Bodies of 19 Rohingya Refugees Wash Ashore in Bangladesh

Jesmin Papri and Abdur Rahman
Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
170831_BD-mainart620.jpg Local residents recover bodies of Rohingya children who drowned after their boat capsized while crossing the Naaf River in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Aug. 31, 2017.
Abdur Rahman/BenarNews

The bodies of 19 Rohingya refugees – nine women and 10 children – washed ashore Thursday in southeastern Bangladesh, local authorities said, as they struggled to control an exodus from Myanmar that swelled to close to 30,000 people within the past week.

Since the influx from an outbreak of violence in the neighboring Myanmar state of Rakhine began on Aug. 24, Bangladesh police said they recovered 23 bodies in all, including the 19 people whose bodies were found Thursday after their boats capsized as the refugees tried to cross the Naaf River that separates the two countries.

“All of them are Rohingyas, who were fleeing Myanmar to enter into Bangladesh,” Mohammad Main Uddin Khan, officer-in-charge of the local police station, told BenarNews.

On Tuesday night two other boats capsized and local residents had recovered four other bodies, he said.

The Bangladesh government has urged the Myanmar authorities to take back the dead bodies of the Rohingya refugees.

“We have forwarded a note verbale to the Myanmar High Commissioner’s office in Dhaka urging them to receive the dead bodies,” Monjurul Karim Khan Chowdhury, chief of the South Asia Desk of the Foreign Ministry, told BenarNews.

The victims were among the thousands of Rohingya Muslims who were fleeing violence that flared after Rohingya insurgents launched coordinated attacks on 30 police outposts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state last week.

Gunfire and smoke

Reporters on Thursday said gunfire could be heard from across Naaf River, and huge columns of smoke could be seen billowing from the forest in northern Rakhine.

More than 27,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar within the past seven days and about 20,000 others remained stranded in a “no-man’s land” between the two countries, according to a report by Reuters news service, which quoted sources at the United Nations.

Myanmar military officials said the attackers belonged to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an insurgency group that claims it is strictly homegrown and not backed by foreign militants.

Accurate figures on the number of Rohingya Muslims fleeing their homes were not immediately available Thursday night, but the International Organization for Migration said that at least 18,500 Rohingyas, including many with bullet and burn injuries, had crossed into Bangladesh since the cycle of violence began.

At least 1,000 Rohingya Muslims were detained on Thursday as they tried to cross the border, Bangladeshi officials said.

But at least 5,000 Rohingya had passed through on Wednesday night alone, a border official said, expressing disappointment for failing to halt the illegal crossings.

“They will be pushed back to Myanmar after giving them humanitarian assistance,” Bangladesh Border Guard commander Lt. Col. SM Ariful Islam told BenarNews.

“Officially we are against allowing entry of Rohingya people. But it is not possible to guard the entire border,” another official told BenarNews.

Late Thursday, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said there was no reason to doubt the accuracy of the estimates that more than 27,000 people could have crossed into Bangladesh since Aug. 24.

“But even without solid numbers, it’s clear the volume of people fleeing is increasing rapidly, and there is an urgent need to get them to safety. For this reason, Bangladesh should stop trying to prevent Rohingya from coming into the country, and recognize that they should be treated as refugees in urgent need of humanitarian and medical attention,” he told BenarNews.

“Under no condition should Bangladesh Border Guards be pushing Rohingya back into harm’s way by returning them to Burma," Robertson said. "Everyone recognizes that Bangladesh has taken on the largest burden of the neighboring states dealing with the Rohingya crisis, so Dhaka should not be shy about requesting significant support and assistance from the international community in order to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of the newly arriving Rohingya."

"The international community has to work together to deal with this crisis,” he added.

US condemns violence in Rakhine

Myanmar’s neighboring countries have expressed alarm over the violence in Rakhine, including Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who urged the United States on Wednesday to pressure Myanmar into stopping the influx of Rohingya into her country’s southeastern region.

On Thursday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations issued a statement deploring the violence, including reports that Rohingya homes had been set on fire and civilians killed.

“The United States supports democracy for the Burmese people, and we condemn attacks by militant groups in Rakhine State. However, as Burmese security forces act to prevent further violence, they have a responsibility to adhere to international humanitarian law, which includes refraining from attacking innocent civilians and humanitarian workers and ensuring assistance reaches those in need,” Haley said.


Smoke from fires in Myanmar's Rakhine state is seen across the Naaf River in a photo taken from Teknaf, Bangladesh, Aug. 31, 2017. [BenarNews]


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