British prime minister Theresa May has condemned what she described as the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
More than half a million people have fled the country in recent months, with reports emerging of systematic rape, destruction of homes and communities, and indiscriminate violence.
And May said the country’s military and governing authorities “must take full responsibility.”
Thousands of new Rohingya refugee arrivals cross the border near Anzuman Para village, Palong Khali, Bangladesh.
“This is a major humanitarian crisis which looks like ethnic cleansing,” said May, addressing the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the City of London’s Guildhall on Monday evening.
She said the UK is already the largest donor in response to the crisis, and further insisted that the UK will “continue to play a leading role in bringing the international community together — working through the UN and with regional partners to do everything possible to stop this appalling and inhuman destruction of the Rohingya people.”
May referred to photographs of young Rohingya children “emaciated and pleading for help,” during her speech, and described the images as “heartbreaking.”
But she said the UK must now “step up our efforts to respond to the desperate plight of Rohingyas.”
Violence erupted in Myanmar on Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants attacked security posts in the country, and triggered a military crackdown against the Rohingya people.
The UN estimates that around 1,000 people have already been killed in the violence, which it described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” but the Myanmar military puts the figure at closer to 400 people.
Rohingya Muslims, who are a minority in the predominantly Buddhist nation, are denied their right to citizenship in Myanmar.
The nation’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has faced international criticism for her failure to denounce the military or take action to address the crisis unfolding in her country.
Her fellow Nobel Laureates, including Malala, have spoken out to call for Suu Kyi to stop the violence.
“Every time I see the news, my heart breaks at the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar,” said Malala in September, in a statement on Twitter.
“If their home is not Myanmar, where they have lived for generations, then where is it? Rohingya people should be given citizenship in Myanmar, the country where they were born,” she continued.
Malala added: “Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment. I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same. The world is waiting and the Rohingya Muslims are waiting.”
Meanwhile, Irish musician Bob Geldof has said this week that he will return his Freedom of the City of Dublin honour, in protest against Suu Kyi — who also holds the honour.
Oxford also decided to strip Suu Kyi of the Freedom of the City of Oxford honour last month, in an “unprecedented” step for the city council. Sheffield and Glasgow did the same earlier this month, while the City of London is also said to be considering action.
Suu Kyi finally broke her silence on the crisis with a speech in September , but the highly anticipated message was not what many had hoped for.
She expressed concern over reports about the “number of Muslims fleeing across the border to Bangladesh,” and added that “we would like to find out why this exodus is happening.”
Following her speech, however, Amnesty International accused her and the Myanmar government of “burying their heads in the sand.”
Members of the International Development Committee are meeting in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka on Tuesday, to discuss the crisis.