MADRID – The camps housing hundreds of thousands of displaced Rohingya people who have poured into Bangladesh fleeing deadly persecution in neighboring Myanmar are comparable to open prisons where violence against women is commonplace, a leading lawyer in the field said.
In an interview with EFE in Madrid, Razia Sultana, herself a Rohingya, spoke of the conditions in the camps she had seen in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, an area that lies near the border of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the heartland of the ethnic minority Rohingya people, a largely Muslim community in Buddhist-majority Myanmar who in recent years have been the victims of a violent ethnic crackdown.
“This is not life, it’s like a jail,” Sultana said. “One woman told me that one day feels like one year, just waiting to eat, just waiting for somebody coming to kill you. You haven’t any right to go outside, to move around, to do anything,” she said.
Some 730,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape a military crackdown, which the UN has denounced as “deliberate genocide” and “textbook ethnic cleansing.” Most have settled in the camps strewn around Cox’s Bazar.
The accusations have been dismissed by Burmese authorities during that time at least 19,000 women are thought to have been raped, according to UN fact-finding missions.
Several NGOs estimate that up to 9,000 Rohingya were killed by Myanmar’s military, although figures were difficult to retrieve in a country that has effectively closed the door to international monitors.
Sultana was born in Myanmar but has spent 38 of her 45 years exiled to Bangladesh.
She began to investigate allegations that Burmese troops had used sexual violence as a weapon of war when she found that many of the women she interviewed reported having been sexually assaulted or raped.
Sultana said it was at first difficult to extract information from witnesses but said she now enjoyed great support, especially from within the Rohingya community, that has allowed for detailed accounts of accusations.
However, she lamented that displaced Rohingya had not been afforded a lack of international rights.
“These Rohingya have no refugee status,” she told EFE: “This is a very big issue for us, we are not recognized as a citizen of our own country, we are just like a displaced people, a nowhere people,” she added.
Sultana spoke to the UN Security Council last year urging the international community to take further actions in aiding displaced Rohingya and put an end to the crisis.
Asked about the origins of the violence, Sultana highlighted sectarianism as well as politics and ethnicity as root causes but made clear she did not blame Buddhism as a whole, which she said was a religion of peace. Over 90 percent of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist.