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Rohingya fleeing Myanmar face kidnapping, closed borders

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TEKNAF: Bangladesh police on Wednesday detained dozens of Rohingya migrants, some of them children, and said they would return them to Myanmar where there are reports the military is burning villages and raping women.

 

The Myanmar army has denied the claims but has barred foreign journalists from the area around the border.

– ‘Kidnapped by locals’ –

Aleya Khatun, who arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar overnight, said at least 1,200 more Rohingya families were hiding out near the border, waiting to cross at nightfall.

The 38-year-old said a landmine exploded as she crossed into Bangladesh overnight with nine other families, killing her neighbour Johra and injuring her.

“I brought Johra’s three children with me as they had nobody to look after them,” Khatun told AFP by video call from a makeshift medical camp.

Many had made it in with the help of Bangladeshi people-smugglers.

Jahanara Begum, 40, said she had been travelling with her teenage daughter and niece, who had since gone missing.

“The man who got us in said the two girls were arrested. But no police came to us,” Begum told AFP by phone from the border town of Teknaf.

She said the smugglers threatened to turn her over to the authorities if she made a fuss about the missing girls.

“I’m sure they were kidnapped by the locals,” she added.

Most of those who have entered the country are hiding out in camps for the 32,000 legally registered Rohingya refugees already living in southeast Bangladesh. They fear repatriation if found.

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Bangladesh border guards have intensified patrols since the violence flared in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, and say they have stopped nearly a thousand Rohingya at the border over the past three days.

Extra coastguard ships have been deployed on the Naf river to stop migrants coming in by boat.
Myanmar state media says security forces have killed almost 70 people and arrested some 400 since the lockdown began six weeks ago in Rakhine, in response to a deadly attack on border police posts. Activists say the number could be far higher.

Rohingya community leaders say there has been a sharp rise in the numbers travelling across the border into Bangladesh to escape the violence. An estimated 500 arrived overnight, using darkness to evade detection.

Up to 30,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority group whom Myanmar does not recognise as citizens, have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations, which is urging Bangladesh to open its border to them.

More than 2,000 are thought to have crossed the border in recent days, despite heavy security on both sides, following the surge in violence in Myanmar.

Some said their villages had been burned down and relatives killed by the Myanmar army. One woman told how soldiers had raped and killed her daughter and said she had only narrowly escaped the same fate.

Police in the Bangladeshi border town of Cox’s Bazar said Wednesday they had detained 70 Rohingya, including women and children, and would send them back across the border.

“We nabbed them after they illegally trespassed (into Bangladesh). They will be pushed back (to Myanmar),” local police chief Shyamol Kumar Nath told AFP.

A Rohingya community leader said anyone sent back could face death.

“We have information the Myanmar army is killing those (Rohingya) people who are being pushed back from Bangladesh,” the leader said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The army has burned down their villages to ashes and killed their relatives. They will simply kill these innocents,” he told AFP.

 

Myanmar does not formally recognise the Rohingya as one of the country’s patchwork of ethnic minorities.

A rising tide of Buddhist nationalism has in recent years deepened hostility towards the group — most of whom are rendered stateless by a web of citizenship laws.

They were among the victims of last year’s Southeast Asian migrant crisis which saw trafficking networks suddenly unravel, leaving thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded without food at sea.

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