DHAKA: Hundreds of Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh after fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, community leaders said yesterday, many with horrific tales of troops killing and burning villages. Bangladesh says it has prevented hundreds more from crossing into the country, despite pleas from the United Nations to open its border after up to 30,000 Rohingya were displaced by violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Bangladeshi troops have intensified patrols along the 237-kilometre border, but Rohingya community leaders estimate that 1,000 people have still managed to get in over the last week.
Most are hiding out in camps for the 32,000 legally registered already living in southeast Bangladesh, fearing repatriation if they are found by authorities. Mohammad Amin, 17, said he and 15 others fled their homes in Rakhine five days ago and reached Bangladesh by swimming across the Naf river that divides the two countries. “The (Myanmar) army killed my father and elder brother. I hid on a hill and then walked and swam across the river, and took refuge at a mosque (in Bangladesh),” he said by phone from Cox’s Bazar near the border. “Where I looked I saw only burnt houses. I don’t know what happened to my mother and sister.”
Zohra Khatun, 25, arrived late Monday with her seven children after their village was burned to the ground, and has been helped by a relative already living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. “I waited two days before I had the chance to cross the river to come here,” Khatun said by phone. The relative, who asked not to be named, said that at least 100 families had arrived at the camp from Myanmar in the last two days.
Another community leader said 500 people had taken shelter near two other Rohingya refugee camps in the area. Commanders of the Border Guard Bangladesh said their troops had blocked nearly 300 Rohingya from crossing the border overnight, the highest number since the crisis began last month. “We’re preventing them on the zero line, especially those who were trying to cross the barbed-wire fences erected by Myanmar,” said Imran Ullah Sarker.
Myanmar troops have poured into a strip of land that is home to the stateless Muslim Rohingya minority since a series of attacks on police border posts last month. State media reports in Myanmar say security forces have killed almost 70 people and arrested some 400 since the lockdown began six weeks ago, but activists say the number could be far higher.
Witnesses and activists have reported troops killing Rohingya, raping women and looting and burning their houses. “We’re hearing horrific stories from them,” said one international rights worker visiting the area, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity. “We’ve heard that they have to bribe some people to enter Bangladeshi territory. The government must open the border and allow access of aid workers,” he said. Bangladesh places restrictions on the work of international aid groups in the area, home to thousands of unregistered migrants as well as the 32,000 registered refugees.
The arrival of more has caused tensions with the local community in Teknaf town, which border Myanmar’s western Rakhine state and is one of the country’s poorest. “If they (the government) don’t act now, soon there will be a flood of Rohingya entering Bangladesh,” said Teknaf councilor Anwar Hossain. Sarker said many Rohingya were sent back after they managed to sneak across unmanned parts of the border. Security guards are also patrolling the Naf river, the commanders said, adding that more than a dozen boats packed with Rohingya tried to land at the ghats (stations) in the Bangladeshi parts of the river. “They told us that their houses were torched and they came here seeking safe shelter,” said one border guard official.- AFP