REFUGEES escaping violence in Burma cannot return until they are granted proper civil rights, a campaigning Bolton MP has said.

Yasmin Qureshi has also spoken of the harrowing conditions she witnessed in a visit to refugee camps in Bangladesh where more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to.

This week, Burma and Bangladesh signed an agreement covering the return of the Rohingya, who have faced state-supported discrimination in predominantly Buddhist Burma for decades.

Refugees arriving in Bangladesh said their homes had been set on fire by soldiers and Buddhist mobs, and some reported being shot at by security forces.

Ms Qureshi, the MP for Bolton South East, said: “There were lots of children in the refugee camp and the number of people who were obviously malnourished was awful.

“Everybody looked like they had not eaten properly for months, they were so weak and slim and there was not enough food to go around.

“The big challenge with this crisis has been the sheer volume of people that have moved in such a short period of time. There were thousands of people coming to the camp every day and there were not enough staff to help them. A lot of the women had been raped and people had seen their families massacred in front of them.”

Though members of the ethnic minority first arrived generations ago, Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all rights and rendering them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practise their religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to medical care, food or education.

She added: “Unfortunately, when a community is demonised as much as the Rohingya have in Burma then people will not look at them as human beings and not care about their suffering.

“They need to have proper civil rights and be treated equally under the law.

“If they don’t get those guarantees then it will not be safe for them to go back.”