Nearly three weeks into a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar, thousands were still flooding across the border in search of help and safety in teeming refugee settlements in Bangladesh. The crisis has drawn global condemnation, with UN officials demanding Myanmar halt what they described as a campaign of ethnic cleansing that has driven nearly 400,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine state. One of the dozens of boats carrying Rohingya to the Bangladeshi border town of Teknaf capsized yesterday and at least two people drowned, police said. That brought known drownings in the Naf River to 88 since the crisis began. Those who arrived Wednesday in wooden boats on beaches near Shah Porir Dwip fishing village described ongoing violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where smoke could be seen billowing from a burning village, suggesting more Rohingya homes had been set alight. One Rohingya man said his village of Rashidong had been attacked six days earlier by Myanmar soldiers and police.
“When military and police surrounded our village and attacked us with rocket launchers to set fire, we got away from our village and fled away to any direction we could manage,” Abdul Goffar said. Myanmar presidential office spokesman Zaw Htay said that out of 471 “Bengali” villages in three Rakhine townships, 176 were now completely empty while at least 34 more were partially abandoned. Many in Myanmar use that term as part of the long-standing refusal to accept Rohingya as citizens of the country.
Myanmar has accused the Rohingya of burning their own homes and villages, a claim the UN human rights chief criticized as a “complete denial of reality.” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at UN headquarters yesterday that 10,000 people reportedly crossed the border that in the last 24 hours. Combined with the Rohingyas who fled during the last round of violence in Rakhine state last October, Dujarric said “it’s estimated that some 40 per cent of the total Rohingya population have now fled into Bangladesh.”
An estimated 60 per cent of the Rohingyas arriving in Bangladesh are children, Dujarric said. The crisis and refugee exodus began on August 25, when Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts. Myanmar’s military retaliated with “clearance operations” to root out the rebels, but the fleeing Rohingya say Myanmar soldiers shot indiscriminately, burned their homes and warned them to leave or die. Others have said they were attacked by Buddhist mobs. Hundreds have died, mostly Rohingya, and some of the refugees have needed treatment for bullet wounds.
Facing growing condemnation globally, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not attend UN General Assembly meetings September 19-25 to instead deal with what the government said were domestic security issues. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters Wednesday that ethnic cleansing was taking place against Rohingya in Rakhine state. The term “ethnic cleansing” is defined as an effort to rid an area of an unwanted ethnic group by displacement, deportation or even killing.
And Amnesty International said yesterday that it has turned up evidence of an “orchestrated campaign of systematic burnings” by Myanmar security forces targeting dozens of Rohingya villages over the last three weeks. The UN Security Council has called for “immediate steps to end the violence” and ensure civilian protections. Rohingya have faced decades of persecution in Myanmar, and are denied citizenship despite centuries-old roots in the Rakhine region.