22,000 troops of a U.N. Protection Force stood by, with orders not to take sides.

Some of his supporters say Mladic had become even more ruthless after his daughter Ana killed herself with Mladic’s trophy gun in 1994.

A combination of Western pressure and covert American arms and training for Bosnian Muslims and Croats gradually turned the tide against Mladic’s army. Precision NATO strikes did the rest.

Yet many nationalist Serbs still regard him as a hero for cutting casualties on their side and trying to unite their people in one country.

“Ratko Mladic remains a legend for Serb people and a man who has put his professional and human capabilities in the service of the freedom of the Serb people,” current Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said.

SICK AND FRAIL

When arrested in 2011, Mladic looked nothing like the burly general who ruffled the hair of a Srebrenica boy in July 1995.

He seemed older than his years. In his few court appearances, he wavered between maudlin self-pity, smiling defiance and vague distraction.

“I am a very sick man,” Mladic pleaded to the court.

In June 2019, Mladic’s lawyer said his client was suffering from deteriorating brain function and cardiovascular trouble after a heart attack in 2013. “There is a great risk of a new stroke and a new heart attack,” Branko Lukic said.

In convicting him for the siege of Sarajevo and Srebrenica, the 2,500-page war crimes verdict said Mladic’s acts were “so instrumental to the commission of the crimes that without them, the crimes would not have been committed as they were.”

(Reporting by Ivana SekularacEditing by Mark Heinrich)

U.S. calls Xinjiang an ‘open-air prison,’ decries religious persecution by China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Chinese government has turned its western Xinjiang province into essentially an “open-air prison,” a U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday as the department published a report that criticized China’s persecution of religious minorities.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January said that China’s actions in Xinjiang constitute crimes against humanity and genocide, a verdict his successor, Antony Blinken, has said he agrees with.

China rejects the claim and says it is countering extremism in Xinjiang.

Daniel Nadel, a senior official in the State Department’s Office of International Freedom, said the situation has shifted from the use of what China calls “vocational education and training centers” to detain ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims, to the use of surveillance “to essentially turn the entire region into an open-air prison”.

“People’s movements are closely tracked. You have minders who have been assigned to live with Uyghurs to keep tabs on them. You have people going to the market who have to check in every time they go to a different market stall,” he said at a press briefing.

The oppression of Muslims was “the culmination of decades of repression of religious adherents” in China, Nadel added.

The State Department report, an annual update on religious freedom around the world, also detailed China’s persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual group.

Blinken announced that he was also imposing a visa ban on Chinese official Yu Hui and his family for Yu Hui’s involvement in arbitrary detentions of Falun Gong followers.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

UN investigator says he has evidence of genocide against Iraq’s Yazidis

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.N. team investigating Islamic State crimes in Iraq has found “clear and convincing evidence that the crimes against the Yazidi people clearly constituted genocide,” the head of the inquiry said on Monday.

Karim Khan told the U.N. Security Council that the team, which started work in 2018, had also identified perpetrators “that clearly have responsibility for the crime of genocide against the Yazidi community.”

The Yazidis are a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. Islamic State militants consider the Yazidis to be devil-worshippers.

Khan, a British lawyer who will next month become the International Criminal Court prosecutor, said the intent of Islamic State “to destroy the Yazidi, physically and biologically, was manifest in the ultimatum that was repeated in so many different villages in Iraq – to convert or die.”

Islamic State overran the Yazidi heartland in northern Iraq in 2014, forcing young women into servitude as “wives” for fighters, massacring thousands of people and displacing most of the 550,000-strong community. In 2016 an independent U.N. commission of inquiry described it as genocide.

Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who was enslaved and raped by Islamic State, and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney lobbied the Security Council, which then created the U.N. investigative team in 2017.

They also pushed for the council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or create a special court.

“Evidence has been found, but we are still searching for the political will to prosecute,” Murad, who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, told the Security Council on Monday.

The U.N. team has so far identified 1,444 possible perpetrators of attacks against the Yazidis.

Khan also said that from the team’s investigation into the mass killing of unarmed cadets and military personnel at Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014 “it is clear that the crime of direct and public incitement to commit genocide occurred.”

The team has identified 20 people of interest and 875 victims remains from 11 mass graves from the Tikrit attack by the Sunni extremists against Shia Muslims.

