Bangladesh authorities have forced more than 2,000 Rohingya to leave a remote island where they were hiding out after fleeing violence in Myanmar, officials said today. The United Nations says 87,000 mostly Rohingya refugees have poured over the border into Bangladesh since the latest round of fighting broke out 10 days ago in Myanmar’s neighbouring Rakhine state.
The vast majority have entered overland or by crossing the Naf border river. But as desperation grows, some are braving the open seas to reach the small island of St Martin’s nine kilometres off Bangladesh’s coast. Officials said the island’s 9,000 residents, who share close cultural ties with the Rohingya and speak a similar language, had been hiding around 2,000 recent arrivals but were ordered to give them up.
The Rohingya are a mainly Muslim stateless ethnic minority who according to rights groups have faced decades of persecution in mainly Buddhist Myanmar. The head of the local council Noor Ahmad said mosque loudspeakers were used to ask residents to hand Rohingya arrivals over to the coast guard. “They told us to help find the Rohingya by any means and bring them to the coast guard camp,” said Ahmad.
Another elected official, Farid Ahmed, said 2,011 Rohingya including children were rounded up at the coast guard headquarters yesterday evening and taken away. “Rohingya children were crying. But it is the government order. What can we do?” Ahmed told AFP. “They (Rohingya) said, where should we go? They (Myanmar forces) were killing us there. Our houses were burnt. They were firing at us.”
Both men said the Rohingya had been taken back to Myanmar on boats. One senior security official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said the Rohingya were taken back at night under escort from border security forces. Bangladesh coast guards have intercepted and turned away hundreds more refugees as they tried to approach the island, the official said.
Bangladesh was already home to around 400,000 Rohingya before the current crisis and has made clear it does not want to take in more. But it has been unable to stem the flow of refugees desperate to escape renewed violence in Rakhine state, where they say their community has suffered massacres at the hands of Buddhist mobs and the military. Officials said the 2,011 Rohingya on the island had all arrived in the last few days.