Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rohingyas reported beaten, evicted in Bangladesh

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Stateless Rohingya refugees who fled oppression in their native Myanmar are being beaten and driven from their makeshift homes in neighbouring Bangladesh, rights and humanitarian groups said on Friday.

Thousands of Rohingyas, who are not recognised in their homeland, are packed into camps run by the United Nations in Bangladesh. Another 300,000 live illegally in the country and face attacks by the authorities and destruction of their homes, according to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

The group says it has been treating the Rohingyas at makeshift camps in Kutupalong, southeastern Bangladesh, for trauma wounds as a result of beatings by police.

Some had been forced into a river and told to swim back to Myanmar.

"They claimed they've been living in Bangladesh for a number of years and their neighbours have turned on them," said the head of MSF's mission in Bangladesh, Paul Critchley.

Every year, thousands of minority Muslim Rohingyas flee Myanmar in wooden boats, embarking on a hazardous journey to Thailand or Malaysia in search of a better life.

Some find work as illegal labourers, others are arrested, detained and "repatriated" to a military-ruled country that washed its hands of them decades ago.

Rohingyas say they are deprived of free movement, education and employment in their homeland. They are not recognised as an ethnic minority by Myanmar and say they suffer human rights abuses at the hands of government officials.

Many have sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh, living in mud huts covered in plastic sheets and tree branches, which provide poor shelter during monsoon rains that cause mudslides and expose them to waterborne diseases.

Bangladesh says there are about 28,000 registered Rohingya refugees in two U.N. camps near the southeastern resort of Cox's Bazaar.

OVERCROWDED CAMPS
Since October last year, a makeshift camp in Kutupalong has grown by more than a quarter, or 6,000 people, with 2,000 of these arriving in January alone.

As the numbers swell, the cramped and unsanitary living conditions pose significant health risks, MSF said.

Three months earlier, Bangladeshi authorities demolished shelters and forcibly removed their inhabitants in an attempt to clear a space around the Kutupalong camp, MSF said.

"MSF witnessed first-hand violence against the unregistered Rohingya, and provided medical care for some of the consequences," it said in a statement.

MSF said it continued to treat more Rohingyas in the months after for injuries inflicted when they were forcibly evicted.

"MSF has treated patients for beatings, for machete wounds, and for rape. This is continuing today," it said.

Refugee groups say many impoverished Bangladeshis resent Rohingyas for the pressure they are putting on scarce local services and resources.

David Mathieson, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the Rohingyas had been victims of a "pattern of abuses" in Bangladesh for more than 30 years and the government had made it clear it wanted rid of them.

"It's not as if these incidents came out of the blue. They're part of a very long-running brutal process of making life so uncomfortable for the people in the camp that they'll return to Burma," he said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.

"They fled some absolutely horrific human rights violations in their own country. They're justifiably too frightened to return."