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3,500 Rohingya Muslims flee Myanmar for Bangladesh

The photo taken on May 31, 2017 shows Rohingya Muslim refugees sitting near a house destroyed by Cyclone Mora in a camp in the Cox's Bazar district, Bangladesh. (Photo by AFP)

Leaders of the Rohingya Muslim community in Bangladesh say at least 3,500 members have arrived in the country since Myanmar’s authorities announced a military buildup in the western state of Rakhine about ten days ago.

The Rohingya refugees began to arrive in overcrowded camps in Cox's Bazaar area near the Naf river, which divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, fearing violence in Myanmar after authorities deployed 500 soldiers to the Muslim-majority northern part of Rakhine on August 10, the community leaders said on Wednesday.

Abdul Khaleq, one of the Rohingya leaders, said “some 3,000 Rohingya arrived from their villages in Rakhine” in the Balukhali camp “alone.”

The camp is nearest the river, where most of the refugees stay when they first arrive in Bangladesh.

Kamal Hossain, a Rohingya elder in another camp, said about 700 families had crossed into Bangladesh in the past 11 days. He said many of the refugees were sleeping in the open because there was no more space in the camps.

Myanmar claimed that the buildup aims to boost security but the United Nations warned that the development was "a cause for major concern."

The stepped-up measure raised fears of a fresh wave of violence against the Rohingya after last year’s crackdown that was launched in the wake of a deadly attack on the country’s border guards on October 9, 2016, which left nine policemen dead. The government blamed the Rohingya for the assault.

Nearly 75,000 people have fled from the Muslim-majority northern Rakhine to Bangladesh since Myanmar’s military launched the crackdown, according to a UN report.

There have been numerous accounts by eyewitnesses of summary executions, rapes and arson attacks against Muslims since the crackdown began. The military has blocked access to Rakhine and banned journalists and aid workers from entering the zone.

Nearly 400,000 refugees are living in squalid camps and makeshift settlements in Cox's Bazar, a district in southeastern Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has always regretted the increase in arrivals, saying the country is no longer capable of hosting the refugees.

Mohammad Omar, 28, who had just arrived along with 40 relatives, said he had been attacked by local Buddhists who looted Rohingya homes in Rakhine.

In this handout photograph released by the Bangladesh Coast Guard on August 19, 2017 Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar are sitting in a boat after the coast guard stopped them on the Naf river. (Photo by AFP)

The fresh influx of refugees comes despite stepped-up patrols on Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar. The country sent back a boat carrying 31 Rohingya refugees, including women and children, last week.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Wednesday expressed deep concern over reports of Bangladeshi coast guards pushing back the boat.

"UNHCR is deeply concerned by this incident, which as the coast guard reported, involved women and children who said they were fleeing violence," a UNHCR spokesman said.

"In the current security context, the majority, if not all, of these people crossing from Myanmar into Bangladesh are believed to be fleeing insecurity," he added.

Rohingya Muslims, a community of more than a million people, have been denied citizenship and access to basic rights as the Buddhist-majority country views them as intruders from neighboring Bangladesh. The Rohingya reject claims about their origins and say their ancestors have lived in the area for decades.

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