Rohingya crisis one year on

On August 25, 2017, Myanmar launched a military offensive - termed by the United Nations as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing - after a Rohingya armed group carried out attacks on border security forces.

Refugees arrived in Bangladesh on foot or in flimsy boats.

The crisis has heaped enormous pressure on Bangladesh's impoverished Cox's Bazar district, which already hosted around 300,000 of the stateless group.

Many in Myanmar ridicule them as "Bengalis" who came illegally from Bangladesh.

Worldwide pressure had led Myanmar - which does not recognize Rohingyas as its citizens - and Bangladesh to ink a deal on November 23 to repatriate members of the mostly-Muslim Rohingya minority.

"The returnees have to be sent back by Bangladesh", she said.

"Despite these efforts, Rohingyas remain vulnerable with their evolving health needs, and a severe funding crunch is threatening continuity of life saving health services in their camps" said the organisation.

Myanmar, the global community says, now must create a situation where Rohingya feel safe to return home.

But life in the camps, among the most densely populated places on earth, looks set to get harder.

Humanitarian agencies spearheading the relief effort in Bangladesh say just one third of the roughly United States dollars 1 bn needed for the refugees until March has been raised.

The slow response has alarmed experts.

"This one year is just the beginning of many more to follow", he told AFP.

The World Bank has pledged $500 million to help with infrastructure, health and education of the Cox's region.

He, however, acknowledged the challenges faced by Bangladesh in hosting the Rohingya.

Rohingya refugee children walk in Palong Khali camp near Cox’s Bazar
Rohingyas mark anniversary as ‘black day’; community sees little hope for return

Myanmar has driven out its Rohingya since the late 1970s.

One of the camps, Kutupalong, shelters more than 600,000 refugees, making it the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Under the pretext that the Rohingya will soon be returning to Myanmar, the humanitarian response has been hampered by restrictions placed on the provision of long-term or substantial aid.

And he probably never will.

Since the crisis began in August past year, the agency says more than 720,000 people have found shelter and safety in Cox's Bazar after fleeing violence and systemic discrimination in their homeland of Myanmar's Rakhine state.

But global pressure for accountability is mounting.

Ahead of the anniversary, 132 legislators from five Southeast Asian countries issued a statement calling for Myanmar officials to face trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This lack of accountability is affecting people in other ethnic areas too, including Kachin and Shan State, where the Myanmar military has committed war crimes and displaced thousands.

A group of 6,000 members of the ethnic community remain stranded on the border between the two countries and are living on a piece of land that neither belongs to Bangladesh nor Myanmar.

He said this must include "political steps" in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The absence of a legal status in Bangladesh limits their freedom of movement as well as access to education and health care.

It has built massive "transit" camps - some with room for 30,000 - for any returnees. "We were so scared", said Aisha, 47, one of dozens of women at a gathering in the Kutupalong camp, recalling the outbreak of the conflict.

"I want to go back to Myanmar if it's safe, and I want to go back to school".

Inside Rakhine fear, tension and hatred are razor sharp.

  • Rogelio Becker