Medical Aid Group: Burma Ethnic Minorities in Bangladesh Face Abuse, Humanitarian Crisis

Medical Aid Group: Burma Ethnic Minorities in Bangladesh Face Abuse, Humanitarian Crisis

Thousands of Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, members of a stateless, Muslim ethnic group that fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution in Burma, leave Bangladesh aboard rickety boats each year in hopes of finding work elsewhere.

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says a violent crackdown in Bangladesh against migrants from Burma is fueling a humanitarian crisis. The group says thousands of ethnic minority Rohingya have fled to a makeshift refugee camp on the border with Burma where they live in squalid conditions.

Doctors Without Borders says stateless Rohingya in Bangladesh face unprecedented levels of violence and attempts to force them back to Burma, also known as Myanmar.

The aid group said Thursday that since October 6,000 Rohingya have fled to a makeshift refugee camp in Kutupalong, near the border with Burma, to avoid harassment and beatings.

Doctors Without Borders has a clinic at the camp and say its staff has treated Rohingya who were beaten by Bangladeshi people, including polices.

“Our patients tell us that in some cases they’ve been handed over to the Bangladeshi Rifles – the border force of Bangladesh – beaten, and forced to swim the river back toward Myanmar,” said Paul Critchley who heads the group’s Bangladesh mission.

The Arakan Project, a Rohingya rights group, says in the last month hundreds of unregistered Rohingyas in Bangladesh have been arrested or forced back to Burma.

Critchley told journalists in Bangkok that Rohingya fleeing the violence are forced to live in the Kutupalong camp’s unsanitary and crowded conditions.

He says they live under plastic sheeting held up by sticks. They are not allowed to work and are in desperate need of aid.

“This crackdown must stop,” Critchley said. “This population desperately needs the protection that the Bangladeshi government needs to give it. As it is responsible for the protection and security of everybody within its borders. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has to do more to protect this population.”

Critchley says there are about 29,000 Rohingya now at the camp, but the numbers are fast increasing and the situation could get worse.

Doctors Without Borders says in January alone 2,000 Rohingya arrived at the camp seeking help.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group from Burma who are not recognized by Burma’s military government. For decades they have fled abuse and poverty in Burma.

There are an estimated 200,000 Rohingya living in Bangladesh.

Doctors Without Borders says 28,000 are recognized as refugees and live in camps supported by the UNHCR. The rest, the group says, struggle to survive unrecognized and with little assistance.

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