(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

‘Something close’ to genocide in China’s Xinjiang, says U.S. security adviser

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. national security adviser said on Friday that China was perpetrating “something close to” a genocide with its treatment of Muslims in its Xinjiang region.

“If not a genocide, something close to it going on in Xinjiang,” Robert O’Brien told an online event hosted by the Aspen Institute, while highlighting other Chinese crackdowns including one on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

The United States has denounced China’s treatment of Uighur and other minority Muslims in Xinjiang and imposed sanctions on officials it blames for abuses. It has not, though, so far termed Beijing’s actions genocide, a designation that would have significant legal implications and require stronger action against China.

The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslims have been detained in Xinjiang and activists say crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place there. China has denied any abuses and says its camps in the region provide vocational training and help fight extremism.

O’Brien referred to seizures by U.S. customs of “massive numbers” of hair products made with human hair from Xinjiang.

“The Chinese are literally shaving the heads of Uighur women and making hair products and sending them to the United States,” he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in June it had detained a shipment originating in Xinjiang of hair products and accessories suspected of being forced-labor products made with human hair.

In June, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeled as “shocking” and “disturbing” reports that China was using forced sterilization, forced abortion and coercive family planning against Muslims in Xinjiang.

He said last month Washington was considering the language it would use to describe what is happening in the region but added: “When the United States speaks about crimes against humanity or genocide … we’ve got to be very careful and very precise because it carries an enormous weight.”

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Freed Yazidi woman in Syria endured years of Islamic State slavery

Yazidi woman Salwa Sayed al-Omar, who escaped from the Islamic State, talks during an interview with Reuters near the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, in Syria March 7, 2019. REUTERS/STRINGER

NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – Salwa Sayed al-Omar spent years as a Yazidi prisoner of Islamic State but she escaped its clutches this week, fleeing its last populated enclave in east Syria along with two Iraqi boys pretending to be her brothers.

Islamic State overran the Yazidi faith’s heartland of Sinjar in northern Iraq in 2014, forcing young women into servitude as “wives” for its fighters and massacring men and older women.

The Yazidis are a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. Islamic State considers them devil worshippers and its attacks on the group were condemned as a “genocide” by the United Nations.

“They took women, abused them and killed them,” said Omar, describing how jihadists bought and sold their Yazidi captives or passed them around as sexual slaves.

“A woman was shifted from one man to another unless it was to one who had a bit of mercy… if she was in good condition, she would carry on. If not, she would get married to avoid being abused,” she said.

Omar was eventually married to a Tajik jihadist.

As the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) besieged the enclave at Baghouz, some surviving Yazidi women and children emerged among many thousands of others fleeing deprivation and bombardment, including the group’s own unrepentant supporters.

The SDF is waiting to evacuate all civilians from the Baghouz enclave before forcing the remaining jihadists there to surrender or storming the tiny area by force.

Omar escaped along with two Iraqi children, Mustafa and Dia, who had been her neighbors for two years as their respective households moved through Syria together during Islamic State’s long retreat to Baghouz.

EATING GRASS

As Islamic State’s many enemies advanced against it, the group would move its captives from place to place. “They were hiding us in different places so we couldn’t be seen or helped,” Omar said.

Their Islamic State captors were “rigorous” in checking who left, said the teenage boys, Mustafa and Dia, who said they had stayed longer in the enclave to help Omar leave.

After a month of siege in the tiny pocket at Baghouz, a cluster of hamlets and farmland on the banks of the Euphrates at the Iraqi border, they were reduced to eating grass and hiding in holes when there was fighting, they said.

They all managed to get away from her “husband” by paying him money. Many Islamic State fighters remained in Baghouz as they left on Thursday, dug into tunnels under the area, the boys said.

Speaking in the desert outside Baghouz, where people who had left the enclave were searched, questioned and sorted between civilians and fighters, Omar spoke of how she had been captured.

“They took me from Iraq. They captured us on the road and said ‘we won’t do anything bad to you, but you must convert to Islam’. We were afraid to be killed so we converted,” she said.

It did not save them. After months of capture, the women were split from the men, whom she never saw again. Captured boys aged 7-15 were taken to be brainwashed and trained as Islamic State fighters, she said.

She was taken to Raqqa, the group’s Syrian “capital”, which fell to the SDF during Islamic State’s year of big defeats in 2017, and then down the Euphrates to Baghouz.

