03/09/2010, 00.00
MYANMAR – BANGLADESH

Thousands of Rohingya refugees facing starvation in Bangladesh

US charity sounds the alarm, claiming Bangladesh is blocking aid and medical treatment for refugees, who are locked up in open-air prisons. Rohingya are a Muslim minority from Myanmar and are persecuted by that country’s military dictatorship. Bangladeshi authorities dismiss accusations, saying, “We are the victims.”
Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A US medical charity has warned that thousands of Burmese refugees in Bangladesh are facing starvation. Physicians for Human Rights said that government authorities in Bangladesh are preventing the Rohingya from receiving adequate care. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority who fled Myanmar to escape persecution. The government has dismissed these allegations as it did for similar reports by Doctors without Borders (MSF) last month.

The Rohingya are one of the many ethnic minorities that make up the Union of Myanmar. They live in Rakhine State, in the country’s north-west, and are among the poorest and most persecuted ethnic groups in the world. Myanmar’s military regime has denied them citizenship and refused to let them own land. It does not even allow them to travel or marry without first getting permission from the authorities.

Tens of thousands have fled, especially to predominantly Muslim Bangladesh and Malaysia. Bangladeshi authorities have granted refugee status to 28,000 Rohingya, who live in United Nations refugee camps in Kutupalong.  However, government sources put the actual number at 200,000 or even 300,000.

The government in Dhaka is now cracking down to stop further mass exodus as neighbouring Myanmar prepares for elections later this year.

The report by the Physicians for Human Rights says that children will starve if aid is not delivered. It blamed local authorities for "arbitrary arrests, illegal expulsion and forced internment" of refugees.

“The government of Bangladesh is absolutely ignoring it [the refugee problem]. They are sweeping it under the rug," said Richard Sollom, director of research and investigation for the group.

Dhaka has rejected the charges. Abdul Momen, Bangladesh's representative in the United Nations said they were "totally false". Instead, he said, "Government officials just have to make sure that any aid isn't coming from terrorist groups".

"We are the victims,” he explained “an impoverished country, and in spite of that, we tried to help them as best we can.”

Last year, press reports focused on the persecution of the Rohingya by Thailand’s military. Despite Bangkok’s denials, many refugees who entered Thai territorial waters were stopped by the Thai Navy and sent back into the open sea without food and water.

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