It’s not easy to get in contact with Mohammed (pseudonym). He’s in hiding, and has to be discreet. Mohammed is a Muslim Rohingya man living in Burma near the border with Bangladesh. His people have fled Burma by the hundreds of thousands in the past year. Despite the risks involved, Mohammed has filmed them on their exodus and shared the videos with activists abroad.
This is his story, in his own words – words gathered in short bursts, over the course of several weeks, mainly through messaging. He took this precaution to avoid anyone hearing him speaking to foreign media.
“They are looking for Rohingyas who use the Internet”
I lived near the town of Maungdaw, but my home was burnt down by the Burmese military, the border guard and local Rakhine [Buddhist residents of Rakhine state]. They did this to chase us away. I’ve stayed in the region, but I have to change houses often because the police here carry out frequent checks, and if they catch me, nobody can rescue me. They are looking for Rohingyas who use the Internet in the border area and communicate with foreigners. I don’t get much sleep.
All Rohingyas must be very careful at night: if the police catch any Rohinyga outside after nightfall, they take them to prison. [Editor’s Note: Strict curfews are in place in the area].
Most of my family fled to Bangladesh a while back, and I am only surviving because some remaining relatives give me a bit of money. I don’t plan to go to Bangladesh anytime soon because I’m afraid of the security forces catching me there. [Editor’s Note: Rohingya activists say that it is increasingly difficult for able-bodied young men to make it across as they are targeted by security forces. Moreover, Bangladesh complained last week that Burmese security personnel had gathered near the border. Previously, Bangladesh had protested Burma’s placement of landmines near the border.]
Families fleeing toward the border with Bangladesh at dawn. Video by Mohammed.
It’s hard to take photos or videos due to the risks of getting caught. However, I’ve sent the few I’ve been able to take - like houses that were set on fire – to activists abroad. I do this because I want to bring our voice to the world so that we can get justice. Recently, I filmed a big crowd of more than 100 families fleeing towards the border on foot, at dawn. They were all from the same village, which they said had been burned down by the military and local Rakhine people. Not only that, but the authorities no longer allowed them to go to work or to the market or to fish – or even to cut firewood.
They didn’t have the money to pay for boats to cross into Bangladesh. Last I heard, they were camping on a beach. If they don’t find money – and I don’t see how they will – I imagine they will die there.
These families told Mohammed they didn’t have enough money to pay their way across the border to Bangladesh.
>>READ MORE ON THE OBSEVERS: Our articles about the Rohingya crisis in 2017
The United Nations has described the military offensive in Rakhine state, which began in August 2017, as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing". The Rohingya are effectively stateless, since the Burmese government denies them citizenship, claiming they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
In January, the Bangladeshi authorities announced that they had registered one million Rohingya refugees since August 2017. These refugees live in sprawling camps near the border, where most lack basic necessities like toilets and running water.