KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh – Members of the persecuted Rohingya community who on Wednesday continued to arrive in Bangladesh claimed that the campaign of abuses and burning of houses by the Myanmar army continues in the villages of western Myanmar.
More than 100 days have passed since the Rohingya crisis broke out, with thousands of people from the ethnic Muslim minority group fleeing western Myanmar’s Rakhine State and entering Bangladesh.
“Yes, of course, they are still burning houses. The military and Buddhists come together and take our livestock. They don’t burn all the houses at once. They come once and burn two or three houses, and they return another day and burn two or three more,” Abdul Hamid, 45, told EFE while unable to hold back his tears.
He reached Bangladesh a few days ago from Buthidaung village, in Rakhine, and was transferred with his two children and along with some 50 Rohingya families to a temporary shelter at the Kutupalong refugee camp, administered by the United Nations.
“I had a shop and some soldiers arrested one of my brothers there. I saw many crimes by the military and the Buddhists. This persecution was unbearable for us, so we have come to Bangladesh,” Hamid said, adding that his wife and two other children were still on the other side, waiting to cross the border by boat.
Although Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on Nov. 23 for the repatriation of the refugees, Rohingyas have continued to arrive and their numbers have reached 626,000 since Aug. 25 when the current crisis broke out.
According to the memorandum, the repatriation process should begin within two months, a time-frame doubted by the UNHCR, citing the fact that Myanmar authorities have set a pre-condition that refugees should have documentation before they are accepted back.
“The villages are still burning. Most of my village was burned,” 27-year-old Amir Halcin, accompanied by his wife and three children, told EFE.
He explained how, soon after, they left their village of Lawadong in Rakhine and began a 12-day journey through the mountains, staying away from major roads to avoid getting caught by the Myanmar army.
That military has repeatedly denied that its soldiers had attacked civilians since Aug. 25 in retaliation against multiple attacks by a Rohingya insurgent group.
However, the United Nations, the United States government and human rights organizations have on several occasions said that there is clear evidence of abuses committed and have called it ethnic cleansing.
“They burned houses (...) and we ran to another village, a day later they attacked that village too and we went to another, where we stayed for some time. Recently they arrested six people. We are so scared that we came to Bangladesh,” Arfa Begum, a 42-year-old widow, accompanied by her teenage son and daughter, told EFE.
“I saw young people were arrested by the military, so I brought my son to Bangladesh to save him,” said Begum, who is from Shaira Para village.
Osiur Rahaman, 50, did not have the same luck. His two children, 25 and 29, were taken away by the army and their whereabouts are unknown.
Rahaman told EFE he finally decided to flee to Bangladesh when soldiers came in the middle of the night on Dec. 3 to his village, Lawadong, and started torturing people.