UNION OF MYANMAR: Bangladesh pushes back Rohingya refugees amid collective punishment in Myanmar

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1 Dec 2016
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Refugees and Migrants

As the Myanmar authorities are subjecting the Rohingya Muslim minority to collective punishment, thousands of refugees who have made it across the border to Bangladesh in desperate need of humanitarian assistance are being forcibly pushed back in flagrant violation of international law, Amnesty International said today.

The Rohingya are fleeing a policy of collective punishment in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine state, where security forces are mounting indiscriminate reprisal attacks in response to a 9 October assault on three border posts that killed nine members of the border police.

Speaking to members of the Rohingya in Bangladesh and in Myanmar, Amnesty International has heard accounts of Myanmar’s security forces firing at villagers from helicopter gunships, torching hundreds of homes, carrying out arbitrary arrests, and raping women and girls.

Across the Naf river that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers are forced into hiding and are suffering a severe lack of food and medical care, Amnesty International found in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.

Forcible returns

The Bangladeshi authorities have cracked down on the flow of Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar. Over the past week, the Bangladesh Border Guards have detained and forcibly returned hundreds.

The move is a violation of the principle of non-refoulement – an absolute prohibition under international law on forcibly returning people to a country or place where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations.

The Bangladeshi authorities have also sealed their border with Myanmar and fortified it with the deployment of the Bangladesh Border Guards. Since 1992, the Bangladesh government has a policy of denying Rohingya refugee status.

Several thousand Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers are believed to have recently crossed into Bangladesh. At least 2,000 people have made the journey across the Naf river since 21 November, with more set to arrive over successive days.

The Bangladeshi government must not add to the suffering of Rohingya. They should be recognized and protected as refugees fleeing persecution.

Inhuman and degrading conditions

The bulk of the Rohingya have sought shelter in makeshift camps across the Cox’s Bazar where earlier waves of refugees and asylum-seekers settled.

Water and food are scarce. Aid workers in the area told Amnesty International that even before the most recent arrivals, the camp dwellers were already suffering severe malnutrition.

The latest arrivals have put an enormous strain on Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers already based in Bangladesh who have opened their small and cramped homes to them.

One man living in the Kutupalong makeshift refugee camp told Amnesty International:

“I am the only breadwinner in my family. We are seven people, but some family members arrived from Myanmar last week so now we are 15 people living in the same small hut. We did not have any food this morning.”

Many of those arriving are in extremely poor health and in need of medical attention. Several people have crossed the border bearing untreated bullet wounds, but they did not seek medical attention from the few clinics in the area, out of fear of being detained and deported.

While many Bangladeshi people have welcomed and offered assistance to the new arrivals, the Rohingya are preyed upon by local thieves.

Relying on the generosity of Bangladeshis already in poverty and long-term refugees is not sustainable. Bangladeshi authorities must immediately allow aid groups unfettered access to those fleeing the escalating persecution in Myanmar.

24 November 2016

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