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Rohingya Refugees Suffering From Lack of Documentation in Bangladesh

Washington, DC – Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled repression in Burma  have no protection from abuse , starvation, and detention in Bangladesh because of a lack of documentation, Refugees International highlighted in a report released today. In the report, Bangladesh: The Silent Crisis, Refugees International is urging the international community to work with the Bangladeshi government to register undocumented refugees and improve protection for all vulnerable Rohingyas.

"The situation is desperate for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh," says Lynn Yoshikawa, an advocate with Refugees International who recently returned from visiting Rohingya camps in the region. "They live in squalor and are forced to suffer a litany of abuses because the government doesn’t recognize them as refugees."

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority from Burma who were stripped of their citizenship and are subject to systematic violence and persecution inside Burma.  Of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh, only 28,000 are registered as refugees, according to the report. Many unregistered Rohingya live in unofficial refugee settlements, where shelters are falling apart, and malnutrition is rampant. In one makeshift camp, Kutupalong, the global acute malnutrition rate is at 30% - double the emergency threshold. But in spite of this, the government has denied permits for aid agencies to assist unregistered refugees in the camps.

Undocumented Rohingya refugees are also subject to arrest and detention. If they are unable to pay a bribe or obtain a guarantee from a Bangladeshi national for their immediate release, these refugees are often charged with illegal entry and sent to jail. One man interviewed by Refugees International said that he spent over five years in jail waiting for his family to pay a $300 dollar bribe.

The lack of documentation also makes Rohingya women and girls particularly vulnerable to sexual and physical attacks. Reports of sexual violence against unregistered refugees have increased. And yet they have no legal recourse to justice and services remain at a bare minimum. One woman told RI: "Anywhere is better for us. Even the fire, the sea, or desert ."


"Registering Rohingya refugees would help these people be  protected from arrest and deportation and receive lifesaving assistance," Yoshikawa said. “We hope that the UN Refugee Agency, the government of Bangladesh, and other involved governments can work together to establish a system to register these undocumented refugees as soon as possible.”

Refugees International traveled to Bangladesh and Malaysia in March 2011 to assess the plight of refugees in each country. Reports from both countries are available at www.refugeesinternational.org.

Refugees International is a Washington DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding.

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For Immediate Release: April 19, 2011

Contact: Dara McLeod, +1 202 540 7025

[email protected]