COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh/YANGON (Reuters) – Bangladesh has stepped up patrols on its border with Myanmar, following reports that about 1,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed into the country in the past two weeks, amid fresh tension in its neighbor’s northwestern Rakhine state.
Security forces in Buddhist-majority Myanmar launched a massive crackdown in the state after Rohingya insurgents killed nine police in October, but the flow of refugees into Bangladesh had slowed until hundreds more soldiers were deployed recently.
“Security forces are patrolling the villages daily,” said Rahim, a teacher from Dar Gyi Zar village in Myanmar who fled to Bangladesh last year, but remains in touch with family members.
“My mother is 73 and is panicking there, but she won’t be able to flee,” said Rahim, who uses one name, like many Rohingya.
“No one will be allowed to illegally cross into our country,” Manuzurul Hasan Khan, a senior Bangladesh border guard official, told Reuters, adding that the two countries were jointly patrolling frontier areas.
There had been no major influx recently, he said, adding that the border was peaceful, with more joint patrols scheduled for this week.
However, Rahim and a Rohingya leader in Bangladesh put the total of new refugees at more than 1,000.
There had been a constant “slow movement of people across the border,” a senior U.N. official in Bangladesh said.
About 1,000 households had crossed each month in April, May and June, estimated the official, who declined to be identified in the absence of authorization to talk to the media.
The figure rose to 1,300 households in July, the official said, adding that the border area was “definitely seeing more new arrivals” in August.
About 500 of the newly arrived Rohingya live near an unofficial refugee camp in Leda, near the Naf river separating Bangladesh from Myanmar, said Zayed, a Rohingya leader.
The rest have moved elsewhere in the border district of Cox’s Bazar.
Before the latest inflow, about 75,000 Rohinhya had fled to Bangladesh since October, joining tens of thousands already there and straining resources.
Some families were packing up to leave, fearing another violent crackdown, a Rohingya resident of Maungdaw in Myanmar told Reuters.
“People here are feeling depressed and getting so scared, hearing that more troops are coming to do area clearance again,” the resident said on Saturday, seeking anonymity for fear of repercussions.
“We have no one to protect us here.”
The resident and a human rights monitor with sources in northern Rakhine said security forces had run intensive searches and arrested some Rohingya men.
Kyaw Swar Tun, an administrator in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe, said security had been stepped up in the state’s north, but denied that Muslims were fleeing across the border.
“I don’t hear anything of Bengali people leaving or entering the country during these days,” he said, using a derogatory term for the Rohingya to imply they are interlopers from Bangladesh.
The treatment of the roughly one million Rohingya in Myanmar has emerged as the country’s most contentious human rights issue as it transitions from decades of harsh military rule.
Myanmar denies citizenship to the Rohingya and classifies them as illegal immigrants, though they claim roots there dating back centuries.
Myanmar security forces continue to harass Rohingya in Rakhine, said Noor Bashar, 26, who fled to Cox’s Bazar last week.
“Many more are still waiting to enter Bangladesh but it’s difficult, due to the increased patrolling,” she told Reuters.
Reporting by Krishna N. Das in NEW DELHI, Nurul Islam in COX’s Bazar; Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Shoon Naing, Wa Lone and Simon Lewis in YANGON; Editing by Clarence Fernandez