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Feb 22, 2010 (DVB)-The brutal treatment of ethnic Rohingya living in Bangladesh has intensified in recent months, according to a medical group which has treated victims of rape and machete attacks.
Much of the turmoil stems from a crackdown by Bangladeshi police on Rohingya communities living in the Cox’s Bazaar district that straddles the Bangladesh-Burma border, but locals are also reportedly behind some of the attacks.
The Rohingya, a Burmese Muslim community who have fled persecution in their home country, number between 200,000 to 400,000 in Bangladesh. Only 30,000 are recognised and assisted by the UN’s refugee agency.
Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a report that the current levels of violence against Rohingya were "unprecedented", and thousands were fleeing their homes to the makeshift Kutupalong camp.
"Since October, the camp has grown by 6,000 people, with 2,000 of these arriving in January alone," it said, adding that "nearly 29,000 people find themselves camped on a patch of ground with no infrastructure to support them, posing a serious threat to health".
The MSF clinic in Kutupalong has since January received increasing amounts of unregistered Rohingya who have been driven from their homes by authorities, who often inflict violence on those fleeing.
Driven by growing anti-Rohingya sentiment in the district, local Bangladeshis have also reportedly been lashing out at Rohingya refugees whom they believe to be a burden.
"Throughout this period, MSF has treated patients for beatings, for machete wounds, and for rape. This is continuing today," said Paul Critchley, MSF head of mission in Bangladesh.
The report also said that some victims had been forced into the Naf river, which separates Burma and Bangladesh, in an effort to drive them back to Burma.
"It is imperative that the Government of Bangladesh act immediately to stop the violence and provide these people with the protection to which they are entitled," Critchley said, adding that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) "needs to take greater steps toward developing a clear policy to tackle the issue".
Kitty McKinsey, UNHCR regional spokesperson, said however that the Rohingya documented in the MSF report were unregistered, but that the agency "has a clear policy" and is negotiating with the Bangladeshi government to register them.
"The key to protecting all of them would be to get them registered as refugees so the UNHCR can serve them," she said, adding that the UNHCR had not had access to unregistered Rohingya in Bangladesh since mid-1993.
Reporting by Francis Wade