By Jenna Furman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
DHAKA, Bangladesh—Despite pleas from the United Nations and countries such as the United States, the Bangladesh Government has refused to grant assylum to recent Rohingya Muslim refugees escaping sectarian violence in Myanmar.
“It is not in our interest that new refugees come from Myanmar,” Dipu Moni, the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister, stated at the capital, Dhaka, on Tuesday.
Border guards turned back an estimated 1,500 Rohingya refugees over the weekend after further violence broke out between the minority Rohingya Muslims and the majority Rakhine Buddhists.
Dipu Moni also cited a strain on resources as a reason for turning back boats traveling across the Naf river to the Bangladeshi border. Bangladesh already houses around 30,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees in two camps in Cox’s Bazaar.
Human Rights Watch refugee program director Bill Frelick stated,“Bangladesh has an obligation under international law to keep its border open to people fleeing threats to their lives.”
The UN refugee agency reported that boats transporting women, children and some wounded have been turned back even within reach of locals trying to give assistance to the refugees. The agency indicated that the refugees are in need of food and medical care.
However, Bangladesh emphasized that the Myanmar and Bangladeshi governments are trying to “to ensure that developments in the Rakhine state do not have any trans-boundary spillover.”
Still, thousands of people have been displaced as a result of the fighting thought to have been sparked last month by the rape and murder of a Rakhine Buddhist woman followed by an attack on a bus carrying Rohingya Muslims, which left 10 people dead. Twenty-nine people are estimated to have died and many homes have been burnt to the ground in the western Rakhine region.
Myanmar President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency after rioting began a little over week ago in the town of Maung Daw which spread to the capital, Sittwe, and other nearby villages. The violence highlights the delicate nature of the relations between ethnic groups in Myanmar.
The Rohingya have been deemed a “stateless” group by both Myanmar and Bangladesh. Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship while Bangladesh argues that the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognized as citizens.
According to The United Nations, Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
For further information, please see:
NY Daily News – Violence Highlights Myanmar’s Sectarian Tension – 16 June 2012
Aljazeera – Bangladesh ‘Turns Back’ Myanmar Refugees – 15 June 2012
BBC News – UN Urges Bangladesh to Take in People Fleeing Burma Violence – 15 June 2012
Los Angeles Times – Bangladesh Rebuffs Pleas to Admit People Fleeing Myanmar Violence – 13 June 2012