UNITED NATIONS • Bangladesh has told the United Nations Security Council that it cannot take any more refugees from Myanmar, some 18 months after more than 700,000 displaced people - mainly Rohingya Muslims - started pouring across the border while fleeing a military crackdown.
Attacks on security posts by Rohingya insurgents in Myanmar's Rakhine state triggered the crackdown that the UN, the United States, Britain and others have described as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar denies the accusations.
"I regret to inform the council that Bangladesh would no longer be in a position to accommodate more people from Myanmar," Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said on Thursday.
Mr Haque accused Myanmar of "hollow promises and various obstructionist approaches" during negotiations on returns. "Not a single Rohingya has volunteered to return to Rakhine due to the absence of conducive environment there," he said.
Myanmar says it has been ready to accept returning refugees since January, but the UN says conditions are not yet right for their return. The Rohingya say they want guarantees over their safety and recognition as citizens before returning.
The Security Council's Western powers on Thursday lamented the inaction of Myanmar's government. "We're very disappointed... that there hasn't been more progress on getting the refugees back and that obviously includes creating the conditions where the refugees feel able to go back," Britain's UN ambassador Karen Pierce told the council.
Several Western council members stressed that the return of refugees needed to be safe, voluntary, dignified and secure, and pushed for Myanmar's government to grant the UN widespread and unconditional access to Rakhine. UN envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener told the council that UN access was insufficient, describing what had been done to the Rohingya as representative of "one of the most terrible events of this century so far".
The 15-member council has been split over how to deal with the crisis, with Western powers pitted against Russia and Myanmar ally China.
China's Deputy UN ambassador Wu Haitao said it was mainly an issue between Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh "and as such it is up to the two countries to work out a solution".
Russia's Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy agreed.
In December, Britain circulated a draft resolution to council members that diplomats said aims to set a timeline for Myanmar to allow the return of refugees and address accountability, but China and Russia have boycotted talks on the draft.
Deputy US ambassador Jonathan Cohen said: "The international community cannot ignore the world's largest refugee camp."
Meanwhile, in Malaysia, 34 Rohingya refugees swam ashore after their boat was abandoned at sea off the northern state of Perlis. Villagers at Sungai Belati beach in Sungai Baru town awoke to weak, hungry and dishevelled Rohingya refugees arriving on the shore, including children as young as seven, New Straits Times reported yesterday. They are believed to be victims of a human trafficking syndicate.