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Bangladesh: Refugees from Burma

Over 200,000 refugees from Burma have crossed over to Bangladesh during the past two months. Most of them have been housed in about 300 tented camps along the border. The Burmese authorities have been accused of persecution, torture, harassment and excesses against Muslim residents of the Ara- kan state. Refugees allege that they have been fleeing from "atrocities" committed by the Burmese Army and immigrant officials and that the Muslim minority in Arakan is being driven out deliberately. The Bangladesh government has lodged a strong protest against the "repressive measures resulting in the forcible expulsion of their nationals belonging to ethnic and religious minorities", and President Ziaur Rahman too has spoken about the "inhuman eviction of Burmese Muslim nationals".

Over 200,000 refugees from Burma have crossed over to Bangladesh during the past two months. Most of them have been housed in about 300 tented camps along the border. The Burmese authorities have been accused of persecution, torture, harassment and excesses against Muslim residents of the Arakan sitate. Refugees allege that they have been fleeing from "atrocities" committed by the Burmese Army and immigrant officials and that the Muslim minority in Arakan is being driven out deliberately. The Bangladesh government has lodged a strong protest fegainst the "repressive measures resulting in the forcible expulsion of their nationals belonging to ethnic and religious minorities", and President Ziaur Rahman too has spoken about the "inhuman eviction of Burmese Muslim nationals". The Burmese side of the story is however different. Burma says thai the 'refugees' are in fact illegal immigrants or fugitives from law. The socalled refugees, it is contended, are Bangladesh nationals, who had illegally settled along the border inside Burma. According to the official Burma News Agency (NAB) the 'Bengalis' had fled because they lacked proper entry registration papers and also because of instigation by 'unscrupulous persons'. They wanted to escape the scrutinisation drive, code-named "Nagamani", launched in the region commencing on March 17 to classify the status of residents — bonafide citizens and foreigners; and they preferred to flee rather face detection and prosecution.

According to Rangoon, the infiltration of 'Bengalis' (or Chittagonians) into Burma has been almost continuous ever since the initial strife between the West Pakistan authorities and the Awami League. The problem came to a head as a result of a project initiated last year all over Burma to scrutinise the status of residents. The check in Shan and Kachin states in the east revealed few illicit immigrants; but the check in the Arakan state, which adjoins the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, disclosed an alarming amount of illegal influx. Out of a total population of about 31 millions in Burma, about 3 millions are Muslims. The border state of Arakan has, according to one estimate, a population of 1.7 million out of which 600,000 are Muslims; according 10 another estimate, it has a population of 2 million, out which 1.2 millions are Muslims. These Muslims are concentrated in two townships close to the Bangladesh border — 90 per cent in Maungdaw and 80 per cent in Buthidaung where the local population has been reduced to hopeless minority. According to recent (May 31, 1977) statistics, there were 212,104 Muslims and 22,963 professing other religious faiths in Maungdaw and 140,641 Muslims and 24,562 others in Buthidaung. The towns of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Kyauktaw are stated to be focal points in the infiltration of illegal immigrants from across the Bangladesh border. 

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