As Bangladeshis voted Sunday in a general election plagued with accusations of irregularities, more than 1 million Rohingya refugees were corralled in southeastern camps because local authorities had ordered them to stay put over the weekend as polling unfolded, officials said.
The restriction of movement affected refugees at 32 camps in Cox’s Bazar district, where more than 700,000 Rohingya fled following a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017.
“Their movement has been restricted to ensure that none can use them in favor or against any candidate in the 11th parliamentary election on Dec. 30,” Relief and Refugee Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam told BenarNews.
According to a special directive issued by the commission, Rohingya refuges were not allowed to leave the camps from 7 p.m. on Saturday until 8 a.m. on Monday, local news reports said.
Additional police officers and soldiers were deployed to provide security in the camps, Kalam said.
Saifur Rahman, a Rohingya community leader at the No. 12 camp in Ukhia sub-district, confirmed that the directive had been issued.
“The camp-in-charge instructed us not to go outside the camp,” Rahman told BenarNews on Saturday. “During emergency cases, we will have to seek permission to go outside. The camps are being guarded to implement the instruction.”
“We have told everybody that it is a big election for Bangladesh. Untoward incidents may happen if anybody goes outside,” he said.
Thousands died during the widespread violence that included torture, rape and arson when Myanmar’s security forces committed ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Rohingya Muslims during their crackdowns in 2016 and 2017, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
The United Nations, rights groups and the United States have described the violence as “ethnic cleansing."
Mohammad Iqbal Hossain, additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar district, said barriers had been installed and checkpoints mounted at nine points on roads leading to the refugee camps.
More than 264,000 people in Cox’s Bazar were eligible to vote in Bangladesh’s 11th parliamentary elections.