BANGKOK, Thailand — Thousands of Muslim refugees from Myanmar face beatings and forced repatriation to their homeland by authorities in Bangladesh, an international medical group said Thursday.
About a quarter-million ethnic Rohingyas have fled from Myanmar, saying they face often brutal treatment by the ruling military regime.
"Refugees have reported to us that they have received beatings in the host community by the police," said Paul Critchley, who heads Medecins sans Frontieres in Bangladesh. "Our patients have told us in some cases they have been handed over to the border forces of Bangladesh, beaten and forced to swim the river back toward Myanmar."
Bangladesh authorities have dismissed earlier charges of a crackdown. Sakhawat Hossain, a senior police official, said Tuesday that authorities were only conducting normal operations to detain foreigners who illegally entered the country.
Hossain said 500 Myanmar citizens had been detained between mid-November and Feb. 15.
The majority of Rohingya in Bangladesh reside in the overcrowded Cox's Bazaar area bordering Myanmar. Since October 2009, more than 6,000 people have arrived at a makeshift camp.
Medecins sans Frontieres says that 28,000 refugees live in official camps under United Nations supervision and are recognized as refugees by Bangladesh. But an estimated 220,000 others have no refugee status.
"They could be forced out at any moment, so they're basically holding their families together. You have a space of slightly larger than a bathroom that has six or seven people and attached to it is another bathroom, so you have two families living in this really crammed condition," another agency staffer, Vanessa Van Schoor, told a press conference.
A report released earlier this week from the Rohingya advocacy group The Arakan Project also said a crackdown has been under way since the beginning of January.
"Hunger is spreading rapidly among the already malnourished population in the makeshift camp and a grave humanitarian crisis is looming," project director Chris Lewa said.
The plight the Rohingyas gained international attention in January after allegations that more than 1,200 of them were detained by Thai authorities and later sent adrift at sea on boats with little food or water. Hundreds were believed to have drowned.
Many Rohingyas have taken to the seas in search of better jobs. The destination for many is Malaysia, just across the border from southern Thailand.
The Rohingyas' status in Myanmar is particularly precarious because they do not hold full citizenship