(New York) – The government of Bangladesh should immediately open its borders to people seeking sanctuary in Bangladesh from sectarian violence in Arakan State in western Burma.
The Bangladeshi government, anticipating an influx of refugees fleeing sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in western Burma, this month reportedly ordered its border guards and naval services to prevent Burmese from crossing the border into Bangladesh. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said at a news conference in Dhaka that, “It is not in our interest that new refugees come from Myanmar [Burma].”Bangladeshi authorities reported that at least 500 people aboard 11 boats have been denied access to Bangladesh over the last three days.
“By closing its border when violence in Arakan State is out of control, Bangladesh is putting lives at grave risk,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch. “Bangladesh has an obligation under international law to keep its border open to people fleeing threats to their lives and provide them protection.”
Brutal violence in Arakan State between Buddhists and Muslims erupted on June 3, 2012, and has intensified since then. Security forces have shot and killed an unknown number of Rohingya, and sectarian mobs from both groups have burned down the homes and businesses of the other. On June 10, Burmese President Thein Sein issued a state of emergency in the area, ceding authority for law enforcement to the Burmese army.
Although Bangladesh is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, it is obligated by the customary international law principle of nonrefoulement not to reject asylum seekers at its border when they are fleeing threats to their lives or freedom.
Human Rights Watch called on the Bangladeshi government to allow independent humanitarian agencies free and unfettered access to the border areas. Other governments should provide humanitarian assistance and other support for the refugees. They should also help in finding durable solutions both for the new arrivals and for the 29,000 registered and an estimated 200,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees from Burma already in Bangladesh, who are living in some of the poorest provisioned camps in the world.
“Bangladesh needs generous support right now from the international community to assist the refugees fleeing Arakan State and to find durable solutions later on,” Frelick said. “But Bangladesh can help itself by allowing immediate and full access to humanitarian agencies so they can provide life-saving assistance to desperate refugees.”