Now the US urges Bangladesh to allow Rohingya refugees

In this June 13 file photo, BGB members on high alert at Shah Parir Dwip to prevent intrusion of Myanmar citizens. 

The United States has expressed concern over pushing back the Rohingyas seeking refuge after fleeing the ethnic and religious violence in Myanmar and urged Bangladesh to allow the refugees.

“We are concerned that Bangladeshi authorities appear to have intercepted and turned back persons fleeing the ethnic and religious violence in Myanmar,” said US State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland.

Replying to a question at a daily press briefing in Washington, DC on June 13, the spokesperson said, “So we have been urging the Government of Bangladesh to respect its international obligations under the relevant refugee conventions and to continue its longstanding policy of non-refoulement of refugees.

“We are continuing to make the point to all sides in Myanmar that it is important to settle these issues not through violence but through dialogue, and to put down their arms and start talking to each other.”

Asked whether this issue has come up now upstairs with the Indian foreign minister as far as situation in Myanmar is concerned, the spokesperson said they did talk about Myanmar and they did talk about the ethnic issues and the Rohingya issues when US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had her brief meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna before starting the broader Security Dialogue.

Bangladesh: Open Borders for Refugees Fleeing Burma

New York June 12, 2012

The government of Bangladesh should immediately open its borders to people seeking sanctuary in Bangladesh from sectarian violence in Arakan State in western Burma.

The Bangladeshi government, anticipating an influx of refugees fleeing sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in western Burma, this month reportedly ordered its border guards and naval services to prevent Burmese from crossing the border into Bangladesh. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said at a news conference in Dhaka that, “It is not in our interest that new refugees come from Myanmar [Burma].”Bangladeshi authorities reported that at least 500 people aboard 11 boats have been denied access to Bangladesh over the last three days.

“By closing its border when violence in Arakan State is out of control, Bangladesh is putting lives at grave risk,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch. “Bangladesh has an obligation under international law to keep its border open to people fleeing threats to their lives and provide them protection.”

Brutal violence in Arakan State between Buddhists and Muslims erupted on June 3, 2012, and has intensified since then. Security forces have shot and killed an unknown number of Rohingya, and sectarian mobs from both groups have burned down the homes and businesses of the other. On June 10, Burmese President Thein Sein issued a state of emergency in the area, ceding authority for law enforcement to the Burmese army.

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

Human Rights Watch called on the Bangladeshi government to allow independent humanitarian agencies free and unfettered access to the border areas. Other governments should provide humanitarian assistance and other support for the refugees. They should also help in finding durable solutions both for the new arrivals and for the 29,000 registered and an estimated 200,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees from Burma already in Bangladesh, who are living in some of the poorest provisioned camps in the world.

“Bangladesh needs generous support right now from the international community to assist the refugees fleeing Arakan State and to find durable solutions later on,” Frelick said. “But Bangladesh can help itself by allowing immediate and full access to humanitarian agencies so they can provide life-saving assistance to desperate refugees.”