Forced starvation prompts fresh Rohingya exodus

Refugees fleeing Myanmar to take refuge in Bangladesh tell of military raids and starvation tactics
Forced starvation prompts fresh Rohingya exodus

Rohingya refugees seek shelter after crossing the Naf River from Myanmar into Bangladesh in Whaikhyang in October 2017. (Photo by Fred Dufour/AFP)

Raids by Myanmar's military on villages have prompted hundreds of starving Rohingya to flee restive Rakhine State for neighboring Bangladesh.

Hamid Mian, 38, arrived at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar from Maungdaw in Rakhine on March 5 with his seven-member family.

"We joined the exodus with a 20-member group from our village in the dead of night by crossing the sea in a boat. Myanmar's military have been conducting raids on Rohingya villages and arresting people arbitrarily. We were afraid to get caught, so fled our home 10 days ago and waited at the border to get a chance to cross into Bangladesh," Hamid told ucanews.com.

"After arriving here, I communicated with my uncle who came to Bangladesh earlier. We have found shelter here with his family.

"The days in Rakhine were most frightening and full of suffering for us. We hid in the forests and hills without food and water. Many Rohingya are facing the same conditions in Rakhine right now, and they are looking for an opportune time to flee to Bangladesh."

Nurul Amin, 45, a Rohingya refugee who came to Bangladesh in 1991, said the Rohingya exodus continues, albeit at a slow pace.

"Not many are coming nowadays but it continues. Those who are coming usually get in touch with their relatives in Bangladesh camps, so they can easily find a shelter," Amin told ucanews.com.

"New arrivals tell us that the military are conducting operations in Rohingya villages. People have no food and no money. They are being persecuted and are always in fear of being arrested by the military."

Lt. Col. Asaduzzaman Chowdhury, commander of the Border Guards Bangladesh battalion 2 in Teknaf, said Rohingya were continuing to flee Myanmar.

"We are vigilant on patrols and from time to time we find boats coming in with Rohingya, but their numbers are small. At first we search them to see whether they possess any illegal objects, and then we send them to camps after providing food and water. It's difficult to give a number as one day we see 50 coming and none on the next day," Chowdhury told ucanews.com.

Caritas Chittagong regional director James Gomes said new arrivals are being accommodated in empty plots in the camps.

"Most come to the camps after connecting with their relatives. When they approach border guards or officials, they send them to places where there are still some places to fit them in," Gomes told ucanews.com.  

Numar, a Rohingya community leader from Pan Taw Pyin village in Maungdaw, said some people from Buthidaung township were still fleeing into Bangladesh but most Rohingya in Maungdaw townships have already fled.

Andrew Gilmour, United Nations assistant secretary-general for human rights, said Myanmar is continuing its "campaign of terror and forced starvation" against the Rohingya in northern part of Rakhine State.

"The nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied bloodletting and mass rape of last year to a lower-intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation that seems to be designed to drive the remaining Rohingya from their homes and into Bangladesh," Gilmour said March 5 after a four-day visit to refugee camps in Cox's Bazar.

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More than 688,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine since the Myanmar military's brutal crackdown last August that the UN and the United States have said amounted to ethnic cleansing.

Amnesty International said Myanmar authorities must end all operations aimed at forcing Rohingya out of their homeland whether at gunpoint or through starvation.

"The UN's findings sadly echo our own — there is no question that the Myanmar authorities' vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya is still ongoing. Fleeing Rohingya told us how they are still being forcibly starved in a bid to quietly squeeze them out of the country," said James Gomez, the group's director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, on March 6.

"This is yet more evidence that any plans for organized repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh are extremely premature. No one should be returned to Myanmar until they can do so voluntarily, in safety and dignity — something that is clearly not possible today."

Myanmar's government has said that two reception centers and a transit center were being opened to receive returnees in Rakhine.

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