Dhaka denies taking more Rohingya refugees over Rakhine violence

This Rohingya family, fleeing the sectarian violence in Myanmar, entered Shah Pori Island on a boat early yesterday after spending five days at sea. Inset, otherwise busy Teknaf Land Port remains idle yesterday as the trade between Bangladesh and Myanmar through it has been suspended since Saturday. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das

Dhaka has decided not to allow any refugee from Myanmar and directed the administration and law enforcement agencies to beef up vigilance and resist intrusion.

দয়া করে শরনার্থীদের সাহায্য করুন, মাননীয় প্রধানমন্ত্রী 

On the other hand, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a briefing yesterday urged the Bangladesh government to allow the people seeking refuge in the country from sectarian clashes in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

“We have had discussions with various government officials over the last few days on allowing refugees in the country,” UNHCR country representative Craig Sanders told The Daily Star.

But the foreign ministry categorically said it had not received any formal or informal request from the UNHCR regarding the issue.

“Our position is clear that we won’t accept any more refugees in Bangladesh. There are already five lakh Rohingyas here and we can’t allow anymore. Rather, we are in a process to send back the existing refugees,” said a senior official of the foreign ministry.

According to UNHCR estimate, there are more than 30,000 registered and two lakh illegal refugees in Bangladesh.

In a press statement, the ministry said Bangladesh and Myanmar were maintaining close consultations to ensure that developments in the Rakhine state did not have any trans-boundary spill-over.

It said the local administration and the law enforcement agencies in the border area have been asked to remain alert and increase vigilance.

“Bangladesh is confident that 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,” said the foreign ministry statement.

The foreign ministry also expressed condolences over the loss of lives and property in the ongoing violence in Myanmar.

Asked, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told reporters that it would be a serious problem for Bangladesh if there was any fresh influx of Rohingyas, as there were already a huge number of them in the country.

“Bangladesh is a densely populated country and the Rohingyas have impacts on our society, law and order, and environment. Considering all aspects, it will create serious problems for us,” said the foreign minister, adding, “We are not interested in more people coming to Bangladesh.”

She said the second highest-level official of UNHCR headquarters would visit Bangladesh soon to discuss the issue of existing Rohingya refugees.

The foreign secretary and DG concerned of the ministry yesterday [Tuesday] had talk with the head of Myanmar embassy in Dhaka and apprised the border situation, said Dipu Moni, adding that Bangladesh embassy in Myanmar was in close contact with the government here.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR in its yesterday’s briefing expressed concern over media reports that Bangladeshi border guards were pushing back Myanmar nationals. “UNHCR is seeking clarification from the Bangladesh authorities on this and other similar reports,” it said.

“UNHCR is advocating with the Bangladeshi authorities to allow safe haven on its territory for those who need immediate safety and medical assistance. Previously, people have been allowed in Bangladesh for medical treatment. We hope that such good practices will be maintained,” it added.

Although security measures have been enhanced along the borders by both the countries, a few refugees had managed to enter the Bangladesh territory, said the UNHCR country representative.

As many as 250,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar entered Bangladesh in 1991 following persecution. Later, most of them returned, but those registered by the UNHCR now reside in two camps — Kutupalong and Nayapara — in Cox’s Bazar.

In 2009, police investigations found link of Rohingyas with some militant groups in Bangladesh.

Over the years, many of the Rohingyas living here managed to obtain Bangladeshi passport with support from local authorities and went abroad.

Panic-stricken Rohingyas test border watch

Activities come to a halt at Bangladesh’s customs office in Taknaf yesterday, after sectarian violence in neighbouring Myanmar cut trade and transport links between the two countries. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das
Dwaipayan Barua, From Teknaf

Despite heightened vigilance along the Myanmar border, a Rohingya family too stubborn to give up managed to enter the Bangladesh territory early yesterday.

The family of nine are here to find refuge from the ongoing sectarian turmoil in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

Talking to The Daily Star at a house on Shah Pori Island yesterday evening, a 70-year-old member of the family said they left their home in Akiyab on Friday night after miscreants had attacked their village and set houses on fire.

While in flight from Akiyab, one of her daughters died and the family had to bury her at sea, said the emotion-chocked mother.

Another middle-aged member of the family said, “We left since we could no longer bear watching our husbands falling in the clashes.”

“For four long days we had been trying to enter Bangladesh territory on an engine boat but couldn’t do so until Monday due to the resistance from border guards. So we made a desperate attempt at the dead of night,” she said, adding that a local elderly man who was out on Fazr prayers saw and gave shelter.

So far, dozens of people had been killed in the Rakhine violence, reports AFP.

Asked about the Rohingya influx, State Minister for Home Shamsul Haque Tuku yesterday said the injured refugees who had already entered Bangladesh were receiving treatment.

Meanwhile, a Myanmar citizen, who had received bullet injury in the abdomen and was under treatment at Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH), died yesterday.

The deceased was identified as Kala Hossain, 50, son of Ali Hossain. He was admitted to the hospital early Monday. Doctors removed the bullet from his abdomen but could not save his life.

Along with Kala Hossain, injured Mohammad Selim, 20, and Mohammad Tayab, 20, were also admitted to CMCH. Doctors said Tayab suffered two bullet injuries in the head and was in critical condition.

Condition of Selim was stable and he was under observation, said a source, adding that doctors had removed one bullet from his chest.

A Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) team arrested Kala Hossain from Teknaf upazila health complex Sunday while police arrested Selim and Tayab at CMCH the same day on charge of intruding into Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, border troops, coastguards and other law enforcement agencies have stepped up vigilance along the border with Myanmar. They are urging the local boatmen and fishermen not to help Myanmar nationals cross the border.

BGB yesterday set up a temporary camp and started special monitoring at Monkhali point in Cox’s Bazar while the local administration decided to check all the boats plying on the St Martin’s Island-Teknaf-Monkhali Bazar route to prevent intrusion.

Movements of engine boats and fishing trawlers in the Naf river between Bangladesh and Myanmar have remained suspended for the last few days.

Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Cox’s Bazaar Jainul Bari said all engine boats and fishing trawlers coming from the sea would be thoroughly checked.

Maj Shafiqur Rahman, second-in-command of BGB 42 Battalion, said they had information that after failing to enter the Bangladesh territory through Shah Pori Island and Teknaf points on Monday, the Myanmar intruders could try to cross the border through Monkhali point at Cox’s Bazar.

BGB Sector Commander Col Golam Farooque Chowdhury yesterday visited the nine observatory posts along the Teknaf border and talked to border guards.

Abdul Mohaimen, general manager of United Land Port Teknaf Ltd that operates the land port, said unloading and delivery of goods at the port remained normal while no cargo boats had arrived there since Saturday due to the unrest in Myanmar.

The country has been incurring a loss of around TK 35-40 lakh in revenue each day, he said.

Meanwhile, three Bangladeshi traders who went to Myanmar on business purposes last week returned home Monday, said an immigration official at Teknaf land port.

He said 12 more Bangladeshi traders are still at Maungdaw in Myanmar. The immigration here had contacted their counterparts in Maungdaw to help the trapped return home safely

“We have come to know that the Bangladeshi nationals left their hotels and moved to safer locations,” said the immigration official.

He said around 259 Myanmar nationals remained stuck in Bangladesh due to the unrest in Rakhine state. They were here on a seven-day border pass, which had already expired, and now paying Tk 200 in fine for each day’s stay, he said.