Bangladesh Must Keep Border Open: HRW

By Associated Press 14 June 2012

DHAKA, Bangladesh— Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday urged Bangladesh to keep its border open to people seeking refuge from sectarian violence in western Burma.

The New York-based group said in a statement that Bangladesh should also allow independent humanitarian agencies free and unfettered access to the border areas.

It expressed its concern after Bangladesh on Tuesday turned away three boats carrying 1,000 Muslims fleeing violence in neighboring Burma, bringing to 1,500 the number of refugees intercepted in recent days.

“By closing its border when violence … is out of control, Bangladesh is putting lives at grave risk,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at HRW.

“Bangladesh has an obligation under international law to keep its border open to people fleeing threats to their lives and provide them protection,” Frelick said.

It also urged other governments to provide humanitarian assistance and other support for the refugees.

Similarly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday called for Bangladesh to keep its border with Burma open and allow a safe haven on its territory for those who need immediate safety and medical assistance.

Like other UN agencies, the UNHCR has recently withdrawn its staff from northern Arakan State, but said it hoped to return soon to address humanitarian needs.

Violence in western Burma between Buddhists and minority Muslims who call themselves Rohingyas have left at least 12 people dead and hundreds of homes burned since Friday.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said on Tuesday at a news conference in the capital, Dhaka, that it was not in Bangladesh’s interest to accept any refugees because the impoverished country’s resources already are strained.

Some still slipped into Bangladesh, and one 50-year-old refugee allegedly wounded by gunfire from Burmese security forces died Tuesday at a hospital in Chittagong, a doctor said. Two other Rohingyas are being treated for bullet wounds, said Anisur Rahman, a doctor at Chittagong Medical College Hospital.

On Wednesday, the Daily Star newspaper published a photograph on its front page of two women and four children who reached Shah Pori Island in the Bay of Bengal a day earlier, reportedly after spending five days at sea.

Burma considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says Rohingya have been living in Burma for centuries and should be recognized there as citizens.

In the 1990s, about 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh in the face of alleged persecution by the military junta.

Later, Burma took back most of them, leaving some 28,000 in two camps run by the government and the United Nations.

Bangladesh has been unsuccessfully negotiating with Burma, officially known as Myanmar, for years to send them back and, in the meantime, tens of thousands of others have entered Bangladesh illegally in recent years.

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The Irrawaddy Team