Rohingya exodus has ground to a halt: Bangladesh officials
The flood of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has come to a virtual halt, Dhaka officials said on Saturday, almost a month after violence erupted in Myanmar's Rakhine State and sent nearly 430,000 people fleeing across the border.
Officials gave no reason for the dramatically reduced numbers. But Rohingya Muslim leaders said it could be because villages located near the border in Myanmar's Rakhine state were now empty.
Bangladesh Border Guard commanders said hardly any refugees are now seen crossing on boats coming from Myanmar or trying to get over the land border.
"Our guards have not seen any Rohingya coming in the past few days. The wave is over," Bangladesh Border Guard commander SM Ariful Islam told AFP.
In the past two weeks there have been up to 20,000 people a day entering Bangladesh.
The UN says 429,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh since attacks by Rohingya militants in Rakhine on August 25 sparked a major Myanmar military crackdown.
Many gave up money and jewellery to get places on boats crossing the Naf river, which marks part of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
Now the UN has also said "the influx has dropped". It said it will now release updates on the numbers of refugees entering Bangladesh once a week, rather than daily.
Rohingya community leaders said most of the Rakhine villages near the Bangladesh border are now deserted.
"Almost all the people I know have arrived in Bangladesh," Yusuf Majihi, a Rohingya leader at a camp at Balukhali, near Cox's Bazar, told AFP.
"Village after village has become empty due to the attacks by Myanmar soldiers and torching of the houses by Moghs (Buddhists)," he added.
"Those who are left in Rakhine live far off the border," he said.
Farid Alam, another Rohingya leader, said: "I have not heard of any Rohingya crossing the border in the past five days. All I could see is people concentrating near the main camps."
Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said this week that troops had ceased "clearance operations" targeting Rohingya militants in Myanmar's border area.
The United Nations previously said the military crackdown could amount to "ethnic cleansing".
Amnesty International said new videos and satellite imagery indicated fires were still raging through Rohingya villages, scores of which have already been burned to the ground.
According to government figures, nearly 40 percent of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine have been abandoned over the past month.
Human Rights Watch on Saturday also echoed allegations from Bangladeshi officials that Myanmar security forces were laying landmines along the border.
A number of Rohingya, including children, have been killed by mines at the border.
Bangladesh authorities are meanwhile stepping up efforts to bring order to the chaotic aid distribution for refugees, where camps were on the brink of a "health disaster", Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Friday.
Even before the latest exodus, the camps were home to some 300,000 Rohingya who had fled previous violence in Rakhine.