Bangladesh police have detained hundreds of refugees from the highly-persecuted Rohingya minority, which has been subjected to systematic massacre and rape in neighboring Myanmar.
Media reports on Thursday said around 500 Rohingya were arrested as they celebrated the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr on a popular beach in southeast Bangladesh.
Police spokesman Rafiqul Islam confirmed that "more than 450 Rohingya" were arrested in raids in the town of Cox's Bazar late Wednesday.
Islam said the raids were part of "security measures" in the country's largest resort district which attracts a large number of tourists during holiday seasons.
"Rohingya are involved in various crimes. It is unsafe for our tourists. We have strengthened the security of the city. As tourists visit Cox's Bazar on Eid al-Fitr, we have stepped up patrols to keep them safe," he said.
The detained Rohingya included refugees as young as 13 years old, Islam added.
Bangladesh's deputy refugee commissioner, Shamsud Douza, said those detained were set to be sent back to camps.
Mohammad Ibrahim, one of several Rohingya detainees, told media outlets at a police station that they went to the beach for Eid festivities.
"We are here for fun... But as soon as we arrived, police caught us. We did not do anything wrong, we just sat on the beach," he said.
A woman named Samjida said, "Both my husband and I were picked up by police. My children are hungry. They haven't eaten all day."
Bangladeshi authorities have become increasingly impatient about hosting the refugees while criticizing the rest of the international community for not providing more assistance.
In recent months authorities have bulldozed about 3,000 shops and dozens of private community-run schools in the camps.
At least 920,000 Rohingya refugees remain stuck in squalid, crowded conditions in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. This includes about 750,000 Rohingya who were forced to leave their homeland amid the military-led crackdown against their community in 2017.
Thousands were killed, raped, tortured, or arrested in the crackdown, perpetrated with “genocidal intent,” according to the UN, which has described the community as the most persecuted minority in the world.
Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, saying they are nationals of Bangladesh, which in turn, says they are natives of Myanmar.
The Myanmar government of former de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which was ousted by the military in a coup on February 1, supported the military crackdown against the Rohingya Muslims. She even traveled to The Hague in December 2019 to defend the military's atrocities at the UN’s top court.
Now, Myanmar’s so-called National Unity Government (NUG), which includes many politicians from her party, is calling on the Rohingya to join hands to fight the junta in return for citizenship.
Thousands of more Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who have taken refuge in Bangladesh are now planned to be relocated from crowded camps to a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal despite concerns about the risk of storms and floods lashing the site.
The government has dismissed safety concerns, citing the building of flood defenses as well as housing for 100,000 people, hospitals and cyclone centers.