Rights group urges Bangladesh to keep border open

June 13, 2012 - 12:17 AM
APTOPIX Bangladesh Myanmar Refugees

A Rohingya Muslim family who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence sits at a shelter provided by local people in Taknaf, Bangladesh, Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Bangladesh on Tuesday turned away three boats carrying 1,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, bringing to 1,500 the number of refugees blocked in recent days, officials said. (AP Photo/Anurup Titu)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A global human rights group on Wednesday urged Bangladesh to keep its border open to people seeking refuge from sectarian violence in western Myanmar.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Bangladesh should also allow independent humanitarian agencies free and unfettered access to the border areas.

It expressed its concern after Bangladesh on Tuesday turned away three boats carrying 1,000 Muslims fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, bringing to 1,500 the number of refugees intercepted in recent days.

"By closing its border when violence ... 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," Frelick said.

It also urged other governments to provide humanitarian assistance and other support for the refugees.

Violence in western Myanmar between Buddhists and minority Muslims who call themselves Rohingyas have left at least 12 people dead and hundreds of homes burned since Friday.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said Tuesday at a news conference in the capital, Dhaka, that it was not in Bangladesh's interest to accept any refugees because the impoverished country's resources already are strained.

Some still slipped into Bangladesh, and one 50-year-old refugee allegedly wounded by gunfire from Myanmar security forces died Tuesday at a hospital in Chittagong, a doctor said. Two other Rohingyas are being treated for bullet wounds, said Anisur Rahman, a doctor at Chittagong Medical College Hospital.

On Wednesday, the Daily Star newspaper published a photograph on its front page of two women and four children who reached Shah Pori Island in the Bay of Bengal a day earlier, reportedly after spending five days at sea.

Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognized there as citizens.

In the 1990s, about 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh in the face of alleged persecution by the military junta.

Later, Myanmar took back most of them, leaving some 28,000 in two camps run by the government and the United Nations.

Bangladesh has been unsuccessfully negotiating with Myanmar for years to send them back and, in the meantime, tens of thousands of others have entered Bangladesh illegally in recent years.