CHITTAGONG - Fleeing deadly attacks by Buddhists on their homes, Myanmar's Muslims escaping the violence by boats are being turned away by neighboring Bangladesh.
The United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees is advocating with the Bangladeshi authorities to allow safe haven on its territory for those who need immediate safety and medical assistance, the UNHCR said in an e-mailed statement cited by Bloomberg on Tuesday, June 12.
Ethnic-Bengali Muslims, known as Rohingya, have been fleeing their homeland by boats to neighboring Bangladesh over the past few days over attacks by Buddhists in western Myanmar.
Arriving in Bangladesh, Rohingya Muslim refugees were either denied access or detained by Bangli border guards.
"We have detained some 200 Myanmar citizens who intruded into Bangladesh territory by engine boats in the Bay of Bengal," a Coast Guard officer was quoted as saying by local media, DPA reported.
"They will shortly be pushed back to their homeland," he said as other officials estimated the number of refugees denied access by more than 400 Rohingya Muslims.
Witnesses said Bangladeshi authorities pushed back 12 wooden boats on Monday carrying 300 Rohingya Muslims, mostly women and children.
They said three more boats with some 150 people on board were drifting in waters close to the border, according to Reuters.
Witnesses said they saw just 20 Rohingyas who had made it into Bangladesh, about half of whom were injured, but their whereabouts were not known.
A Bangladeshi official on St Martin's island said the remaining boats had tried to reach the shore but were turned back.
"The boats moved around for a couple of days trying to land on this island but eventually were driven out of our water this morning," Mohammed Nurul Amin, head of a district council, told Reuters by telephone.
"Islanders are also keeping an eye out for any further crossing attempts," he said.
Sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims flared last week after the killing of 10 Muslims in an attack by Buddhist vigilantes on their bus in western Myanmar.
The attack followed the rape and murder of a woman in the state, which borders Bangladesh, which Buddhists blame Muslims for.
Myanmar imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in four towns in Rakhine on Friday and prohibited more than five people from gathering in public areas over the violence.
The Rohingya Muslim suffering continues as sectarian violence flared between Buddhists and Muslims in western Myanmar for the fifth day.
"Sittwe is like a war zone," Shwe Maung, a Muslim lower house representative in the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party for the town of Buthidaung, told Reuters, referring to the capital of Rakhine state.
Putting the death toll at 50 in the village of Narzi, not far from Sittwe, Maung accused police of allowing Buddhists to break the curfew and burn Muslim houses.
Rohingya Muslims have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
Myanmar's government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".
Rohingyas say they are deprived of free movement, education and employment in their homeland.
They are not recognized as an ethnic minority by Myanmar and say they suffer human rights abuses at the hands of government officials.
Many have sought refuge in neighboring Bangladesh, living in mud huts covered in plastic sheets and tree branches, which provide poor shelter during monsoon rains that cause mudslides and expose them to waterborne diseases.
Bangladesh says there are about 28,000 registered Rohingya refugees in two UN camps near the southeastern resort of Cox's Bazaar.
The ongoing violence has prompted calls for international intervention to prevent the violence from spiraling across the country.
Deadly violence in Arakan State is spiraling out of control under the government's watch, Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, using another name for Rakhine state.
Opening the area to independent international observers would put all sides on notice that they were being closely watched.
Pockets of sectarian unrest have occasionally broken out in the past across Myanmar, with Rakhine state, which has the largest concentration of Muslims, a flashpoint for tensions.In February 2001, the then-ruling junta declared a curfew in the state capital Sittwe after clashes between Muslims and Buddhists.