This post has been updated. See the note below for details.
Three aid agencies reportedly have been asked to halt their activities in Bangladesh because their helping hand is encouraging Rohingya refugees to cross from Myanmar into the country.
The three international groups, identified in news reports as Doctors Without Borders, Action Against Hunger and Muslim Aid, were helping illegal immigrants without permission from the government and slurring Bangladeshi in the media, a district deputy commissioner told Bangladeshi media.
“In two to three days, they will close their office and leave the area,” Joynul Bari told the Daily Star in Bangladesh, complaining that the groups were attracting ethnic Rohingya people across the border.
Doctors Without Borders confirmed Thursday that Bangladeshi authorities had sent the group a letter asking it to stop its work in the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar.
“We are currently discussing this matter with the Bangladeshi authorities and cannot comment further,” DWB media relations manager Michael R. Goldfarb said in an email.
Action Against Hunger said it could not confirm or comment on the reports. Muslim Aid could not be reached Thursday; its security coordinator in Bangladesh told Agence France-Presse that the group had stopped a project helping Rohingya refugees after getting the order.
[Updated 11:56 a.m. Friday, Aug. 3: Muslim Aid issued a statement saying that it and other charities had halted their humanitarian operations to comply with the government order.
"It is unfortunate that this action has been taken in the holy month of Ramadan, which is a special occasion for helping vulnerable people and feeding the hungry," the group said, adding that it had appealed to Bangladesh to reconsider the decision and allow relief work to continue.]
Labeled as foreign intruders in Myanmar and rejected by Bangladesh, the Rohingya people are essentially stateless. In a recent searing report, Human Rights Watch said government forces in Myanmar, also known as Burma, had killed and raped Rohingya after recent bouts of violence between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists.
Bangladesh, in turn, has repeatedly turned back rickety boats of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar, to the chagrin of human rights groups who say the Rohingya are in desperate need. Officials in Bangladesh argue that the country already shelters hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees and is being asked to shoulder a problem that Myanmar should handle.
“It is not our responsibility, it is their responsibility,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a recent interview with Al Jazeera television when pressed about turning away Rohingya.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Rohingya Muslim women rest in their hut at an unregistered refugee camp in Teknaf in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh on June 20, 2012. Credit: Munir Uz Zaman / AFP/Getty Images