Rohingya debate ‘to go international’

The Bangladeshi government has said that it will take the fiery debate over the crisis afflicting the country’s nearly 400,000 Burmese-origin Rohingya refugees to an international forum if bilateral negotiations fail.

Bangladesh’s food and disaster management minister Abdur Razzaque told reporters at the Dhaka-based National Press Club yesterday that the government “won’t hesitate to move to international bodies for a solution” if talks with the Burmese junta continue to prove fruitless.

A former Bangladeshi ambassador, Muhammad Zamir, said that the UN General Assembly should adopt the issue, given Burma’s membership, and that the UN refugee agency should set up camps inside Burma for the Rohingya.

The predominantly Buddhist Burmese government refuses to recognise the approximately 800,000-strong Muslim Rohingya minority as Burmese, and thus denies them legal rights in the country. The Paris-based medical aid group Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) has described the Rohingya as one of the world populations ‘most in danger of extinction’.

Out of an estimated 400,000 Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh’s eastern Cox’s Bazaar, less than 30,000 are registered by the UN and allowed to live in UN-run camps, where they can access food and healthcare. Dhaka is believed to have resisted attempts by the UN to register those remaining, claiming that it would trigger an influx of more Rohingya into the country.

Bangladesh is already one of the world’s most densely populated countries, and the Bangladeshi government has said that the swelling refugee population is straining the country’s resources. The Physicians for Human Rights aid group in March said that thousands of Rohingya in Cox’s Bazaar were suffering acute malnutrition, while several apparently coordinated outbreaks of violence against the refugees have been reported.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Bangladeshi ambassador, told the conference that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was “not making enough effort” to stem the flow of Rohingya into Bangladesh from Myanmar.

UNHCR spokesperson Kitty McKinsey told DVB however that the agency ran a number of activities inside northern Arakan state, where the Rohingya originate, “to benefit the people there”.

“And as for what we do in Bangladesh, we do what the government allows us to do,” she said, refusing to comment on whether Dhaka had blocked attempts by the UNHCR to register more refugees.

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