DHAKA: Bangladesh on Wednesday refused three more boatloads of Rohingya Muslims fleeing sectarian violence in Myanmar, officials said, despite growing calls for the border to be opened.
Bangladeshi guards have turned back 16 boats carrying more than 660 Rohingya people, most of them women and children, since Monday as they tried to enter from neighbouring Myanmar across the river Naf.
The Bangladeshi officer in charge of the operation said that one boat from Myanmar had been found early on Wednesday with only an abandoned baby girl aboard.
“Our river patrol team intercepted the boat at 2:00am,” Major Shafiqur Rahman said. “They searched inside and found this Rohingya girl aged about one and a half months.”
Rahman said it was unclear why other Rohingya had left the boat but that they may have been robbed or attacked. He added the child was being looked after by a local family.
The three other boats intercepted by Bangladeshi patrol teams before dawn on Wednesday were carrying 109 people, Rahman said, adding that many were suffering from severe diarrhoea.
The violence has left at least 12 people dead and hundreds of homes burned since Friday.
Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said on Tuesday at a news conference in Dhaka that it was not in Bangladesh’s interest to accept any refugees because the impoverished country’s resources already are strained.
Some still slipped into Bangladesh, and one 50-year-old refugee allegedly wounded by gunfire from Myanmar security forces died on Tuesday at a hospital in Chittagong, a doctor said. Two other Rohingyas are being treated for bullet wounds, said Anisur Rahman, a doctor at Chittagong Medical College Hospital.
The latest vessels were found near Shah Pori Island, a settlement at the mouth of the Naf river where it flows into the Bay of Bengal.
Around 25 people have been killed and a further 41 people wounded in five days of unrest, a Myanmar official said on Tuesday. He did not give details of how they died or whether they were Buddhists or Muslims.
Rohingya leaders say the real number of dead is much higher.
The Daily Star newspaper published a photograph on its front page of two women and four children who reached Shah Pori Island a day earlier, reportedly after spending five days at sea. The government in Dhaka has said it will not allow any refugees from Myanmar as Bangladesh already been burdened with an estimated 300,000 Rohingya who have been living in the country’s south-east for decades.
Bangladesh has been unsuccessfully negotiating with Myanmar for years to send them back and, in the meantime, tens of thousands of others have entered Bangladesh illegally in recent years.
International calls are growing for border controls to be relaxed to prevent a humanitarian crisis.
“By closing its border when violence (in Myanmar) is out of control, Bangladesh is putting lives at grave risk,” said Bill Frelick, refugee programme director at the Human Rights Watch group. “Bangladesh has an obligation under international law to keep its border open to people fleeing threats to their lives and provide them protection.” The UN refugee agency has also urged Bangladesh to let the fleeing Rohingya in.
A state of emergency has been declared in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, which has been rocked by a wave of rioting and arson, posing a major test for the reformist government which took power last year.