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Border stays closed despite pressure

Both UN and Human Rights Watch urge refugees be accepted

Bangladesh coast guards block a boat carrying Rohingya refugees (Daily Prothom Alo) Bangladesh coast guards block a boat carrying Rohingya refugees (Daily Prothom Alo)
  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • June 13, 2012
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Despite pressure from the UN, Bangladesh maintains it cannot allow any Rohingya fleeing ethnic violence in Myanmar to enter the country, the foreign minister said yesterday.

“Bangladesh is confident the Government of Myanmar would be able to deal with the situation in the best possible manner and restore normalcy in the region in the shortest possible time,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Hundreds of refugees seeking shelter from sectarian violence in Rakhine state in western Myanmar have been turned away at the Bangladesh border. Around 28,000 Rohingyas already reside in two camps in Cox’s Bazar, according to the UN.

“It will be a serious problem ... There are already a huge number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh,” Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told reporters at her office yesterday.

The government estimates there are an additional 500,000 unregistered Rohingyas from Myanmar living in Bangladesh without any legal status. The UN estimates that number is between 200,000 and 300,000.

Buddhists in Rakhine state largely consider the Muslim minority Rohingya as foreigners, and the Myanmar government has denied them citizenship, refusing to acknowledge them as one of the country’s recognized ethnic groups.

“We have had discussions with various government officials for the last few days over allowing the refugees into the country,” UN High Commissioner for the Refugees representative in Bangladesh, Craig Sanders, told a local newspaper in Dhaka yesterday.

This came a day after Bangladesh border and coast guards turned away about 15 boats carrying around 1,500 people as they tried to enter Bangladesh via the Naf River in Cox's Bazar district on Monday.

“We are very concerned about what’s happening at the border; we are aware that boats are arriving with refugees and being sent back,” Sanders said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also urged Bangladesh yesterday to keep its border open.

“By closing its border when violence in Arakan [Rakhine] state is out of control, Bangladesh is putting lives at grave risk," said HRW's refugee program director Bill Frelick.

"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 in a statement from New York.

Although Bangladesh is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, Bangladesh is obligated by the customary international law principle of non-refoulement not to reject asylum seekers at its border when they are fleeing threats to their lives or freedom, HRW said.

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Fleeing Rohingyas fail to cross border
Clashes spark Rohingya refugee fears
Myanmar mulls Rohingya return

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