Panic is gripping thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees living in no-man’s land on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, with daily clashes between Myanmar security forces and ethnic Rakhine insurgents.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar after being subject to a brutal military “crackdown” in 2017 – most to sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh – but many have been living in limbo on the border, unwilling to enter the camps or return home.
Refugees pouring into Bangladesh have detailed mass killings, arson and rape at the hands of Myanmar troops and Buddhist mobs. Myanmar has officially denied any wrongdoing.
The United Nations has called for a genocide investigation into the crackdown.
They are now caught on the sidelines of fighting between Myanmar troops and the Arakan Army, a militant group seeking more autonomy for western Rakhine state’s Buddhist-majority population.
“Heavy fighting is going on between the government troops and Arakan Army inside Myanmar,” Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad told AFP.
“The situation is very tense,” he said, adding the security build-up and daily gunfire had created “panic.”
Myanmar troops last week set up security camps and bunkers along the border after fighting saw 13 police killed.
Some of the fortifications are directly adjacent to a border fence running alongside a stream, and overlook shacks erected by an estimated 4,500 displaced Muslims living in the narrow strip of land.
Refugee community leader Nur Alam said gunfire could frequently be heard after dark on the other side of the border.
“Every night it is close by. The Myanmar border guard have set up 10 new posts near our camp. It’s very intimidating,” he told AFP.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the United Nations said it was “deeply concerned” about the situation in the area.
A Bangladesh official said they were aware of the border tensions.
“We will talk to the relevant authorities to discuss what to do,” local administrator Kamal Hossain said.
Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar have suffered decades of persecution. Impoverished western Rakhine state in particular is scarred by deep ethnic and religious hatred.
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Some 500,000 Rohingya refugee children are living in crowded, rudimentary camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh near the border with Myanmar. While large-scale international aid efforts have ensured the camps have basic services, educational opportunities remain scant.
“If we don’t make the investment in education now, we face the very real danger of seeing a ‘lost generation’ of Rohingya children,” UNICEF’s Bangladesh Representative Edouard Beigbeder said in a report.