TEKNAF (Bangladesh) • Bangladesh police yesterday detained dozens of Rohingya migrants, some of them children, and said they would return them to Myanmar where there are reports that the military is burning villages and raping women.
Rohingya community leaders say there has been a sharp rise in the number of people who make it across the border into Bangladesh and an estimated 500 arrived overnight, using the cover of darkness to evade detection.
Up to 30,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority group that Myanmar does not recognise as its 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, following a surge in violence in Myanmar. Many told of villages razed to the ground by the military, which some also accused of raping and killing Rohingya.
Police in the Bangladeshi border town of Cox's Bazar said yesterday they had detained 70 Rohingya, including women and children. "We nabbed them after they illegally trespassed (into Bangladesh). They will be pushed back to Myanmar," local police chief Shyamol Kumar Nath told AFP.
Security is tight on both sides of the border and Ms Aleya Khatun, 38, had suffered splinter injuries from a landmine as she crossed the border into Bangladesh overnight with her relatives and nine other families. She said the mine had killed her neighbour, Johra, who was travelling with them.
"I brought Johra's three children with me as they had nobody to look after them," Ms Khatun told AFP over a video call from a makeshift medical camp near the border.
She said that at least 1,200 more Rohingya families were hiding out in the woods near the border, waiting to cross the river at nightfall.
Security forces have killed almost 70 people in Myanmar's western Rakhine state and arrested some 400 since the lockdown began six weeks ago, according to state media reports. Activists say the actual number could be far higher.
The violence is a fresh blow to de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi's hopes of forging a nationwide peace agreement after decades of bloody insurgencies in Myanmar's borderlands. Ms Suu Kyi's problems have been exacerbated by a resurgence of fighting among four armed ethnic groups in north-eastern Shan state, which has sent thousands fleeing into China.
The authorities in Bangladesh have increased border patrols in recent days, reinforcing frontier check-posts and deploying extra coast guard ships in the Naf River to prevent the entry of Rohingya.
Most of the Rohingya who entered the country are hiding out in camps for the 32,000 legally registered already living in south-east Bangladesh, fearing repatriation if they are found. Police said they had detained at least four people smugglers who took money from Rohingya in exchange for organising their journey to Bangladesh.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS