Myanmar's Buddhist refugees face hardship at border

After fleeing to Bangladesh, families lack food and clothes in cold winter weather
Myanmar's Buddhist refugees face hardship at border

Myanmar security personnel keep watch along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in the Bangladeshi district of Bandarban on March 1, 2018. Displaced Buddhist refugees recently fled to the area. (Photo by Munur Uz Zaman/AFP)

Buddhist refugees recently displaced by fighting between Myanmar’s military and insurgents face hard times in a remote Bangladeshi village and at the border between the countries.

Some 200 Buddhists from Chin and Rakhine states crossed the border into Bandarban district in southeastern Bangladesh on Feb. 4-5 and hundreds gathered at the border before Bangladeshi guards sealed it off.

They fled their homes to escape violence amid an escalation in fighting between the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine insurgent group, and the military in recent weeks.

“There are about 200 people in 37 families in Cheih Kaying Para (village) and all them are Buddhists from Myanmar. They are suffering from a shortage of food and clothes in the cold weather of late winter,” Aung Thoai Ching Marma, an ethnic Marma and chairman of Ruma subdistrict council in Bandarban, told ucanews.com.

Bandarban is part of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and one of three hilly and forested districts bordering Myanmar. The CHT is home to about 25 Buddhist-majority ethnic indigenous groups.

The refugees hail from ethnic Chin, Khumi and Rakhine groups, Marma said.

“Since the area is remote and often unreachable by phone, it is difficult to know what is exactly going on. Some local people are supporting them with food and clothes, which is insufficient,” he said.

The local government has not made any decision regarding assistance for the refugees, Marma added.

Muhammad Daudul Islam, chief government officer of Bandarban district, says he is aware of the new arrivals.

“As far as we know, displaced Myanmar nationals are staying at the zero line of the border. The border guards have asked them to go back to their home. The government has no plan for them. If we can confirm arrival of refugees, we will see what to do about them,” Islam told ucanews.com.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has appealed to Bangladesh’s government to allow Myanmar refugees in and support them.

“UNHCR is aware of reports of escalating violence and a deteriorating security situation in southern Chin State and Rakhine State. This has reportedly led to internal displacement and a number of new arrivals from Myanmar seeking safety in the Bandarban border region of Bangladesh,” UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a press briefing in Geneva on Feb. 8.

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact of continuing violence in Myanmar and the potential for both further internal displacement and the outflow of refugees, he said.

“As part of inter-agency efforts, UNHCR stands ready to support the humanitarian response in the affected areas in Myanmar. UNHCR has also offered its support to the government of Bangladesh to assess and respond to the needs of people who have arrived seeking safety from violence in Myanmar,” Mahecic added.

Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district is home to more than one million ethnic Rohingya Muslim refugees from Rakhine State.

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Most Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape deadly military crackdowns in Rakhine in 2016 and 2017 following Rohingya militant attacks on Myanmar security forces.

According to UNHCR, more than 720,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh since August 2017.

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