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Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh deepens

Escalating reports of atrocities by the Myanmar military in Rakhine are sending thousands more fleeing across the border

Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh deepens

Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who tried to cross the Naf River into Bangladesh to escape sectarian violence, are kept under watch by Bangladeshi security officials in Teknaf on Dec. 25, 2016. (Photo by AFP) 

Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka and John Zaw, Mandalay International

January 11, 2017

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Despite the Myanmar-Bangladesh border being sealed off on both sides, Rohingya Muslims continue to flock to Bangladesh to escape the deadly military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Makeshift refugee camps in Bangladesh are bracing for thousands of more desperate ethnic Muslim Rohingya fleeing from often unspeakable atrocities being perpetrated by the Myanmar military.

At least 65,000 people have fled to Bangladesh — a third in the past week — since the Myanmar's military crackdown on Oct. 9, according to the UN's relief agency weekly report on Jan. 9.

Rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized the Myanmar government for failing to halt ‘scorched-earth operations’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Rohingya by security forces in Rakhine.

Muhammad Kabir, 55, a Rohingya community leader from the Leda unregistered camp in Cox’s Bazaar district says Rohingya from Rakhine continue to cross the Naf River and enter into the camp.

"I know one family came to the camp with assistance from brokers on both sides and help of their relatives here," Kabir, father of eight living in Leda camp for over 10 years, told ucanews.com.

"Here, people are poor because they can’t go outside and don’t have much employment opportunities and just about manage to feed their large families on aid got from humanitarian groups," Kabir said.

 

Widespread and systematic abuse

Matthew Smith, Executive Director at Myanmar focused NGO Fortify Rights told ucanews.com: "We've documented a pattern of widespread and systematic abuses by the army against Rohingya civilians. It's a brutal campaign and it's continuing.

He said attacks by state security forces have forced the displacement of "huge numbers" of Rohingya to Bangladesh, and that the number is "steadily rising."

There are also thousands of Rohingya internally displaced in Maungdaw township that need aid urgently, he said.

Smith is leading a growing international chorus that is demanding that Myanmar authorities immediately stop targeting civilians. He added that domestic remedies in Rakhine State have been exhausted.

"The time for an independent, international investigation is now," he said.

Refugees are living in deplorable conditions in squalor camps with almost no basic human needs fulfilled. However, over the weeks, aid groups have lent some support to the vulnerable, neglected community.

 

Relief aid distribution 

The World Food Program has distributed 5 kilograms of rice each to some 4,500 families every week for two months.

Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration has handed out baskets with 22 items including utensils, clothes and blankets to 1,000 refugee families.

"Besides, some generous Bangladeshi rich people and businessmen have donated money for the people, so that they can have at least one meal per day and no one dies of hunger," Muhammad Noor, secretary at the Kutupalong unregistered Rohingya refugee camp told ucanews.com.

The United Nations report said that in the week of Jan. 9, some 22,000 new arrivals were reported to have crossed the border from Rakhine state.

Noor said about 4,500 new Rohingya families totaling about 25,000 people have arrived into the camp since October when violence erupted in Arakan (Rakhine) in western Myanmar.

"It's been one week since the last family arrived here. We have come to know that the Myanmar army have moved to Budhidaung from Maungdaw and carrying out similar atrocities against Rohingya. So, we think we will see another wave of new arrivals soon," Noor told ucanews.com.

But Noor said that other informal camps and settlements in Cox's Bazar — the area of Bangladesh nestled close to the Myanmar border — are hosting a large number of newly arrived Rohingya refugees. 

 

'New arrivals'

He estimated there were 2,000 new families in Leda camp, about 1,300 families in Nayapara camp and 700 in Shamlapur camp. In addition, about 1,000 families are living in rented houses in various places in the district including Teknaf and Cox's Bazar town, he said.

"Altogether more than 65,000 Rohingya have arrived since October," Noor estimated.

A special envoy of Myanmar, Kyaw Tin, deputy minister for foreign affairs, arrived in Dhaka on Jan. 10 for top-level talks on bilateral relations and the Rohingya issue.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee began a 12 day visit to Myanmar on Jan. 9 and is due to visit to Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedawng townships in northern Rakhine — areas that are closed to independent media groups and most aid groups before she leaves on Jan. 20.

As well as documented cases of physical abuse and rape, rumors are now swirling about a campaign of chemical injections by the army but this could not be independently verified.

 

Chemical injection allegations 

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, said she has not heard about the military's chemical injection.

"This seems to be linked to other rumors that spread after a child died just after a vaccination campaign in Kha Maung Seik, North Maungdaw. Villagers believe that the child was poisoned, which is very unlikely," Lewa told ucanews.com.

Shamshul Noor, 25, has fled to Kutupalong on Jan. 3 with his nine-member family from Kyang Maung village in Maungdaw township of Rakhine state in Maynmar.

Noor, who studied in in Islamic school in his home village and worked on the family farm since his father died in 2010, claimed that he saw Myanmar soldiers using "chemical injections" on people in his village.

"Four days ago, the army came to our village and people started to flee. Elderly and weak people, both men and women, those who fell behind were rounded up by the soldiers. From the forest, I saw soldiers tied them down and injected liquids. So far I know five-six people died in the next two days and some have fallen sick seriously," Noor told ucanews.com.

"People told me the injection was pushed for slow death in two-three months, but some people died quickly as they tried to resist and were beaten as soldiers treated them as animals," he said.

 

Denial 

Kyaw Min, chairman of the Human Rights and Democracy Rohingya Party in Yangon, said that it is difficult to comment as there is no access to the region directly. "So I can't confirm the military's use of chemical injection."

Aung Win, Rohingya community leader in Sittwe township, said that it is true of the military's atrocities such as rape on women, burning homes, arresting and torture on civilians but that it is not possible to verify the truth of allegations of the military's new method of using chemical injection.

He added that many Rohingya people in northern Rakhine lack healthcare knowledge and are illiterate so it might be that the security forces round the villages urged people to join in the government's polio and other diseases vaccination program. "But people were afraid to participate in it as some news spread that one child died due to polio vaccination," he said.

Yet the Myanmar government appointed committee investigating recent violence in northern Rakhine led by Vice president Myint Swe presented its interim report on Jan. 4. It denied accusations of genocide and religious persecution and said there was "insufficient evidence" that troops had been committing rape.

"The Rohingya population residing in Maungdaw region, the increasing population of Mawlawi (Islamic scholars), mosques and religious edifices are proof that there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region," says the report.

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