The Rohingya people in Bangladesh have been in a desperate predicament for decades. Now, a Bangladeshi decree has exacerbated the situation by barring the operations of three international human rights organizations in the country's Cox's Bazaar district.
The Rohingya people, who constitute a Muslim minority group in Buddhist Myanmar, have long been victims of discrimination. An eruption of violence in recent months has prompted many to seek refuge in neighboring Muslim Bangladesh, which has been less than welcoming.
Recently, reports Voice of America, Bangladesh banned the operations of three international human rights groups in the district of Cox's Bazaar, where many Rohingya have gone to flee persecution. The United States on Tuesday urged the Bangladeshi government to reverse its decision.
According to the United Nations, the Rohingya are one of the world's most persecuted groups. They are essentially stateless, since the Myanmar government stopped recognizing them as citizens in 1982.
There was some hope that the new Burmese government under President Thein Sein, which has been slowly liberalizing over the past year, would eventually condemn discrimination against Rohingya people -- especially after national hero and human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi ascended to a parliamentary position in April.
Meanwhile, persecution against the Rohingya has gotten exponentially worse in recent months. As Muslims, they form a religious minority -- this has worsened the division between them and the majority-Buddhist population. So when a Buddhist woman was raped and murdered in Rakhine, the Myanmar state where many Rohingya live, the backlash was immediate. Three Muslim men have been arrested for the crime, and retaliatory attacks against several Rohingya villages have become increasingly violent.
This has prompted many Rohingya to flee their homes and cross the Naf River, hoping to find peace in neighboring Bangladesh. There are about 30,000 registered Rohingya refugees now living there, most of whom receive basic assistance and live in United Nations-administered camps.
But there are also about 300,000 unregistered Rohingya migrants in Bangladesh, according to Al Jazeera. These men, women and children have little, if any, access to assistance. Many live in overcrowded slums and are forced to beg on the streets of Cox's Bazaar, which is already one of Bangladesh's poorest regions.
New migrants are arriving every day to escape persecution in Myanmar, but thousands have been forced to turn back and return to the torment they were desperate to escape.
The announcement that three major aid organizations -- Doctors Without Borders, Actions Against Hunger, and Muslim Aid UK -- must cease activities in Cox's Bazaar came last week. A local Bangladeshi official told Agence France-Presse that the charities needed to be stopped because they were "encouraging an influx of Rohingya refugees."
This only worsens an already dire situation, but Bangladesh seems unwilling to change its policy. Their basic argument is that the state is already poor and overcrowded, and cannot afford to spend resources on migrants.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke to Al Jazeera last week, before the three charities were suspended from working in Cox's Bazaar.
"Bangladesh is already an overpopulated country. We cannot bear this burden; you should realize that," she said.
When prodded as to whether or not the refugees should be helped for humanitarian reasons, Sheikh Hasina demurred. "Why [are] you asking me this question? You should ask this question to the Myanmar government. It is not our responsibility; it is their responsibility."
And so the Rohingya are left with nowhere to turn. For now, with international pressure failing to effect change in either Myanmar or Bangladesh, there seems to be no end in sight.