DHAKA – Bangladesh refused on Thursday to open its border to Rohingya Muslims fleeing communal violence in neighbouring Myanmar despite pressure from the United States and rights groups.
The impoverished South Asian country, already home to a Rohingya refugee population estimated at 300,000, turned away more migrants on Thursday and has sealed its 200-kilometre (125-mile) border with Myanmar.
At least 17 boats carrying nearly 700 Rohingya have been turned back on the Naf river that separates the countries since Monday in the wake of violence between Buddhists and Rohingya that killed dozens in western Rakhine state.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told parliament that Dhaka was not “obligated” to host refugees from Myanmar, saying Bangladesh had not signed any international conventions, laws or norms on refugees.
“Some international organisations, some international NGOs and some friendly nations have requested us so that we open our border to allow their (Rohingya refugees) unrestricted entry into our country,” she said.
“I want to tell them it will not be proper to make this type of request to us.”
The United States on Wednesday urged Bangladesh to allow in the Rohingya, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
“We are concerned that Bangladeshi authorities appear to have intercepted and turned back persons fleeing the ethnic and religious violence in Burma,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, using Myanmar’s former name.
Nuland said the US had urged Bangladesh “to respect its international obligations under the relevant refugee conventions and to continue its longstanding policy of non-refoulement of refugees.”
Non-refoulement refers to a principle of international law that forbids turning over a victim of persecution to his or her persecutor.
The UN Refugee Agency and New York-based Human Rights Watch have also called on Dhaka to open its border.
Moni said Myanmar had accused Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party, the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami, of stoking the violence in Rakhine state.