Rohingya flee no man's land after Myanmar threat

Rohingya Muslims gather outside their makeshift homes near Kutapalong refugee camp in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh on Feb 9, 2018.
Rohingya Muslims gather outside their makeshift homes near Kutapalong refugee camp in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh on Feb 9, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOMBRU (AFP) - Hundreds of Rohingya living in no man's land have left their makeshift camp and crossed into Bangladesh after soldiers from Myanmar used loudhailers to threaten them, community leaders said on Wednesday (Feb 28).

Around 6,000 Rohingya have been living on a thin strip of land between the two countries since fleeing Myanmar in the wake of a brutal military crackdown on the Muslim minority in late August.

They were among the first to flee Myanmar when the violence erupted last year and set up shelters in no man's land in the weeks before Bangladesh agreed to let the Rohingya into the country.

In recent weeks they have come under pressure from Myanmar soldiers, who have stepped up patrols along the barbed-wire border fence just yards from the camp and broadcast messages using loudhailers ordering the Rohingya to leave.

Community leader Dil Mohammad said the messages had spread panic through the camp.

"We can't now sleep peacefully. Most of the Rohingya in the camps now want to flee and take shelter in Bangladesh," Mr Mohammad said.

"Around 150 families have already left the camp for Bangladesh as they were afraid they might be forcefully sent back to Rakhine," he told AFP, referring to the area of Myanmar where the Rohingya used to live.

One Border Guard Bangladesh official said the Myanmar soldiers were playing the announcement at least 10 to 15 times a day.

In it they urge the Rohingya to leave, saying the land they are on is under Myanmar's jurisdiction and threatening them with prosecution if they remain.

Last week Bangladesh and Myanmar officials visited the camp and urged the refugees to return to Rakhine.

But community leaders have said they will not go back unless their demands for citizenship and security guarantees are met.

Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and has long denied them citizenship and basic rights.

Nearly 700,000 have fled since the military backed by Buddhist mobs launched a brutal crackdown in the wake of attacks by Rohingya militants on police posts.

Doctors without Borders has said 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of the violence alone, in a campaign the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.

Most of the refugees are now living in camps in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh government has signed an agreement with Myanmar to repatriate them, but the refugees themselves say they do not want to return.

Bangladesh was supposed to start the repatriation process last month but it has been delayed amid concerns over a lack of preparation.

Myanmar forces have also erected a kilometres-long barbed-wire fence along the border in recent weeks and installed multiple outposts with armed guards and loudspeakers, the refugees said.

"Unfortunately we have no presence in the so-called no man's land. We know that refugees continue to arrive in Bangladesh on a daily basis and we are assisting all new arrivals regardless of where they came from," said Ms Vivian Tan, spokesman for the UN refugee agency.

"UNHCR maintains that those who have fled human rights violations, persecution and violence have the right to seek asylum and must be guaranteed safety and protection."