Rohingya Forced to Work on Border Fence

A Rohingya boy sleeps in front of his makeshift home in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar. (Photo: Reuters)Burmese junta troops force 200 Rohingya to build a wire fence on the Bangladesh-Burmese border in Burma’s northern Arakan State each day.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Tun Tun, a resident on the Bangladeshi side of the Bangladesh-Burmese border said troops from the Burmese junta’s Light Infantry Battalions No. 233, 234, and 236 ordered headmen to martial 200 people daily to build a wire fence along the border.

“The headmen are told to, ‘Volunteer labor to develop your country’,” Tun Tun said.

The junta troops use forced labor rotated from four villages near the border in Maungdaw Township, he said.

Chris Lewa, coordinator of the Arakan Project, said that the junta’s troops have used forced labor since they started building the fence in March. She said they sometimes pay 500 kyat (US 50 cents) a day to each worker.

“Villagers can buy exemption from forced labor duties,” Lewa said, “but most Rohingyas have very little money and cannot avoid it.”

Two refugees who fled to Bangladesh recently told Tun Tun they were forced to work three days a week.

“They told me every man in the village had to work on the fence if he wanted to continue living in the village,” Tun Tun said.

The Burmese resumed building the wire fence in Maungdaw Township on the border with Bangladesh in October.

Burmese authorities started the 200-kilometer wire fence earlier this year, saying it was to stop human trafficking along the border with Bangladesh.

Bangladesh and Burma share a 320-kilometer border, partly demarcated by the Naf River, a regular route for smuggling and illegal crossings by Muslim refugees.

Many Rohingya refugees from Burma cross the border to look for work in Bangladesh, but many end up in UN refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar District in Bangladesh.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimate that 400,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees live in two camps near Cox’s Bazaar.

The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority who face severe discrimination in Burma. Many have fled the country to escape human rights abuses, including forced labor for Burmese junta forces.

Bangladesh authorities have cracked down on Rohingyas living illegally in Bangladesh recently. More than 1,000 people have been arrested and pushed back across the border into Burma in recent months, Lewa said.

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