Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingyas starve in Bangladesh

March 30th, 2010 - 10:26 am ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, March 30 (IANS) Thousands of Rohingyas, Muslim tribals from Myanmar who have taken refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh following years of persecution, are allegedly facing “arbitrary arrest, illegal expulsion, and forced internment”, a charge hotly denied by Dhaka.
An international rights group has accused Bangladesh of “violating human rights” in its crackdown on the unregistered refugees.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has said that thousands of unregistered Rohingya refugees have been forced into makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar close to the Myanmar border and are facing starvation. The organisation described the camps as “open air prisons”.

Al Jazeera cited the PHR report as saying that the Bangladesh authorities were waging a campaign of “arbitrary arrest, illegal expulsion, and forced internment”.

Police are “systematically rounding up, jailing or summarily expelling these unregistered refugees across the Myanmar border in flagrant violation of the country’s human rights obligations”, the report said.

“The refugees are starving because the Bangladesh government has blocked aid groups from providing food to the camps,” VOA reported.

“Over the last few months, we have treated victims of violence, people who claim to have been beaten by police, claim to have been beaten by members of the host population, by people they’ve been living next to for many years,” Paul Critchley, head of mission in Bangladesh for the aid group Medecins Sans Frontières was quoted as saying by the International Herald Tribune.

“They cannot receive general food distribution. It is illegal for them to work. All they can legally do in Bangladesh is starve to death,” Critchley said.

But Dhaka has described as “baseless and malicious” the reports of rights abuse of the “undocumented Myanmar nationals living in Bangladesh”.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni has asked the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resume the repatriation process of “all Myanmar refugees in the soonest possible time,” rejecting all options for their rehabilitation in Bangladesh.

The minister made the call after the newly appointed UNHCR representative in Bangladesh, Steven Craig Sanders, presented his credentials to her earlier this month, bdnews24 reported. She also asked the UN agency to discourage further entry of refugees into Bangladesh.

Earlier this month, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency arrested 93 Rohingya men, aged between 16 and 50 years, fleeing Myanmar on a boat off the island of Langkawi, CNN reported.

The Thai Navy had earlier intercepted the boat in international waters but gave the refugees food and water supplies and then “let them go on their way,” because they said they were heading to another country, it stated.

“The vast majority of Rohingyas are effectively denied Myanmar citizenship; subjected to severe restrictions on freedom of movement; forced labour; forced evictions; and extortion and arbitrary taxation,” an Amnesty International report said in February.

An estimated 300,000 Rohingyas sought refuge in Bangladesh after the junta cracked down on them in late 1978. Another 250,000 fled to the country following a crackdown in the early 1990s.

Though Bangladesh and Myanmar, with the help of the UNHCR, repatriated most of them in successive years, 14,000 of them refused to return home fearing persecution or starvation there. Bangladesh now recognises only about 25,000 Rohingyas as refugees who live in two official camps — Kutupalong and Naya Para — in Cox’s Bazar close to the Myanmar border. It calls the others economic migrants who must be repatriated, bdnews24.com reported.

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