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Govt defiant on Rohingya aid ban

Says continued aid would only encourage more illegal refugees from Myanmar

Govt defiant on Rohingya aid ban
Rohingya refugees at a camp in Cox reporter, Dhaka

August 24, 2012

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A government official in Cox’s Bazar said Friday that Bangladesh will not reverse its decision to suspend operations of NGOs serving the Muslim Rohingya refugees in the country, despite an urgent call from an international rights group to allow humanitarian aid. “Two of the three NGOs that were ordered closed down in Cox’s Bazar last month have two active projects remaining, and they will be closed down soon. After completing the project they have no chance of operations here,” said Deputy Commissioner Joynul Bari, a chief government official in Cox’s Bazar. Bari’s comments follow a statement from New York-based Human Rights Watch calling on the Bangladeshi government to cease restrictions immediately on aid agencies providing humanitarian aid to more than 200,000 Rohingya refugees in the country. Bill Frelick, HRW’s director of refugee programs, said in the statement that the restrictions were calculated and cruel. “The Bangladeshi government is trying to make conditions for Rohingya refugees already living in Bangladesh so awful that people fleeing brutal abuses in neighboring Burma will stay home,” he said. “This is a cruel and inhumane policy that should immediately be reversed. The government should be welcoming aid organizations that provide life-saving aid, not shutting down their programs to assist refugees.” The HRW statement follows earlier appeals from the UN Refugee Agency and the United States government after the government ordered three international aid groups – Doctors without Borders, Actions against Hunger and Muslim AID UK – to stop providing aid to unregistered Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar and surrounding areas near the border with Myanmar. The government’s NGO Affairs Bureau, which regulates aid groups operating in the country, issued the directive in which it accused aid groups of helping illegal refugees. The bureau further said that continued support would only encourage more people to enter the country illegally as refugees, particularly in the wake of sectarian violence in neighboring Rakhine state that broke out in early June. “HRW works on human rights abuses in the world. Here, we are assigned to monitor NGO activities. The NGOs were banned for their illegal activities and the suspension will continue,” said the bureau’s director K.M. Azam. Meanwhile, local aid agencies said they would provide aid if they could get permission from the government. “I feel that humanitarian aid to Rohingya people is essential. They must have some option to improve their lives. Somebody has to work for them, but nobody wants to make the government angry on this issue,” said S. Lolcheo, coordinator of the Community Advancement Forum. Mohammad Sattar, 26, a registered Rohingya refugee, told today that blocking assistance from aid agencies left those in need with no support and no hope for the future. “I was born and raised in Bangladesh, but my parents came from Myanmar. Being refugees we can’t avail ourselves of various government assistance including food, shelter and healthcare,” he said. There are about 200,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, though only about 30,000 are officially registered, according to the UNHCR. The government puts the figure at more than half a million. Related reports Demands grow to lift NGO refugee ban Unregistered Rohingyas’ aid blocked Bangladesh loses sight of own refugee past

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