Rabat – Villages raided and burnt, children slaughtered and civilians killed: thousands of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority were forced to flee to Bangladesh after clashes between Myanmar security forces and Rohingya ethnic militias intensified leading to the most brutal fight between the two groups since conflict broke out last year.
Since August 25, Rohingya Muslim ethnic group have been seeking refuge in Bangladesh away from their residences in the state of Rakhine.
The exact number of refugees has not been determined. While the government of Myanmar has reported them to number 18,500, Bangladeshi aid workers believe figures to be much bigger, saying that on Saturday that 70,000 Rohingya, an astonishing 10 percent of the group’s population, crossed to Bangladesh in less than one day. While the UN claimed on Monday that the accurate number is about 87,000.
The journey to Bangladeshis mostly taken by women, children, and elderly people. The host county has thus provided them with limited access to aid at temporary camps.
A man under the name of Karim told CBC News that he paid about USD 150 for each of his family members to be smuggled on a wooden boat to Bangladesh after soldiers killed 110 Rohingya in their village of Kunnapara, near the coastal town of Maungdaw.
While some were able to flee to safety, thousands others are incapable of reaching Bangladesh, as the borders between the two countries are now officially closed, according to the UN International Office of Migration.
Other refuge seekers have found temporary shelter in Sittwe, the capital of the state of Rakhine in western Myanmar.
An Exile in the Home Land
The Rohingya minority are often referred to as the world’s most persecuted minority.Out of an estimated population of 1.1 million, 400,000 have fled to Bangladesh.
Myanmar, a Buddhist majority country, forces the minority into systematic discrimination, as it denies them citizenship for allegedly being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Throughout years of persecution, the Rohingya people remained pacifist. However, in October 2016, a militia group,the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, (ARSA) emerged and carried out deadly attacks on security forces.
On August 25, the ARSA raided over 25 police posts, using guns, knives, and homemade explosives. The clash between governments troops and the militant group reached Muslim-majority regions in Rakhine.
During the clash, about 400 people were killed, according to government figures.
The government justified its actions in the Muslim majority villages as “a clearance operation” of the group which has been trying to establish an“Islamic state.”
During the clash, Rohingya villagers said that soldiers, police, and Buddhist crowds attacked and burned down their homes. Civilians who tried to flee the terror were shot dead.
“In the west of my direction I am seeing smoke.The villages are burning down. Markets in the town had been closed and villagers were afraid of going outside for fear of soldiers. Food was running out. I can hear my neighbors’ children crying,” a Rohingya man in his twenties told Time magazine on August 30.
The ARSA has taken to Twitter and indicated that the attacks were a “legitimate step” to regain the rights of Rohingya, which they called stateless Muslim minority.
STATEMENT: Update on the Current Situation in Arakan State pic.twitter.com/1OgpPueITJ
— ARSA_The Army (@ARSA_Official) 27 August 2017
Human Rights Watch satellite images indicated that hundreds of buildings had been destroyed in at least 17 places throughout Rakhine state since August 25.
The government stressed that operations against the ARSA are legal and that the houses were burned by the “extremist group.”
Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s social welfare minister said to Time that “They burned their own houses and ran. We saw burning. That’s what we know.”
Karim told CBC News on Saturday that “the military are burning us, burning us, killing us, setting our village on fire.”
“The military destroyed everything. After killing some Rohingya, the military burned their houses and shops,” he said. “We have a baby who is eight days only, and an old woman who is 105.”
Support and Condemnation of August 25 Attacks
Myanmar’s head of state, Aung San Suu Kyi, has defined the attacks on Myanmar security officials as “terrorism” and pushed news media to use the term “Bengali terrorists” to describe the ARSA, characterizing them as illegal immigrants.
— ARSA_The Army (@ARSA_Official) 3 September 2017
According to the Guardian, she also said that the country would deny entry to UN missions, after UN issued a report saying that the treatment of minority groups in the country could amount to “ethnic cleansing.”
Saudi Arabia’s mission to the United Nations responded in a tweet, condemning the recent attacks on Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority.
“Acting upon KSA responsibility as the leader of the Islamic Ummah. Saudi Arabia has called for a resolution to condemn the atrocities and human rights violations committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar,” said the tweet.
“KSA has reached out to members of the Security Council to address the recent human rights violations against the Rohingya on its agenda. KSA has expressed its concern to Secretary General, which resulted in a condemnation from the United Nations. Upholding its responsibility.”
— KSA Mission UN (@ksamissionun) September 2, 2017
In his greetings at the end of the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis also condemned “the persecution of our Rohingya brothers,” asking “the Lord to save them, and to raise up men and women of good will to help them, who shall give them their full rights.” “Let us pray for our Rohingya brethren.”