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Rohingya face 'crackdown' in Bangladesh

February 18, 2010

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), which is working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, says authorities there have been mounting a crackdown against the refugees over recent months.

A Rohingya mother and her child in a makeshift camp in Teknaf, BangladeshImage: DW

The report released Thursday by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) says the violent crackdown against stateless Rohingya from Myanmar's Rakhine or Arakan state has forced thousands of people to flee, and there are growing concerns over conditions at temporary camps.

The report says many who have been forced to flee their homes in Bangladesh have sought refuge at a makeshift camp at Kutupalong, south of the city of Cox's Bazar and less than 10 kilometers from the border of Myanmar.

Paul Critchley, MSF head of mission in Bangladesh, says over 6,000 people have arrived since October when the crackdown got underway, with many reporting injuries inflicted by local police and authorities.

"We have treated patients for trauma injuries," says Critchley. "They tell us they have been beaten by the police, by the host community and in some cases neighbors who they have lived next to for years."

Critchley says others have been handed over to the Bangladesh Rifles, the border force of Bangladesh, beaten and forced back over the river into Myanmar.

Rohingya in Bangladesch
Thousands of Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar in recent yearsImage: AP

Living conditions in camps

Thousands of the largely Muslim Rohingya fled to Bangladesh over decades to escape persecution in Myanmar. Currently 28,000 are recognized by the Bangladesh government as refugees. They live in camps supervised by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

But a further 200,000 people are living outside the camps, "unrecognized and unassisted", as the report says.

Critchley says the living conditions at the Kutupalong camp are deteriorating, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.

"In January alone, 2,000 people moved to the Kutupalong makeshift camp living in unsanitary conditions, under plastic sheeting held up by sticks. This has serious health consequences for the population," he says. "We are extremely worried about their increasing vulnerability. This crackdown must stop."

Fear of influx of refugees

While MSF would not comment on the reasons for the crackdown, Chris Lewa, a spokesperson for the human rights group "Arakan Project", says the Bangladesh government appears to fear more Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar in the months ahead. Earlier this month Lewa submitted a report to the European Parliament.

Unruhen in Birma halten an
The military regime in Myanmar doesn’t recognize the Rohingya as citizens of the countryImage: AP

Lewa says the fears are the military in Myanmar will step up pressure on the Rohingya in Rakhine state ahead of the general elections due this year. This would lead to a flight of people into Bangladesh.

"The Bangladesh Government is definitely concerned about the possible instability in Northern Rakhine state," says Lewa. "Some people predicted a backlash from the election and that could create some influx of refugees. The Bangladesh government tries to prevent more refugees, to tell them that Bangladesh is not a place where you just come and take shelter."

MSF is calling on the international community to help the Bangladesh government and UNHCR guarantee the well-being of the unregistered Rohingya in Bangladesh.

Author: Ron Corben (Bangkok)
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein