Bangladesh’s prime minister on Wednesday asked Myanmar to take back tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled a military crackdown in the Buddhist majority nation’s Rakhine state, an official said.
According to the UN, at least 65,000 people belonging to the Muslim minority have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar—a third of them over the past week—since a military operation was launched in October following attacks on police posts.
The figure marks a sharp escalation in the numbers of Rohingya fleeing a military campaign which rights groups say has been marred by abuses so severe they could amount to crimes against humanity.
The sudden influx has put enormous strain on impoverished Bangladesh, with Dhaka under pressure to open its border to the refugees. But it has instead reinforced its border posts and deployed coastguard ships to prevent fresh arrivals.
Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina called for a resolution to the crisis during a meeting with Myanmar’s deputy minister for foreign affairs Kyaw Tin in Dhaka.
“She said Myanmar should take back the Rohingya who migrated to Bangladesh,” Hasina’s spokesman Ihsanul Karim said.
Last month the Bangladesh foreign ministry summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to express “deep concern at the continued influx” and called for the repatriation of some 300,000 Rohingya who have been living in the Muslim-majority nation for years—most of them illegally.
The most recent arrivals have brought harrowing accounts of rape, murder and arson at the hands of Myanmar’s army or police.
Their stories have raised global alarm and galvanised protests against Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been accused of not doing enough to help the Rohingya.
Myanmar’s government has said the claims of abuse are fabricated and launched a special commission to investigate the allegations.
Last week the commission presented its interim report, denying accusations of “genocide and religious persecution” and saying there was insufficient evidence that troops had been committing rape.
The government refuses to recognise the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic minorities, instead describing them as Bengalis—or illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh—even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.