Pressure has increased on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to recognise the violence against Myanmar's Rohingya community as genocide, as lawmakers issued a letter calling for a tougher stance.
The letter sent by two US senators — Republican Todd Young and Bob Menendez, a Democrat — was written after the Department of State released its long-awaited report into the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority group in Myanmar's Rakhine State.
It found that the violence was "well-planned and coordinated" and that it was "seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents".
The two senators, who highlighted that the report "did not specifically define these atrocities as genocide or crimes against humanity" subsequently called on Pompeo to "provide a formal legal determination regarding the actions of the Burmese military to Congress without delay".
One million refugees
Violence targeting the Rohingya erupted last August in Myanmar's Rakhine state after a Rohingya insurgent group was blamed for the killing of 12 security officers.
Hundreds of thousands fled across the border with Bangladesh, accusing authorities in Myanmar — a predominantly Buddhist state — of crimes including pillaging, beatings, rapes and murders.
According to the UN, some 723,000 Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh between August and June — over half of them children. Most live in cramped, unhygienic, makeshift camps which leaves them vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases but also to traffickers and other abuses.
One year on
Over a year later, the situation for the refugees has not changed. At the root of the problem is the fact that the Rohingya are stateless as neither Myanmar nor Bangladesh wants to recognise them as citizens.
Some 23,000 refugees are currently amassed in the Unchiprang camp.
"Refugees have access to water, to shelter, have access to food. Yet, they’re in need of protection, they’re in need to livelihood opportunities, they remain stateless and without a legal status in this country," Daniela D'Urso, head of the EU Humanitarian Aid office, told Euronews' Monica Pinna.
"That means they’re unable to move freely in between the camps, they can’t work and they’re not entitled to receive proper education,” she added.
Syrayal Hoq, a refugee from Tula Toli — a village in Myanmar's Rakhine State where a massacre was allegedly carried out by the army — told Euronews that he fled after seeing "soldiers killing people, throwing them in a pond and raping women".
"We are seeking justice for the genocide we are suffering. We want Myanmar's government to recognize us as citizens, otherwise we won't go back. We don’t want to stay in these shelters made of tarpaulin, but we are seeking recognition," he said.
An independent UN fact-finding mission to Myanmar said last month that there is "sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials" in Myanmar's military "so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State".
Among the "gross human rights violations and abuses" it said were committed against the Rohingya are forced or compulsory labour, forced evictions through land confiscation, arbitrary arrest and detention, violations of the rights to life, to physical and mental integrity or to property as well as sexual violence.
It also blasted Aung San Suu Kyi — a former Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar's de-facto leader — for not using her position to stem or prevent the atrocities and for allowing civilian authorities to "spread false narratives".
Authorities in Myanmar have denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the UN report as "one-sided" and "flawed".
Myanmar's army chief, Min Aung Hlaing, warned on Monday that no country or organisation "has the right to interfere" with the country's sovereignty.