“Today I reached the democratic forces and they said ‘we will let you go out of the Islamic State’… and thank God, they helped me and let me out,” she said.

(Reporting By Reuters TV; additional reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo; writing by Angus McDowall in Beirut; Editing by Gareth Jones)

For Yazidi survivors of Islamic State killings, the nightmares go on

Yazidi women prepare bread at a refugee camp in Mount Sinjar, Iraq February 4, 2019. Picture taken February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

By Ayat Basma and Kawa Omar

SINJAR, Iraq (Reuters) – Ever since Islamic State visited death and destruction on their villages in northern Iraq nearly five years ago, Yazidis Daoud Ibrahim and Kocher Hassan have had trouble sleeping.

For Hassan, 39, who was captured, it is her three missing children, and three years of imprisonment at the hands of the jihadist group.

For Ibrahim, 42, who escaped, it is the mass grave that he returned to find on his ravaged land.

“They burnt one house down, blew up the other, they torched the olive trees two-three times…There is nothing left,” the father of eight told Reuters.

More than 3,000 other members of their minority sect were killed in 2014 in an onslaught that the United Nations described as genocidal.

A Yazidi man walks through the ruins of his house, destroyed by Islamic State militants near Sinjar, Iraq February 5, 2019. Picture taken February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

A Yazidi man walks through the ruins of his house, destroyed by Islamic State militants near Sinjar, Iraq February 5, 2019. Picture taken February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

Ibrahim and Hassan lived to tell of their suffering, but like other survivors, they have not moved on.

She will never set foot in her village of Rambousi again. “My sons built that house. I can’t go back without them…Their school books are still there, their clothes,” she said.

‘THEY WANT TO BE BURIED’

As U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to announce the demise of the Islamist group in Syria and Iraq, U.N. data suggests many of those it displaced in the latter country have, like Hassan, not returned home.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim and his family live in a barn next to the pile of rubble that was once their home. He grows wheat because the olive trees will need years to grow again. No one is helping him rebuild, so he is doing it himself, brick by brick.

“Life is bad. There is no aid,” he said sitting on the edge of the collapsed roof which he frequently rummages under to find lost belongings. On this day, it was scarves, baby clothes and a photo album.

“Every day that I see this mass grave I get ten more gray hairs,” he said.

The grave, discovered in 2015 just outside nearby Sinjar city, contains the remains of more than 70 elderly women from the village of Kocho, residents say.

“I hear the cries of their spirits at the end of the night. They want to be buried, but the government won’t remove their remains.” They and their kin also want justice, Ibrahim adds.

When the militants came, thousands of Yazidis fled on foot towards Sinjar mountain. More than four years later, some 2,500 families – including Hassan and five of her daughters – still live in the tents that are scattered along the hills that weave their way towards the summit.

The grass is green on the meadows where children run after sheep and the women pick wild herbs.

But the peaceful setting masks deep-seated fears about the past and the future.

A general view of the Yazidi refugee camp in Mount Sinjar, Iraq February 4, 2019. Picture taken February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

A general view of the Yazidi refugee camp in Mount Sinjar, Iraq February 4, 2019. Picture taken February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

GRATEFUL FOR THE SUN

Until a year and a half ago, Hassan and five of her children were kept in an underground prison in Raqqa with little food and in constant fear of torture.

She doesn’t know why Islamic State freed her and the girls, then aged one to six, and hasn’t learned the fate of the three remaining children: two boys Fares and Firas, who would be 23 and 19 now, and Aveen, a girl who would be 13.

There is no electricity or running water in the camp where they live today. She doesn’t remember when her children last ate fruit. “Life here is very difficult but I thank God that we are able to see the sun,” she said.

During the day, her children go to school and are happy, but at night “they are afraid of their own shadow”, and she herself has nightmares.

“Last night, I dreamt they were slaughtering my child,” she said.

Mahmoud Khalaf, her husband, says Islamic State not only destroyed their livelihoods. The group broke the trust between Yazidis and the communities of different faiths and ethnicities they had long lived alongside.

“There is no protection. Those who killed us and held us captive and tormented us have returned to their villages,” Khalaf, 40, said referring to the neighboring Sunni Arab villages who the Yazidis say conspired with the militants.

“We have no choice but to stay here…They are stronger than us.”

