COX’S BAZAAR: Bangladesh has detained and forcibly returned 90 Rohingya migrants to Myanmar, police said on Sunday, just hours after Myanmar’s troops on the other side of the border had opened fire on people fleeing the country.
Police intercepted a group of 70 Rohingya Muslims late on Saturday after they crossed the “zero line” border zone, where Myanmar soldiers earlier fired mortars and machine guns at villagers making the dangerous dash from the northern state of Rakhine into Bangladesh.
The villagers were caught roughly four kilometres inside Bangladeshi territory en route to a refugee camp in Kutupalong, where thousands of Rohingya live in squalid conditions, said local police chief Abul Khaer.
Police said some of those detained had entered Bangladesh via the Ghumdhum border area — where the Myanmar forces had unleashed a barrage of fire just hours earlier.
An untold number of people are stranded along border
“They were pleading with us not to send them back to Myanmar,” said a policeman on condition of anonymity.
Another 20 Rohingya were caught on Sunday and sent back after crossing the Naf river, a natural border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, according to Ariful Islam, a commander with Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).
Border officer Manzurul Hassan Khan said that fresh gunfire could be heard across the border in Rakhine, a hotbed of religious hatred focused on the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.
More than 100 people have died since Friday as scores of men purportedly from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) ambushed Myanmar police posts with knives, guns and homemade explosives, killing at least a dozen security force members.
Thousands of Rohingya have fled towards Bangladesh, but authorities there have refused to let most of them in, with an untold number of people — mainly women and children — stranded along the border zone.
Officials in Cox’s Bazaar, the district bordering Myanmar that is home to several large refugee camps, have been instructed not to allow any “illegal entry” by Rohingya, Abdur Rahman, a senior government official, said.
But Rohingya community leaders, local media and an AFP correspondent said at least 3,000 Rohingya refugees have managed to enter the country and found refuge in camps and villages since Friday.
The impoverished country already hosts some 400,000 Rohingya refugees.
At least 100 mainly women and children arrived on Sunday at a makeshift camp in Balukhali, according to a correspondent at the scene, many bringing tales of horror from across the border.
“They fired so close that I cannot hear anything now,” 70-year-old Mohammad Zafar said of armed Buddhists who shot dead his two sons in a field. “They came with rods and sticks to drive us to the border yelling, ‘Bengali bastards’,” he said.
Rahima Khatun said she spent the night hiding in the hills after Buddhists in her village torched Rohingya homes and set upon men with machetes and clubs.
“We grew up with them. I can’t figure out how they could be so merciless,” she said.
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2017