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One of the most persecuted groups in the world is now facing more violence and suffering, yet help is being denied them.
In recent weeks, Bangladesh has turned back more than 2,000 people seeking refuge from communal violence in Burma’s Rakhine State. These refugees were fleeing targeted attacks on the Muslim Rohingya community, and refusing them entry puts Bangladesh in violation of international law.
At the bedrock of international refugee law is the principle that countries cannot force someone fleeing persecution at home to return – yet Bangladesh is now doing just that. The Rohingya, who are a stateless minority in Burma, are trying to escape a wave of brutality sparked by the death of a young seamstress on May 28. Bangladesh argues that it already has a huge number of Rohingya refugees in the country and cannot take any more, but preventing desperate people from reaching safety cannot be justified.
Once denied refuge in Bangladesh, Rohingyas are being returned to Burma at serious risks to their lives, including physical and sexual violence and arbitrary arrest.
I was in Bangladesh last year and met with Rohingya refugees living in some of the worst circumstances I have ever seen. (And I make that statement having visited many camps and settlements hosting refugees and displaced people around the world). The fact that people are trying to flee from Burma into these squalid conditions demonstrates their level of desperation.
One of the greatest difficulties faced by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh – not just now, but for decades – has been the disturbing level of media and public hostility towards them, and a lack of advocacy in their favor by Bangladeshi civil society. So I was heartened to see last week that the Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar had put out a strong statement of support for the Rohingya. It called for international support to protect Rohingyas from persecution and urged “the international community to assist the Government of Bangladesh with resources in the event of opening of the borders for the fleeing Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds.”
The world must heed that call. Furthermore, key governments – such as the U.S. and the UK – must press Bangladesh to immediately open its borders to refugees, welcome those fleeing sectarian violence in Rakhine State, and improve protection for all vulnerable Rohingyas already in the country.June 21, 2012 | Tagged as: Bangladesh, Myanmar, Humanitarian Response, Asia, Protection & Security, Statelessness