Monday, 11 June 2012

Bangladesh turns away Muslims fleeing Myanmar

TEKNAF, Bangladesh: Bangladesh border guards Monday turned back eight boats carrying more than 300 Rohingya Muslims, mostly women and children, fleeing religious violence in Myanmar, a border guard said.

Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and coastguard patrol teams, which have been ordered to prevent an influx of refugees, intercepted the boats on the Naf river that separates the two nations, BGB Major Shafiqur Rahman said.

"There were more than 300 Rohingya in the boats which are coming from the Myanmar city of Akyab (Sittwe). They were carrying mainly Rohingya women and children, many of whom were crying and looked extremely anxious," he told AFP.

"All eight boats have been pushed back to Myanmar territory," he added.

Akyab is the former name of Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar's western Rakhine state where sectarian violence flared last week, leaving at least 17 people dead and prompting the authorities to declare a state of emergency.

An AFP photographer at Teknaf in Bangladesh, near the border with Myanmar, saw smoke billowing from houses believed to be burnt in villages during the sectarian violence.

BGB men handed out water and food to the Rohingyas on the boats before they were turned back, Rahman told AFP.

Security has been stepped up along Bangladesh's 200-kilometre (125-mile) border with Myanmar to stem the influx of Rohingya refugees.

"We have been asked not to allow any illegal entry of Rohingya in Bangladesh. The authorities are concerned that their could be large-scale Rohingya entry from Myanmar," coastguard officer Badruddoza, who uses one name, told AFP.

Reinforcements have been sent to intensify patrols on the Naf river and the islands close to the Myanmar border. "We have also enhanced vigilance during night time," he added.

Bangladeshi officials estimate that a total of 300,000 Rohingya people live in the country, with only about a tenth of them in two official refugee camps in southern Cox's Bazaar.

Two injured Rohingya, including one who was hit by a bullet, entered Bangladesh illegally Saturday and were arrested, Rahman said.

Rohingya are a stateless people described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya to be foreigners, while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Muslim-majority Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

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