Bangladesh asked to show traditional hospitality to people from Myanmar

News Stories, 15 June 2012

GENEVA, June 15 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday said it was deeply concerned about the welfare of people fleeing violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state and appealed to Bangladesh to offer safety and shelter.

"UNHCR recognizes that, for years, Bangladesh has been bearing the brunt of the forced displacement caused by earlier crises in Myanmar. The latest events pose new challenges and UNHCR hopes that Bangladesh will respond in line with the country's long history of compassion and solidarity," said a press release issued in Geneva.

People have been fleeing Myanmar to escape violence that erupted last week between different communities in Rakhine state. The press release said UNHCR "has first-hand, credible accounts of boats from Myanmar not being enabled to access Bangladeshi waters. These reports indicate women, children and some wounded are on board."

It added that there were now a number of boats drifting in the mouth of the Naf River, which marks the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. UNHCR said there were "desperate people on board in need of water, food and medical care. It is vital that these people are allowed access to a safe haven and shelter."

Meanwhile, UNHCR is closely following the developments in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where the situation remains fragile. On Wednesday and Thursday, the team of UN representatives in Myanmar, including UNHCR, accompanied Myanmar's Minister of Border Affairs to the areas affected by the recent riots.

"According to initial findings, the security situation in the affected areas is tense. The government efforts to restore the rule of law are continuing," said the UNHCR press release, which added that the UN team visited several locations in areas affected by the violence and saw a number of smouldering villages.

"Considering the level of destruction seen in the area we estimate that the displacement and the needs could be considerable," the release said. Myanmar authorities estimate some 30,000 people have been displaced and are in need of food, shelter and medical attention.

"I am hopeful that calm will be restored in Myanmar so that those who have been affected by the violence can receive the assistance that they need and the vital work of rebuilding relations between the communities can begin," said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller. "UNHCR is eager to restart our activities in the affected area and support all communities . . . and [that] people can return to their homes and start the process of rebuilding their lives."

UNHCR is encouraged by statements by Myanmar senior officials from President Thein Sein down aimed at defusing the situation and appealing for calm, patience and restraint, and their calls for a collective reconciliation effort. The UN refugee agency stands ready to provide assistance and support to the governments and the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar in addressing this evolving humanitarian situation.

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
A boy from Myanmar's northern Rakhine state at a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
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Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

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In 1991, some 250,000 refugees from Myanmar's Northern Rakhine state fled by boat and on foot to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they were sheltered in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazar district. While the majority of these refugees eventually returned home, some 20,500 people – mostly Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group – remain in two of the original camps.

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The UNHCR has expanded its routine protection monitoring in Cox's Bazar to address the problems of sexual and gender-based violence as well as trafficking of women and children. The UN refugee agency continues to work with governments, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to try and find a durable solution for the Rohingya refugees.

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