Rohingya refugees flee torture, rape in Myanmar
Nay Pyi Taw, Nov 25 (IANS) Fleeing ethnic violence that has plagued Myanmar’s western coastal state of Rakhine for weeks, thousands of Rohingya refugees have been flooding into neighbouring Bangladesh, media reports said.
Some refugees told CNN that they suffered rape, torture or saw their homes burned down and family members executed.
“If (the military) finds any boys aged above 10 years old, they kill them. Men are also being picked up by the military,” Lalu Begum said.
“When the military came, we fled from our home. I don’t know if my husband is dead or alive.”
Begum, currently staying at the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh, said several women in her village were raped by regime soldiers.
“When they see pretty ladies, they ask for water, then they get inside the house and rape them,” she said.
An estimated one million Rohingyas live in Rakhine, where they are a persecuted, stateless ethnic minority.
The government does not officially recognise the Rohingyas, regarding them as illegal Bengali immigrants.
John McKissick, a UN refugee agency official in Bangladesh, said the Rohingyas are “the most oppressed people in the world”.
“It seems to be the aim of the Myanmar military to ethnically cleanse this population,” he said.
The refugees in Kutupalong said they left their homes in the middle of the night, trekking from village to village to try and evade the soldiers and make it to the Naf River to cross into Bangladesh.
“When we started our journey, there were six of us. We lost three members of our family,” Lalu Begum’s sister-in-law Nassima Khatun said.
“My husband and son were killed, and another son went missing.”
The reports in the state could not be verified as the Rohingya area is currently under what the UN terms “lockdown”, with access to media and aid agencies blocked.
“We have requested the government to provide us with access, so we can estimate the actual numbers,” McKissick said.
Bangladesh has tightened security to try and push refugees back, as the country struggles to cope with the influx.
Thousands of people from Myanmar have already crossed into Bangladesh and, according to Dhaka, “thousands more have been reported to be gathering at the border”.
The Bangladesh government summoned the Dhaka-based Myanmarese envoy on Wednesday to express concern at the “continued deteriorating situation (in Rakhine) following the country’s military crackdown”.
The government has denied reports of human rights abuse, claiming that the military is carrying out “clearance operations” targeting suspected “violent attackers” who killed nine border guards on October 9.
Since then, more than 100 people have been killed and around 600 arrested.
“The government of Myanmar is engaging in collective punishment against the Rohingya ethnic minority.”
A recent Human Rights Watch report estimated that 1,250 Rohingya homes were burned down by the authorities — a claim the government has denied, saying that “attackers” from the villages carried out the arson.
“These alarming images confirm that the destruction in Rohingya villages is far greater and in more places than the government has admitted,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Nobel prize laureate and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has faced criticism for her administration’s silence on the issue, a problem which McKissick said shows a lack of control.
“Myanmar needs to follow international law and respect human rights, and they’re not doing that right now, and it seems that the democratically elected government does not have control over the military,” McKissick said.
“In our villages where we used to live, there are no Rohingya Muslims left. All of them fled from their homes,” Begum said.
“We left all of our belongings back there. We left everything to save our lives. Now, how can we go back,” Khatun asked. “They will kill us.”