U.N. refugee agency special envoy Angelina Jolie condemned the world's failure to prevent a crisis that saw 730,000 people driven from their homes.
United Nations' refugee agency special envoy Angelina Jolie visited camps in Bangladesh for Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and condemned the world's failure to prevent a crisis that has seen 730,000 people driven from their homes Tuesday.
The Hollywood actor addressed a crowd of refugees on a hilltop in Kutapalong camp, who were caged inside a wire fence behind a podium with the U.N. Human Rights Council emblem. The camp is the world’s largest refugee settlement, in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district.
"You have every right not to be stateless and the way you have been treated shames us all," Jolie said, adding the crisis was the result of decades of discrimination that had gone unaddressed.
"What is most tragic about this situation is that we cannot say we had no warning."
The celebrity visit came as the United Nations said it was preparing to launch a new appeal for US$920 million to support the refugees, who fled a brutal military crackdown in neighboring Rakhine state in Myanmar in response to militant attacks in August 2017.
Bangladesh, including its environment, has been struggling to accommodate over 1 million Rohingya refugees who have fled state violence in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist-majority country.
More than 900,000 Rohingya live in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, mostly in camps, according to the United Nations. For decades, Cox's Bazar, a strip of land between Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal, has sheltered refugees from Myanmar during ethnic clashes.
The settlement is now spread across 5,800 acres, and much of it cleared forest land. Most Rohingya are terrified of returning to Myanmar, which has persecuted the community for decades, so it remains unclear for how long Cox's Bazar will remain refuge.
U.N. investigators have accused Myanmar’s army of carrying out mass killings and rapes with "genocidal intent" during the massive offensive that laid waste to hundreds of Rohingya villages in the western Rakhine state.
Myanmar denies the charge and says its offensive was a legitimate response to an insurgent threat and has pledged to welcome the refugees back.
But the United Nations says conditions are not yet right for return. The Rohingya say they want guarantees over their safety and to be recognized as citizens before returning.
Jolie said she had met stateless Rohingya who described being "treated like cattle" in Myanmar.
"I met a woman yesterday, a survivor of rape in Myanmar, and she told me 'you would have to shoot me where I stand before I would go back to Myanmar'," Jolie said. "I urge the Myanmar authorities to show the genuine commitment needed to end the cycle of violence, displacement, and improve conditions for all communities in Rakhine state, including the Rohingya."
Jolie flew to Bangladesh this week to "assess the humanitarian needs of the Rohingya refugees and some of the more critical challenges facing Bangladesh as a host country", the UNHCR said in a statement.
She will meet Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen in the capital, Dhaka, Wednesday, the refugee agency said.
Several refugees who gathered to watch Jolie speak said they knew only that she was a “high official.”
The exodus began August 2017 when people belonging to the Muslim ethnic and religious minority group fled an army-backed massacre in Myanmar after Rohingya insurgents attacked security posts.
The military crackdown was condemned by the United Nations, the United States, Britain and others as ethnic cleansing, which the government of Myanmar denies.
In October, Bangladesh and Myanmar made a bilateral plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to the country from which the persecuted community fled a genocidal army crackdown. However, this plan was ultimately scrapped after officials from Bangladesh succumbed to the U.N. and many of the refugees selected for repatriation fled the camps.
The U.N. says the situation is the "world's fastest-growing refugee crisis" and describes the military offensive in Rakhine, which provoked the 2017 exodus, as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."
On Wednesday, U.S. senators called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to designate the Myanmar military's campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority a genocide.
"We are deeply concerned that despite clear evidence of genocide amassed by the Department's own report ... that the Department has not made a formal determination that the crime of genocide has been committed," the senators wrote in a letter to Pompeo, according to Reuters.