I knew before I arrived that visiting the Rohingya refugee camps on the border with Bangladesh and Myanmar would be harrowing. However nothing could have prepared me for the heart breaking scenes and the personal accounts of horrific acts of violence and inhumanity.
Imagine, if you can, having your home burnt, your husband and son murdered in front of your own eyes and then walking for five days carrying your other children and possessions seeking safety. The reality is we cannot begin to comprehend this, yet it is not some made up tale. It is the story of Nurajahan who I met when visiting a camp this week.
Speaking to her via a translator, clutching her eight-month-old son who was so malnourished he looked half that age, she recounted her journey to the camp. It started with the Myanmar military burning her house and then murdering her husband and son. She then decided to take her nine other children and flee for safety heading towards the border with Bangladesh. After five days she arrived at the camp and despite the intolerable conditions, she was now safe. Listening to her heart breaking story I asked about her baby who she was trying to breastfeed as we spoke. She explained that because she was herself malnourished, her body could not produce sufficient milk to feed her son and she was being given semolina to give her son. He looked so weak and initially I could not believe that he was the age she said he was.
Thankfully there are people there at the camps to help and provide support. Having visited two camps, it is clear that the Bangladesh Government, NGOs and charities are doing incredible work on the ground providing sanitation, healthcare, food and water. It is to the credit of the Bangladesh Government that they have welcomed the Rohingya refugees and provided land and support for the NGOs and charities to work. Bangladesh is a densely populated country and has many challenges, including that around a third of the country is currently underwater due to the recent flooding but despite this, it really has stepped up to the humanitarian challenge and should be applauded for its stance.
In addition, I have to say how proud we should be that the British Government via the Department for International Development and UK Aid is playing such an important role in supporting the Bangladesh Government, NGOs and charities as they deal with one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in in the world today.
It is clear that the Bangladesh Government expect the Rohingya refugees to go home to Myanmar in due course and I did not speak with a single refugee that did not want to return as soon as it is safe for them to do so. At present Aung San Suu Ki of Myanmar is in denial about the treatment of the Rohingya people which in my view can only be described as ethnic cleansing. Our challenge as an international community is to put pressure on the Myanmar Government to stop the persecution of the Rohingya people and to guarantee their safety if they return home.
In camps and on visiting the border with Myanmar I took the opportunity to speak with other Rohingya refugees to hear their stories. In all cases I was told that it was the Myanmar military that had conducted the attacks on their homes. On visiting the border I could see and smell the smoke from Myanmar but it was speaking with Major Manzur of the Bangladesh Army and Rohingya refugees at random that I was given evidence of a more worrying development to this humanitarian disaster: land mines.
Although I had read reports of land mines being laid on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, being shown videos of the land mines, a picture of a victim with one of her legs blown off and speaking with refugees, I am convinced that it is true. Major Manzur told us that he has himself seen the Myanmar military laying the land mines on the border crossing points. I was told that this is a more recent development and the mines have been laid in the past week or so. Already there have been casualties but what is not known at this stage is the motivation of the Myanmar military in laying the mines.
Only time will tell whether their objective is to deter more Rohingya refugees from making the crossing to Bangladesh or whether they are to deter the refugees from returning to their homes in Myanmar. Regardless of their motivation, there can be no excuse for the planting of land mines which are designed to injure indiscriminately.
We don't want to believe that people can be so cruel and inhumane towards one another. Yet visiting the camps, it is hard to not be moved by the horrific treatment of the Rohingya people. This persecution is a stain on humanity and having met them - having seen their suffering - it is our duty to make sure the voices of the Rohingya people are heard.
Will Quince is the Conservative MP for ColchesterSuggest a correction