There are now 1.2 million Rohingya refugees
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There are now 1.2 million Rohingya refugees

ROHINGYA refugees from Burma (Myanmar) now number more than 1.2 million people, according to data from the United Nations.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) released its annual Global Trends report this week, which said that 68.5 million people were displaced worldwide as of the end of 2017. Some 16.2 million people became displaced during 2017 alone, including more than half a million Rohingya Muslims.

Global Trends reported that some 85 percent of refugees are residing in developing countries, “many of which are desperately poor and receive little support to care for these populations.”

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The number of refugees permanently resettled, meanwhile, dropped 40 percent compared with 2016 due to declining resettlement places on offer. Just 100,000 people were resettled worldwide in 2017.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi ahead of World Refugee Day on Wednesday that: “we are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone.”

The UNHCR reported that Rohingya refugees were the third largest group of new refugees in the world, following people fleeing South Sudan and the civil war in Syria. Their exodus from Burma since August 2017 has been the largest and fastest refugee exodus in the region for decades.

Statelessness due to “restrictive provisions” in Burmese citizenship law had meant that the Rohingya have suffered “entrenched discrimination, marginalisation, and denial of a wide range of basic human rights,” it said.

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United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi attends an interview with Reuters at the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland June 13, 2018. Source: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

Renewed violence in Rakhine State, sparked by attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on Aug 25 last year, led to at least 655,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing across the border into Bangladesh.

Mass killings, sexual violence and targeting of Rohingya villages for arson by the Tatmadaw Army and vigilantes has been described by many international observers as ethnic cleansing and even genocide. It has brought the total number of Rohingya residing in Bangladesh to more than 930,000.

“Nowhere is the link between statelessness and displacement more evident than for the Rohingya community of Myanmar, for whom denial of citizenship is a key aspect of the entrenched discrimination and exclusion that have shaped their plight for decades,” Grandi said.

Last month the UNHCR agreed upon the text of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the governments of Burma and Bangladesh, which was signed in early June.

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The MoU was a first step towards creating a framework for cooperation to achieve “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees” and “recovery and resilience-based development for the benefit of all communities living in Rakhine State” the UNHCR said.

An estimated 470,000 on-displaced Rohingya remained in northern Rakhine State at the end of 2017.

“Only by ending their statelessness can the Rohingya be promised a normal life and hope for the future,” concluded the UNHCR.