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Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, sit in a boat after being intercepted crossing the Naf River by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh. (file)

Bangladeshi leaders have told three international relief agencies to stop providing critical humanitarian aid to refugees.

Sectarian violence in western Burma has sent thousands of the Rohingya ethnic minority to seek safe haven in neighboring Bangladesh, joining thousands of refugees already residing in two encampments run by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees. Many other refugees live among Bangladeshis in Cox’s Bazar and other communities.

These great numbers of refugees have put a strain on the government of Bangladesh, which closed its borders as the violence next door escalated. Now in a further effort to discourage what it characterizes as illegal migration from Burma, Bangladeshi leaders have told three international relief agencies to stop providing critical humanitarian aid to refugees.

The unrest in Burma’s Rakhine State began in early June with the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman, allegedly perpetrated by three Muslims. Following this attack, a mob attacked a bus with Muslims returning from a religious pilgrimage, killing 10 in an apparent retaliatory act. Immediately after these incidents, widespread violence erupted throughout Rakhine State, targeting the Rohingya who are predominately Muslim, but reportedly were not involved in either the rape or bus incidents.

The United States Government is deeply concerned by the Government of Bangladesh’s efforts to shut down charities that have been providing critical humanitarian aid to Rohingya fleeing persecution in Burma. The U.S. urges the Government of Bangladesh to cease pressuring these NGOs and permit international relief agencies to assist with the humanitarian needs of Rohingya.

International humanitarian law obligates nations to protect those seeking refuge from persecution, and bars nations from returning the victims of persecution to those oppressing them. Providing safe haven to refugees has long been a practice of the Bangladeshi government and it is hoped that it will continue. The United States Government urges the government in Dhaka to grant permission for humanitarian groups to fully operate and grant access to registered and unregistered Rohingya populations alike.

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