Central & South Asia
Refugees 'starve' in Bangladesh
Rights group accuses authorities of forcing many Burmese refugees into "open-air prisons".
Last Modified: 10 Mar 2010 16:13 GMT
PHR report says thousands of Rohingya refugees are facing starvation in Bangladesh [Reuters] 

An international rights group has accused Bangladesh of "violating human rights" in its crackdown on thousands of unregistered Burmese refugees, many of whom have lived in the country for decades.

In a report released on Tuesday, The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), said that tens of thousands of Rohingya, a Burmese Muslim ethnic group, had been forced into makeshift camps, facing starvation.

"It is unconscionable to leave this vulnerable population stateless and starving," said Richard Sollom, the PHR director of research and investigations.

"Haiti after the recent earthquake had an acute child malnutrition rate of six percent, in the Rohingya camps the rate is 18.2 percent - three times higher but with no aid," Sollom said.

'Violating human rights'

Up to 300,000 Rohingyas, who have been described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, have fled across the border to Bangladesh since the 1970's.

The report said the country's authorities were waging a campaign of "arbitrary arrest, illegal expulsion, and forced internment".

The 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," it said.

'Baseless and malicious'

The report follows two other reports: one by Arakan Project, a lobby group, and another by Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian NGO, which also criticised the crackdown.

The Bangladeshi government has dismissed the accusations as "baseless and malicious".

It views the Rohingya as illigal immigrants and maintains they must be repatriated.

"We are arresting illegal Rohingya and pushing them back over the border. It is an ongoing operation," said Rafiqul Islam, a Bangladeshi police chief.

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