Rohingya Muslims flee to Bangladesh, their "only chance of survival”

Screen capture of an amateur video showing a group of Rohingya trying to escape across the border with Bangladesh. Obtained via Facebook.
Screen capture of an amateur video showing a group of Rohingya trying to escape across the border with Bangladesh. Obtained via Facebook.

After a rebel group from the Rohingya Muslim minority carried out an attack on multiple Burmese police posts on August 25, the Burmese army has been carrying out a brutal campaign of reprisals against Rohingya civilians living in western Burma. The army accuses them of supporting the rebels. Terrified, thousands of them are making a run for the border with Bangladesh, despite the risk of being killed for attempting the crossing.

On Friday, August 25, 150 rebels from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked about 20 police posts in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung, three cantons in Rakhine state. At least 59 rebels and 12 Burmese police officers died in the clashes, according to Burmese authorities.

In response, the Burmese army launched a horrific campaign of reprisals in Muslim villages. They looted and torched homes and murdered civilians. Most of the civilians who managed to flee their villages headed towards the border with Bangladesh.

Rohingya Muslims living in Burma face extreme discrimination. Even though many of them come from families who have lived in Burma for several generations, they are denied citizenship. Officially stateless, the Rohingya are not allowed to seek medical care in Burmese hospitals and their children are not allowed in state schools. Most Rohingya adults are excluded from the work force.

In the days since August 25, close to 9,000 Rohingya civilians have found refuge across the border in Bangladesh, according to Rohingya community leaders. But Bangladeshi border guards have prevented thousands more civilians,  including many women and children, from crossing the border. With nowhere to go, the civilians were left trapped, within easy range of the guns of the Burmese soldiers who had followed them to the border.

Rohingya civilians make a desperate attempt to cross the Naf River, which marks the border between Burma and Bangladesh.

Rohingya refugees receiving aid from a humanitarian group on the border with Bangladesh.

“To avoid being seen, we only walk at night”

Our Observer, 22-year-old Hussein A., fled his village on Monday, August 28, along with many of his friends and neighbours. They are now on their way to the border with Bangladesh, where they plan to attempt the dangerous crossing. Hussein is with his family, including his four young children.

We are currently hiding in the chain of hills that lead up to the border. We are still about 50 kilometres from the border. Starting tonight [Wednesday, August 30], we will begin walking there. We don’t have much with us, just a few extra pairs of clothes and sacks of rice, which will keep us going for a few days. There are many women and children in our group.

Soldiers came into our village on Monday [August 28]. They torched our homes and shot people on sight, murdering several people.

Hundreds of Rohingya have hidden themselves in the forest to escape the campaign of violence carried out by the Burmese army.

We have to be very careful because the army is scouring the area. They are also pounding the hills with mortar fire. To keep from being seen, we only walk at night. We try to make as little noise as possible and only speak in hushed tones.

Reaching Bangladesh is our only hope to escape certain death. If the Bangladeshi authorities prevent us from crossing, it’s all over for us.

The Burmese army are hunting down Rohingyas who try to flee the country, following fleeing civilians right up to the border posts. On Saturday, August 27, Burmese soldiers fired mortars and machine guns at civilians who were trying to cross the river separating the two countries as Bangladeshi border guards looked on.

"Soldiers drive around with bodies on the backs of their vehicles"

Our Observer, Myint, lives in District Number 4, located to the south of Buthidaung. He wasn’t able to flee before soldiers arrived in his area. He has been hiding in his home for several days.

I don’t have anywhere to go. There are soldiers everywhere. They have constant patrols around the city. If they saw me out, they’d kill me instantly because they’d accuse me of being a rebel fighter.

When they enter a village or a neighbourhood, they burn the homes one by one. Then, they start shooting the people who are fleeing. They make no distinction if you are a man, woman or child.

Burmese soldiers torched Rohingya villages.

In my area, which is located to the north of Buthidaung, they burned and pillaged seven different villages. They killed a lot of people in the villages of Maung Nu Hamlet and Chin Thama, including my cousins and my uncle. Sometimes, they drive around with bodies on the backs of their vehicles to scare us.

There’s not a single ARSA rebel left in my village. They all fled on Monday night or early Tuesday morning [August 28 or 29]. But the soldiers don’t care, they shoot anything that moves.