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Bangladesh calls for efforts to curb Rohingya influx

Rohingya refugees gather to collect aid supplies including food and medicine, sent from Malaysia at Kutupalang unregistered refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on 15 February 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

Bangladesh’s foreign minister called on the international community on Monday to address Burma’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority, tens of thousands of whom have fled in recent months to Bangladesh from its mainly Buddhist neighbour.

Speaking at a meeting with Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, who is in Dhaka in a three-day visit, A.H. Mahmood Ali said a peaceful resolution must be found, a foreign ministry statement said.

Ali also described efforts by Dhaka to engage with Burma bilaterally by establishing border liaison offices and talks on security cooperation, the statement said.

Lee is visiting the Cox’s Bazar area on the border with Burma, where the foreign minister said the influx of Rohingya was having an adverse impact on the local population and undermining security.

Nearly 70,000 Rohingya have fled from Burma’s Arakan State to Bangladesh to escape a crackdown launched after nine policemen were killed in attacks on border posts on 9 October that Burma blamed on Rohingya militants.

They have joined more than 200,000 Rohingya already in Bangladesh, many living in official and makeshift camps, straining resources in one of Asia’s poorest regions.

Rohingya have faced discrimination in Burma for generations. They are not classified as a distinct group under Burma’s citizenship laws and are regarded instead as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, entitled only to limited rights.

The authorities in Dhaka meanwhile say they are Burmese nationals and must ultimately go back.

The UN human rights office said in a report this month that Burma’s security forces had committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims and burned their villages.

UN officials working with refugees in Bangladesh have told Reuters the death toll from the security sweep could be more than 1,000.

Burma has denied almost all allegations of human rights abuses, and says a lawful counter-insurgency campaign has been underway since the October attacks on the security posts.

The violence has dismayed and outraged some of Burma’s neighbours, with mostly Muslim Malaysia being particularly vociferous in its criticism.

About 1.1 million Rohingya live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Burma.

Bangladesh is seeking funds for a plan to relocate new and old refugees from Burma to an isolated and undeveloped island in the Bay of Bengal called Thengar Char.

The plan was much criticised by humanitarian workers when it was first proposed in 2015, not least because Thengar Char often floods in the monsoon.

Following her visit to Bangladesh, special rapporteur Lee will share her findings in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, which will be available online on March 13, the foreign ministry statement said.