Open border to Myanmar refugees: HRW

Wed, Jun 13th, 2012 10:07 am BdST

Dhaka, Jun 13 ( – A global rights group on Wednesday urged Bangladesh to immediately open its border to people seeking refuge from sectarian violence in Myanmar.

New York-based Human Rights Watch made the appeal amid Bangladesh’s refusal to allow Rohingyas from the neighbouring country in the wake of raging violence.

Anticipating an influx of refugees fleeing violence between Buddhists and Muslims in western Myanmar, Bangladesh has ordered its border guards, coast guards and local administration to heighten vigilance along its border with Myanmar.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said at a news conference in Dhaka that it was "not in our best interest that new refugees come from Myanmar".

Guards reportedly blocked hundreds of Rohingyas who attempted to enter Bangladesh over last three days.

But Human Rights Watch urges Bangladesh to change its position on humanitarian ground.

"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," Frelick said in the New York-datelined statement.

The group argued that 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.

It also called on Bangladesh 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, it said adding that 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 Myanmar already in Bangladesh.

"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."

Brutal violence in Arakan State between Buddhists and Muslims erupted on Jun 3 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 Jun 10, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein issued a state of emergency in the area, ceding authority for law enforcement to the army.


Dhaka, 13, June 2012. We, the following citizens of Bangladesh have come
together to express our grave concern at the outbreak of sectarian violence in
the Northern Rakhine State of Burma/Myanmar leading to potential influx of
the victims across borders seeking refuge in Bangladesh. While we fully
appreciate that another flow of refugees will add burdens upon our capacity,
we call upon the Government to review the reported decision to close its
borders preventing the victims who are clearly in desparate need to escape
violence and deaths, and allow them temporary refuge under special
arrangement with the UNHCR. We make this appeal inspired by our own
history and from an understanding that human rights are indivisible, and
protection of victims of violation of human rights in one country is a shared
responsibility of another, particularly in the immediate neighbourhood.

We recall that as a nation we were beneficiaries of similar assistance in 1971
during our war of liberation, which saw one of the world’s largest influxes of
refugees to a neighbouring country. While we are mindful of the implications
of wholesale opening of borders, we would urge the Bangladesh Government
to allow, at least in a controlled manner acceptable under international
standards, entry to refugees, especially those most in need of medical
assistance and emergency protection. At the same time we would call upon
our Government to actively play a role in urging the Myanmar Government to
resolve its internal conflicts and together with international humanitarian
agencies, find a long term resolution to this refugee crisis.

In this regard, we commend the role of the current and past governments of
Bangladesh in allowing Rohingya refugees to take refuge in Bangladesh since
the 1970s, many of whom still remain in Bangladesh.

We call upon our Government to once more open our borders to the Rohingya
refugees from Myanmar seeking sanctuary in Bangladesh from sectarian
violence and to ensure humanitarian assistance to them in time of need. By
denying access and protection to the vulnerable Rohingyas, Bangladesh is
not only putting lives in grave danger but also risks missing an opportunity to
demonstrate that we are fully respectful of international obligations and that
we are a nation that is sensitive to human rights violations anywhere in the
world, especially in our region.

Even while putting in place necessary measures for security and law and
order in Bangladesh, the Government should do all it can to not only open its
borders to the refugees in need but also provide necessary humanitarian
assistance. In this regard we also call upon the Government to negotiate hard
with the international community, particularly UNHCR to secure full support to
minimize possible burden, and to ensure specific timeline for return of all
Rohingya refugees in our territory.

Signatories to the Statement;
1. Kamal Lohani
2. Dr. Hameeda Hossain
3. Adv. Sultana Kamal
4. Khushi Kabir
5. Dr. Shapan Adnan
6. Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury
7. Prof Perween Hasan
8. Sara Zaker
9. Dr Meghna Guhathakurta
10. Dr Shahdeen Malik
11. Raja Devasish Roy
12. Dr Iftekharuzzaman
13. Shireen Huq
14. Professor Ferdaus Azim
15. Professor Imtiaz Ahmed
16. Shaheen Reza Noor
17. Barrister Sara Hossain
18. Asif Munier
19. Dr Bina D Costa
20. Dr Faustina Pereira
21. Farida Akhtar
22. Ruby Ghuznavi
23. Tawheed Reza Noor
24. Shipra Bose
25. Maheen Sultan
26. Dil Monwara Monu
27. Muhammad Kamal Uddin
28. Dr. Rownak Jahan
29. Shamsul Huda
30. Asif Saleh
31. Advocate Sigma Huda
32. Rahnuma Ahmed

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