GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The U.N. refugee agency is urging Bangladesh to give refuge to Rohingya Muslims, amid reports that people fleeing violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state are being turned away.
The UNHCR reports some 5,200 people have entered Bangladesh from Myanmar since late Thursday, following an attack by Rohingya fighters against 30 police stations. The agency says thousands of people who fled, fearing reprisals by the Myanmar military, reportedly are stuck along the Myanmar side of the border.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told VOA his agency cannot confirm the reports. He said the refugees are in many places along the border and staff is unable to be present at every location.
“Clearly there are people fleeing safety and needing refuge and need access. Of course, we are in touch with the Bangladeshi authorities. These appear to be isolated instances from what we can see at the moment. So, I do not think that there is a systematic thing going on here. Do we have access to the populations to help them inside, on the other side of the border? No, we do not at the moment,” he said.
Edwards said the UNHCR cannot verify reports that hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been killed and injured in Rakhine state.
"We have seen differing reports on the number of fatalities, including statements that have been made by the Myanmar authorities. We are not in a position to verify those. We are appealing for borders to remain open. We do think it is very important that people be allowed to seek safe refuge," he said.
This is the worst outbreak of violence in Rakhine state since October, when Rohingya fighters killed nine police officers, triggering a mass exodus. A recent report by the International Organization for Migration says around 87,000 people have fled to Bangladesh over the past six months. Members of the Rohingya community are ineligible for citizenship in Myanmar because of a controversial 1982 law.
Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has faced criticism for its treatment of the Rohingya minority.