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For Immediate Release

Burmese Refugees Face Deeper Crisis Following Aid Group's Exit from Bangladesh Camp

Cambridge, Mass - 02/25/2010

Cambridge, MA — A public health expert with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), just returned from witnessing the crisis of Burmese refugees in Bangladesh, has documented the escalating persecution of the Rohingya people and is raising an alarm about acute malnutrition. PHR warns that the imminent departure of the international charity Islamic Relief from a camp in southern Bangladesh will worsen the plight of the swelling population of Burmese refugees.

“Islamic Relief was one of just a few humanitarian organizations providing aid to those refugees in that area,” notes Richard Sollom, Director of Research and Investigations in PHR's program on Human Rights in Armed Conflict. “In a place where people are already beginning to die of starvation, this withdrawal can only worsen an already desperate situation.”

Sollom returned last week from a nine-day visit to the region, about 300 miles southeast of Dhaka and just across the River Naf from Burma. He and a colleague, Parveen Parmar, an emergency physician at Harvard University, surveyed health conditions at one makeshift camp that is home to nearly 30,000 Burmese refugees. The PHR team found an alarming rate of acute malnutrition, and heard of many hardships faced by women whose husbands had been arrested and forcibly expelled back into Burma.

The refugees are all members of a Muslim minority group called Rohingya, who fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution in Burma. Because the Bangladeshi government has arbitrarily refused to register the vast majority of them, however, they have been denied the types and amounts of aid they would otherwise receive. In recent months, many have faced increasing persecution in Bangladesh, a poor country that considers itself ill-equipped to deal with a large influx of refugees.

“The government of Bangladesh has a legal obligation not to expel these refugees, and a moral responsibility to allow the international community to help them,” says Sollom. “Instead, it is making it so difficult for humanitarian groups to operate in the region that some feel forced to pull out.”

Islamic Relief, an international aid group based in the United Kingdom, announced that it would end its program in the Rohingya camp where it works on February 28, saying that growing government obstruction of its operations left the group with “no choice but to leave.”

The PHR medical team will publish its complete findings in a forthcoming report, but PHR experts are available immediately for interviews.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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