Thousands of Rohingya flee Myanmar for Bangladesh


(FILES) This file photo taken on May 31, 2017 shows Rohingya refugees sitting near a house destroyed by Cyclone Mora in a camp in the Cox's Bazar district. The UN was "deeply concerned" on August 23, 2017 after Bangladesh coastguards turned back a boat carrying 31 Rohingya Muslim refugees escaping renewed army activity in their neighbouring Myanmar homeland. Photo: AFP

Thousands of Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since Myanmar announced a military build-up in Rakhine state earlier this month, community leaders said Wednesday.

Rakhine in northern Myanmar has been gripped by violence since October, when militants attacked police posts.

On August 12 authorities in Myanmar said hundreds of troops had moved into Rakhine as it ramps up counterinsurgency efforts there.

Rohingya leaders in Bangladesh told AFP that at least 3,500 had arrived since then, piling pressure onto already overcrowded refugee camps in the Cox's Bazaar area near the Naf river that divides the two countries.

That is despite stepped-up patrols by Bangladeshi border and coast guards, who said this week they had pushed back a boat carrying 31 Rohingya, including children.

"In the Balukhali camp alone, some 3,000 Rohingya arrived from their villages in Rakhine," said Abdul Khaleq, referring to the camp nearest the river, where most of the migrants stay when they first arrive.

Kamal Hossain, a Rohingya elder in another, camp, said nearly 700 families had arrived in Bangladesh in the past 11 days.

Many were sleeping in the open because there was no more space in the camps, he said.

Dhaka estimates that nearly 400,000 Rohingya refugees are living in squalid refugee camps and makeshift settlements in Cox's Bazar.

They included more than 70,000 who arrived in the months that followed the crisis in October.

But Rohingya are also increasingly unwelcome in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, where police often blame them for crimes such as drug trafficking.

Dhaka has floated the idea of relocating tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote, flood-prone island off its coast, despite opposition from rights groups.

On Wednesday, the UN refugee agency said it was "deeply concerned" by the reports of a boat carrying Rohingya being turned back.

"UNHCR is deeply concerned by this incident, which as the coast guard reported, involved women and children who said they were fleeing violence," a UNHCR spokesman told AFP.

"In the current security context, the majority, if not all, of these people crossing from Myanmar into Bangladesh are believed to be fleeing insecurity," he said.

© AFP

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