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Demands grow to lift NGO refugee ban

Agencies must be allowed to aid Rohingyas, say US and UN

Rohingya children at a camp in Cox’s Bazar district (Photo Habib Siddiqui) Rohingya children at a camp in Cox’s Bazar district (Photo Habib Siddiqui)
  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • August 8, 2012
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The United States has joined the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in urging the government to allow aid agencies to restore much-needed assistance to Rohingya Muslims who have fled sectarian violence in neighboring Myanmar.

Last Thursday Bangladesh ordered three international aid organizations, Doctors Without Borders, Action Against Hunger and Muslim Aid, to stop their activities in and around camps near Cox's Bazar, near the border with Myanmar.

The authorities said the country is already struggling to cope with the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled ethnic violence in the 1990s and are living in camps near Cox’s Bazar. They say the NGOs are undermining the government's efforts to deter more refugees from entering the country.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” over the ban.

On the same day, the UNHCR appealed to Bangladesh “to ensure that NGO assistance continues to be provided to unregistered people from Myanmar's Rakhine state.”

"If the order is implemented, it will have a serious humanitarian impact on some 40,000 unregistered people who had fled Myanmar in recent years and settled in the Leda and Kutupalong makeshift sites," said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards at a press conference in Geneva.

"Local villagers nearby will also be affected as they, too, have been benefiting from basic services provided by the NGOs," he added.

The UNHCR also said it was closely following reports of fresh violence in northern Rakhine state over the weekend and has received accounts, yet to be verified, of several villages being burnt north of Sittwe, the state capital.

Many young men have reportedly fled, leaving mainly women and children behind, it said.

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