Bangladesh has ordered three international charities to stop providing aid to Rohingya refugees who cross the border to flee persecution and violence in Myanmar, an official said on Thursday.
France's Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Action Against Hunger (ACF) as well as Britain's Muslim Aid UK have been told to suspend their services in Cox's Bazaar district bordering Myanmar, local administrator Joynul Bari said.
"The charities have been providing aid to tens of thousands of undocumented Rohingya refugees illegally. We asked them to stop all their projects in Cox's Bazaar following directive from the NGO (non-government organisation) Affairs Bureau," Bari told AFP.
Bari said the charities "were encouraging an influx of Rohingya refugees" from across the border in Myanmar's Rakhine state in the wake of recent sectarian violence that left at least 80 people dead.
The charities have provided health care, skills training, emergency food and drinking water to the refugees living in Cox's Bazaar since the early 1990s.
MSF runs a clinic near one of the Rohingya camps which provides services to 100,000 people.
Speaking a Bengali dialect similar to one in southeast Bangladesh, the Rohingya people are Muslims seen as illegal immigrants by the Buddhist-majority Myanmar government and many of Myanmar's citizens.
They are viewed by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
In a letter to Muslim Aid UK, Bangladesh's NGO Affairs Bureau accused the charity of illegally helping the undocumented Rohingya refugees using its Non-Formal Education Training and Livelihood Support for the Vulnerable Families in Cox's Bazaar.
It said the project was encouraging the entry of the Myanmar people into Bangladesh, said the letter, a copy of which AFP obtained.
Golam Sarwar, security coordinator of Muslim Aid UK in Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh, confirmed to AFP that his group had stopped its Rohingya project following the order.
A senior aid worker, who did not wish to be identified for fear of government reprisals, said he feared that "the impact of the government's move would be catastrophic and cause a humanitarian crisis".
The NGO Affairs Bureau, which is a wing under the prime minister's office, accused MSF of "damaging the image of Bangladesh by running negative news in the international media" about difficult conditions faced by the Rohingya.
The government says some 300,000 Rohingya Muslims are living in the country, the vast majority in Cox's Bazaar, after fleeing persecution in Myanmar. About 30,000 are registered refugees who live in two camps run by the United Nations.
In recent weeks, Bangladesh has turned away boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya fleeing the violence in Myanmar despite pressure from the United States and rights groups to grant them refuge.
Myanmar security forces opened fire on Rohingya Muslims, committed rape and stood by as rival mobs attacked each other during the recent wave of sectarian violence, New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The authorities failed to protect both Muslims and Buddhists and then "unleashed a campaign of violence and mass roundups against the Rohingya", the group said in a report.