(Reporting by Ayat Basma; editing by John Stonestreet)

Exclusive: ‘Can’t eat, can’t sleep’ – Rohingya on Myanmar repatriation list

FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees take part in a protest at the Kutupalong refugee camp to mark the one year anniversary of their exodus in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo

By Ruma Paul

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – For Nurul Amin, a Rohingya Muslim living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, the days since learning he and his family were among a group of people set to potentially be repatriated to Myanmar have been among the most frightening since they fled their home.

“I can hardly sleep at night for fear of getting forcibly repatriated. Since the time I heard that my name is on the list I can’t even eat,” says Amin, 35, who has four daughters, a wife and sister with him in the Jamtoli Camp in southeast Bangladesh.

Reuters identified and spoke to more than 20 of the roughly 2,000 Rohingya refugees on a list of people Myanmar has agreed to take back. Though officials say no-one will be forced to return against their will, all say they have been terrified since learning this month their names were on the list prepared by Bangladeshi officials and vetted by Myanmar.

The list has not been made public and not all those whose names are on it have been informed, say Bangladeshi camp officials, due to concerns of sparking widespread panic in a camp that shelters 52,000 refugees.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in late October to this month begin the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled across the border to escape a Myanmar army crackdown, even though the United Nations’ refugee agency and aid groups say doubts persist about their safety and conditions in Myanmar should they return.

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed from Rakhine state, in mostly Buddhist Myanmar, into Bangladesh from August last year after Rohingya insurgent attacks on security forces triggered a sweeping military response.

Refugees said soldiers and local Buddhists carried out mass killings and rape during the violence in 2017, while U.N.-mandated investigators have accused the military of unleashing a campaign with “genocidal intent”.

Myanmar has denied almost all the allegations. It has rejected the U.N. findings as one-sided, and said the military action was a legitimate counterinsurgency operation.

WILLING TO RETURN?

This week, the U.N.’s human rights investigator on Myanmar urged Bangladesh to drop the repatriation plan, warning that Rohingya still faced a high risk of persecution in Myanmar.

A Bangladesh foreign ministry official, who asked not to be named, said on Friday the country would not send any Rohingya back forcefully.

“The Bangladesh government is in talks with them to motivate them,” he said.

Separately, another foreign ministry official told Reuters the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would verify whether those shortlisted were willing to return.

Firas Al-Khateeb, a UNHCR representative in Cox’s Bazar, told Reuters that effort would start within a few days.

“We have not started the process yet but we will be carrying out an assessment of the voluntariness,” he said.

Dr Min Thein, director of the disaster management department at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement in Myanmar, said his team was preparing for 2,000 people to return.

“The Immigration Department is doing the scrutinizing,” said Min Thein. An official at Myanmar’s Immigration Department declined to answer questions over the phone.

In late October, a delegation from Myanmar visited the camps in an effort to urge Rohingya to participate in the repatriation process.

“THROW US INTO THE SEA”

Refugees who spoke to Reuters said they did not trust the Myanmar authorities to guarantee their safety. Some said refugees would go back only if they got to return to their own land and were given citizenship.

“I’ll just consume poison if I am forced to go back. I saw my cousin shot dead by military … What is the guarantee that we’ll not be persecuted again?” said Abdur Rahim, 47, who previously owned a shop and 2 acres of land in Rakhine.

Nur Kaida, 25, who is the mother of a 19-month-old girl, said it “would be better to die in the camps rather go back and get killed or raped”.

On Friday, an alliance of humanitarian and civil society groups working in Rakhine and in refugee camps in Bangladesh, in a joint statement, warned sending people back would be “dangerous and premature”.

The group called on the governments of the two countries to ensure that refugees in Bangladesh were able to make a free and informed choice about their return. It also said U.N. agencies should have unimpeded access to all parts of Rakhine in order to monitor the situation in areas of potential return.

Recent days have seen dozens of Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh attempting to flee via sea to Malaysia, raising fears of a fresh wave of dangerous voyages.

But despite poor conditions in the camps prompting some to risk such a perilous route out, those like Muhammed Wares, 75, whose name is on the list, say it is better than going back.

“Why are they sending us back?” said Wares. “They may as well throw us into the sea.”

(Reporting by Ruma Paul in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in Dhaka and Thu Thu Aung in Yangon; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Alex Richardson)