Rohingya refugees say death awaits them back Myanmar
"There (in Myanmar) the military junta is ... trying to cleanse the Muslim minority by forcing them from their homes," said a refugee.
Many of the thousands of stateless Rohingya living in Bangladesh illegally or in migrant camps say they would rather die than be returned to Myanmar, where they say "only death awaits us".
"Where shall we go?" asked Haji Abdul Motaleb, a leader of the Muslim Rohingya boatpeople huddled in an unofficial camp at Ledha, on the bank of the Naf river along part of the 320 km (200 miles) border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
"There (in Myanmar) the military junta is ... trying to cleanse the Muslim minority by forcing them from their homes and into hard labour without pay. Rapes, killings and other torture have been rampant," Motaleb told Reuters.
He said many who had returned, despite fears of persecution, found no trace of their former homes.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group from predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, most often leave northwest Myanmar's Rakhaine for Bangladesh first to escape persecution and then to find another country in which to build new lives.
Border officials say many of them take life-threatening risks in doing so and often go missing.
Their plight recently caught the world's attention when hundreds were intercepted at sea in rickety boats. Many try to reach countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore seeking jobs after being lured by human traffickers.
More than 550 are feared to have drowned in the past two months after being towed back out to sea by the Thai military.
The Thai army has admitted cutting them loose but said they had food and water and denied claims by survivors that the engines of their boats had been sabotaged.
A group of 78 Rohingya are in Thai police custody, while another boatload of 193 washed up on Indonesia's Aceh coast.
Motaleb said international pressure needed to be put on Myanmar's rulers to stop the persecution of the Rohingya, who are not recognised by the ruling military junta as one of the country's 130-odd minorities.
Bangladesh says there are some 200,000 Rohingyas living illegally there and regards most of them as economic refugees. This is in addition to 21,000 housed in two U.N. refugee camps in the Cox's Bazar coastal area.
European officials in two other camps housing about 11,000 Rohingyas in Ledha say many of those outside the main camps have died in abject poverty near the border town of Teknaf.
Bangladesh has refused to allow the Rohingyas permanent shelter but still appears unable to stop the influx of a people who who share the language and religion of local Bangladeshis.
Motaleb said more than 100 people who left the Ledha camp in December to return to Myanmar by boat have not been heard from.
"Maybe they have been put in jails or have died," he said.
Mohammad Hasan, a 25-year-old Rohingya, said his brother and cousin were among 250 people who left the Bangladesh coast for Malaysia in December.
"We know nothing about them since," Hasan said.
An official from the Bangladesh Rifles border guard said many left rather than starve to death.
"Why should we stop them from seeking a livelihood abroad," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Reuters Last Mod: 31 Ocak 2009, 11:56