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One year on, a million Rohingya refugees still fear for their lives

The people packed into the largest refugee camps in the world urgently need our help to rebuild their lives in safety
This month marks the first anniversary of the mass flight of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh following attacks carried out by the Myanmar military in which thousands were killed. It also marks the peak of the monsoon season in Cox’s Bazar, where almost a million Rohingya people are now living in the largest refugee camps in the world.

The 2017 attacks by the Myanmar military were described by the UN high commissioner for human rights as “textbook ethnic cleansing”. He also said of the military campaign: “You cannot rule out the possibility that acts of genocide have been committed.”

While these attacks were the most systematic and the largest in scale, they were not the first. Attacks in 2012 and 2016 led to the internal displacement of more than 100,000 Rohingya people who continue to live in what are effectively prison camps with extremely limited access to food, healthcare and shelter, and to international humanitarian agencies. The Rohingya have faced systemic discrimination and exclusion for decades, being denied the recognition of their ethnicity and identity that would entitle them to equal rights.

In 2013 and 2017, I visited these internally displaced camps, where the situation continues to be dire and people still die needlessly because of the brutal restrictions imposed on their movement, and the lack of support desperately needed for survival.

I have campaigned for many years for the international community to take seriously the persecution of the Rohingya population by the Myanmar military, both before and after the transition to Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration, in which the Myanmar military continues to act with impunity. In the rush to support the transition to democracy, sanctions were lifted hastily, drastically reducing the leverage of the US and EU over the Myanmar government which still remains in the grip of the military.

Last month I visited the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. As I arrived, it was hard to believe that hundreds of thousands of people live in only five sq miles. Tightly packed shelters of tarpaulin and bamboo stretched far into the distance. Some NGOs have even begun referring to Cox’s Bazar as the fourth largest city in Bangladesh.

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