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Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh cannot expect a better year in 2018

For many, this New Year is not one of hope. For the who Rohingya Muslims who have fled Burma, just meeting basic needs is out of grasp.

Families in Bangladesh are sleeping in fields and muddy paths, in desperate need of clean drinking water, food and medical treatment. The refugee camps that were set up have – as with many refugee camps – have become fertile grounds for traffickers searching for the most vulnerable to turn into modern day slaves.

Yet Bangladesh remains a place of relative safety for the Rohingya Muslims, 600,000 of whom have fled from Burma. They have experienced the pinnacle of human evil, lost family and been left destitute.

Aid workers on the ground have no end of harrowing stories. But with support, they are also trying to help people rebuild their lives.

In December I spoke at a fundraiser to support displaced Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh, who fled extreme violence and are experiencing huge levels of trauma. The charity, CARE International, is providing relief activities, distributing food, as well as supporting a health clinic that is assessing and treating children suffering from acute malnutrition. They are helping with the coordination and management of refugee camps and developing programmes to protect and support survivors of gender-based violence.

But the work is far from done, with huge numbers of people in makeshift shelters in an area that has been harshly hit by flooding and with ongoing rains. Meanwhile, many more need urgent healthcare. At the time of writing, most are reliant on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic daily needs: More than 400,000 people require support to meet their food needs, while an estimated 125,000 pregnant and lactating women and children under five will need supplementary feeding.

Acknowledging the drastic nature of the situation, I was heartened to see so many members of our community turn out and dig deep for this cause, helping the charities, including the Burma Red Cross and World Food Programme, on the ground do their jobs by providing the necessary resources.

In Parliament, I too have been asking how our country can be support the Rohingya. With Bangladesh and Burma having made a deal on returning the Rohingya to Burma, I have asked the UK Government to do all it can to ensure that not a single person is returned before the conditions are independently verified as safe and that the principle of non-refoulement in international refugee law is upheld. I was assured that no UK funding will be made available to support a returns process that does not meet international standards.

Unfortunately, as it stands, returns would not be safe, voluntary and dignified nor consistent with international standards.

In the meantime, the Rohingya cannot expect for a better year. They can just hope that the international community, and our own Government, does more to push for their safe return and provides the resources for their survival.

About Catherine West (25 Articles)
Labour Member of Parliament for Hornsey & Wood Green | Shadow Foreign Minister | Mum of two |