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Bangladesh under fire from MSF for refugee crackdown

Last Updated: Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 13:45

Dhaka: Bangladesh has unleashed a crackdown of unprecedented violence against Muslim refugees from neighbouring Myanmar, a report by humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Thursday.

Described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities on earth, thousands of Rohingyas from Myanmar`s northern Rakhaine state stream across the border into Bangladesh every year.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said authorities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh had begun a campaign of repression against unregistered Rohingyas who are estimated to number 200,000.

Those living outside of an official Rohingya camp in Kutuplaong on the Myanmar border have been subject to "unprecedented levels of violence," the group said in a report.

"We are seeing what appears to be a violent crackdown which is driving the Rohingya out of the community," MSF head of mission in Bangladesh Paul Critchley said.

"We have treated many patients who have been victims of violent attacks, who tell us they have been beaten by police... arrested, handed over to the Bangladesh border security and forced to swim back to Myanmar," he said.

The new crackdown has also forced unregistered Rohingyas in local towns to flee to a unofficial, makeshift camp in Kutuplaong, where conditions are rapidly deteriorating, MSF said.

More than 6,000 people have arrived at the makeshift camp since October, 2,000 of those in January alone, the report said.

"People are crowding into a crammed and unsanitary patch of ground with no infrastructure to support them. Prevented from working to support themselves, neither are they permitted food aid," said Critchley.

Bangladesh recognises 28,000 Rohingya as official refugees, who live in official camps under the supervision of the United Nations. This figure is a fraction of the estimated 200,000 unofficial refugees, MSF says.

There are an estimated 700,000 Rohingya in Myanmar, where they are not recognised as citizens and have no right to own land and are forbidden from marrying or travelling without permission.

Police on the border with Myanmar said on Thursday that although a crackdown on unregistered Rohingya was under way, there had been no police brutality against the refugees.

"Any refugees who go to seek medical treatment likely got hurt by each other -- they are always fighting," said Rafiqul Islam, chief of the local police in Kutuplaong on the Myanmar border, when asked about MSF`s findings.

He said the crackdown was necessary to prevent further mass migration.

"If we don`t stop them, the floodgates will open," he said.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 13:45

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