As the Myanmar authorities are subjecting the Rohingya Muslim minority to collective punishment, thousands of refugees who have made it across the border to Bangladesh in desperate need of humanitarian assistance are being forcibly pushed back in flagrant violation of international law, Amnesty International said today.
“The Rohingya are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities. Fleeing collective punishment in Myanmar, they are being pushed back by the Bangladeshi authorities. Trapped between these cruel fates, their desperate need for food, water and medical care is not being addressed,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director.
The Rohingya are fleeing a policy of collective punishment in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine state, where security forces are mounting indiscriminate reprisal attacks in response to a 9 October assault on three border posts.
Speaking to members of the Rohingya community on the ground in Bangladesh and in interviews with those still in Myanmar, Amnesty International has heard accounts of Myanmar’s security forces, led by the military, firing at villagers from helicopter gunships, torching hundreds of homes, carrying out arbitrary arrests, and raping women and girls.
Across the Naf river that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers are forced into hiding and are suffering a severe lack of food and medical care, Amnesty International found in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.
The Bangladeshi authorities have cracked down on the flow of Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar. Over the past week, the Bangladesh Border Guards have detained and forcibly returned hundreds.
The move is a violation of the principle of non-refoulement – an absolute prohibition under international law on forcibly returning people to a country or place where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations.
The Bangladeshi authorities have also sealed their border with Myanmar and fortified it with the deployment of the Bangladesh Border Guards and coast guard forces. Since 1992, the Bangladesh government has a policy of denying Rohingya refugee status.
On 22 November, Amnesty International witnessed groups of Rohingya crossing the border close to Whaikyang, a village by the Naf river in Bangladesh. They looked weary and emaciated, the signs of a gruelling journey evident on their faces.
They told Amnesty International that they had arrived in Bangladesh the night before, waiting until sunrise on a nearby island to evade Bangladeshi officials.
Several thousand Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers are believed to have recently crossed into Bangladesh. They are spread out across villages, refugee camps and slums, making the true number impossible to determine. At least 2,000 people have made the journey across the Naf river since 21 November, with more set to arrive over successive days.
Some of them told Amnesty International they had paid smugglers to take them across. Others confessed to bribing Bangladesh Border Guards or other Bangladeshis to help them elude interception at the border.
“The Bangladeshi government must not add to the suffering of Rohingya. They should be recognized and protected as refugees fleeing persecution, not punished for who they are,” said Champa Patel.
Inhuman and degrading conditions
The bulk of the Rohingya who successfully reached Bangladesh have sought shelter in makeshift camps across the Cox’s Bazar where earlier waves of refugees and asylum-seekers settled.
Water and food are scarce. Aid workers in the area told Amnesty International that even before the most recent arrivals, the camp dwellers were already suffering severe malnutrition.
The latest arrivals have put an enormous strain on Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers already based in Bangladesh who have opened their small and cramped homes to them.
One man living in the Kutupalong makeshift refugee camp told Amnesty International:
“I am the only breadwinner in my family. We are seven people, but some family members arrived from Myanmar last week so now we are 15 people living in the same small hut. We did not have any food this morning. I only own two longyis [traditional garment] – I gave one to my cousin, I am wearing the only clothes I own.”
A 40-year-old woman, who said she had fled to Bangladesh after the Myanmar army killed her husband and one of her sons, was not able to find shelter in the camp for herself and her two young children.
We are sleeping outside in the mud,” she said. “My son is two years old and is crying all the time, he is very cold in the mornings.
Many of those arriving are in extremely poor health and in need of medical attention. Reliable sources confirmed to Amnesty International that several people have crossed the border bearing untreated bullet wounds. But the Rohingya said that they did not seek medical attention from the few clinics in the area, out of fear of being detained and deported.
While many Bangladeshi people have welcomed and offered assistance to the new arrivals, the Rohingya are preyed upon by local thieves.
“When we crossed the border, some local people attacked and looted us. They took everything we had,” said one 16-year-old girl, who paid people smugglers to take her into Bangladesh on 21 November.
“Relying on the generosity of Bangladeshis already in poverty and long-term refugees is not sustainable. The thousands who have crossed the border desperately need help. Bangladeshi authorities must immediately allow aid groups unfettered access to those fleeing the escalating persecution in Myanmar,” said Champa Patel.
Source: Amnesty International