Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has described as "atrocities" the treatment of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. Her remarks come as the UN estimates some 370,000 Rohingya have now fled violence in Rakhine state.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar has said the latest violence may have left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Rohingya.
The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar has said the latest violence may have left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Rohingya. (AFP)

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has lambasted Myanmar for the "atrocities" that have driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims across the border into Bangladesh in recent weeks.

The government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar says its security forces are fighting Rohingya militants behind a surge of violence in Rakhine state that began on August 25, and that they are doing all they can to avoid harming civilians.

The Myanmar government says about 400 people have been killed in the fighting, the latest in the western state. Others estimate it to be in the region of 1,000.

The Bangladeshi leader urged Myanmar to take the Rohingya refugees back, while the country's parliament passed a motion on Monday night, urging the UN and other countries to pressure Myanmar to ensure for their safety and recognise their citizenship.

"Myanmar must take back every Rohingya who entered Bangladesh and who are coming in now," she told lawmakers late on Monday. "We can cooperate to rehabilitate them in their country."

The prime minister criticised Myanmar's authorities for the recent violence against the Rohingya, which she said had reached a level beyond description.

"We don't understand why successive Myanmar regimes carried out such atrocities on a particular community when the country is comprised of different groups," she said, noting that Bangladesh had long been protesting the persecution of Rohingya.

Regardless, "they are sending Rohingya to Bangladesh afresh," Hasina said. "Women are being raped and tortured, children are being killed, and houses are being set on fire in Rakhine area."

More Rohingya on the move

Some 370,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar and entered Bangladesh since an upsurge in violence late last month, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

"An estimated 370,000 Rohingya have entered Bangladesh after fleeing violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state since August 25," said Joseph Tripura, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency. 

The true figure could be even higher as many new arrivals are still on the move and staying by the roadside, making it difficult to include them in the counting, the UN said.

It attributed the overnight jump from Monday's figure of 313,000 to the large numbers now moving off the roadside and into informal camps, where they can be counted more easily. 

New home on a flooded island

Thousands of the refugees who fled Myanmar could be forced to make new homes on a barren Bangladeshi island that floods every year.

The Bangladesh government has appealed for international support to move the Rohingya to the island as the impoverished country confronts a growing crisis over where to house an influx that has mounted following the crackdown.

The surge has overwhelmed the Bangladesh authorities, who are scrambling to find land to build more camps, including on the inhospitable and uninhabited Thengar Char island – recently renamed Bhashan Char – despite reluctance on the part of Rohingya leaders and UN officials.

Bhashan Char, located in the estuary of the Meghna river, is a one-hour boat ride from Sandwip, the nearest inhabited island, and two hours from Hatiya, one of Bangladesh's largest islands.

The authorities first proposed settling Rohingya refugees there in 2015, as the camps in Cox's Bazar became overstretched with new arrivals.

But the plan was apparently shelved last year amid reports that the silt island, which only emerged from the sea in 2006, was unhabitable due to regular tidal flooding.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies