New influx of refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State to Bangladesh caused authorities to close the border. The refugees fled after rebels and army clashed.
Scores of ethnic minority villagers have crossed from western Myanmar into Bangladesh in recent days amid fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic Rakhine rebels, Bangladesh border guards and an activist said Thursday.
Members of 38 families said they fled their homes fearing attack from military helicopters, said Colonel Zahirul Haque Khan, the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) commander in Bandarban district where the group of 136 people is now living in shelters.
“They are staying at Sitt Stream located in the upper area of Yone Village. They said they fled from Paletwa. It is a half-day trip away from our town. They will face difficulty with food and they didn’t bring extra clothes. Some children are ill. There is no medical staff to cure them. It is far from the town,” said Aye Tun, Vice Chair of Duwun Rakhine civic society association based in Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen said that the authorities had almost sealed the border with Myanmar to prevent new arrivals.
Clashes between Myanmar’s military and the insurgent Arakan Army, which mainly recruits from the Rakhine ethnic group, have displaced more than 5,000 people in parts of Rakhine and Chin states since early December.
Myanmar’s leaders have vowed to crush the rebels, who are fighting for autonomy for Rakhine State, and blocked most aid agencies from reaching the area, raising fears of more civilian suffering in an area long scarred by complex ethnic divisions.
Win Thein, a member of the non-governmental Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, said he had visited the refugees, who are members of the Khumi, Cho and Rakhine ethnic groups, in their remote jungle camp.
They had crossed into Bangladesh Sunday and Monday after fleeing from two villages in Chin state’s Paletwa township after they heard gunfire and saw helicopters nearby, he said. Some villagers said they later witnessed Myanmar soldiers looting and setting fire to homes, he said.
The majority Buddhist Rakhine state started a genocide against the Rohingya community and a military crackdown forced 730,000 people from their homes and into camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, according to U.N. agencies.