GENEVA - The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, warned Wednesday of a high risk of terrorism in Myanmar and the region if the Rohingya crisis remains unresolved.
Grandi recently visited Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, which is home to some 800,000 Rohingya refugees. Among those, 450,000 refugees recently fled violence and persecution in Myanmar, while more than 300,000 others arrived in neighboring Bangladesh before the current crisis.
Most of the refugees are women and children, and many are deeply traumatized. Grandi says he spoke to women who had been raped and children who had seen their families and friends killed.
"The combination of limited health facilities, poor sanitary and hygienic conditions, and overcrowded sites, you can well imagine, is a recipe for disaster in terms of possible epidemics," Grandi said, stressing how little the refugees had and how vulnerable they were to multiple risks.
Grandi says the cause of the crisis, as well as the solution, lie in Myanmar. He condemned the killings in August of Myanmar security forces by Rohingya insurgents, while adding that it was only a matter of time before terrorism sprouted up from the discrimination and poverty prevalent in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state.
"The terrain is very fertile for [terrorism]," he said. "So, it is also a question of addressing this issue, not only for the Rohingya, not only for northern Rakhine, but for the entire region because if the situation is not resolved, the risk of the spread of terrorism and violence in the whole region — and this is a particularly fertile region — is very, very high."
Grandi hopes to address the issue of Rohingya statelessness with Myanmar authorities, who plan to attend a conference in Geneva next week.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship under Myanmar's 1982 Citizenship Law. Their rights to study, work, travel, marry, practice their religion and access health services are severely restricted, according to Amnesty International. Many live in squalid concentration-like camps.
"The situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing," the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, recently said.