Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mass. rights group faults Bangladesh on refugees

BOSTON - Tens of thousands of Burmese refugees are being forced into makeshift camps in Bangladesh and face widespread starvation unless they receive more humanitarian aid, according to an international human rights organization's report released Tuesday.

The Physicians for Human Rights, based in Massachusetts, faulted Bangladesh authorities for "arbitrary arrests, illegal expulsion, and forced internment" of Burmese refugees as neighboring Myanmar prepares for elections later this year. Since the 1990s, thousands of the refugees have made their way to Bangladesh from Myanmar, which had experienced unrest resulting from its military junta.
The report, "Stateless and Starving: Persecuted Rohingya Flee Burma and Starve in Bangladesh," also called the makeshift camps for unregistered refugees "open-air prisons" where children face severe malnutrition due to a lack of food aid and restricted movement outside of camps.
"The government of Bangladesh is absolutely ignoring it. They are sweeping it under the rug," said Richard Sollom, director of research and investigation for the group based in Cambridge, Mass. "Basically, it's the policy of the government that they simply want (the refugees) to disappear."
In addition, Sollom said Bangladesh authorities are preventing outside humanitarian aid to get to the refugees.
Abdul Momen, Bangladesh's representative in the United Nations, called that charge "totally false" and said government officials just have to make sure that any aid isn't coming from terrorist groups.