‘They shot my two daughters in front of me’: Rohingya tell heartbreaking stories of loss and forced migration



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A military crackdown has led to staggering 600,000 people fleeing Myanmar on foot since late August.
Ronan Lee, Author provided

Ronan Lee, Deakin University

If there’s anything positive about the sprawling Rohingya refugee camps near Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, it’s that the residents – despite their appalling recent experiences and obvious deprivation – are at least safe here from Myanmar’s military.

I’ve been visiting Rohingya refugee camps close to the Bangladesh/Myanmar border, and the scale of the forced migration is truly horrifying. Land unoccupied in late August is now a cramped shanty city of bamboo, tarpaulin and mud that seems to go on forever.

Interviews in the camps paint a desperately sad picture. The details of these interviews are invariably confronting and often distressing, and explain why so many Rohingya fled Myanmar so quickly.

A farmer becomes understandably emotional when he tells me:

I lost my two sons, and two daughters. At midnight the military come in my house and burnt the house, but first they raped my two daughters and they shot my two daughters in front of me.

I have no words to express how it was for me to suffer to look at my daughters being raped and killed in front of me. My two sons were also killed by the government. I was not able to get the dead bodies of my daughters, it is a great sorrow for me.

The Honey Stream at Kutupalong Camp.
Ronan Lee, Author provided

Background to the refugee crisis

The military’s ongoing “clearance operation” began in late August with the supposed aim of ridding Myanmar of a recently emerged militant group. But this campaign’s real intent is now widely regarded as being to force the ethnic Rohingya, a Muslim minority, from their homes, away from their land, and out of Myanmar.

Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, has used tactics that are brutal, indiscriminate, and yet sadly familiar to the Rohingya and other groups in Myanmar such as the ethnic Kachin and Karen.

Witnesses described to me how, when the Tatmadaw arrived at their village, the soldiers fired weapons and killed people inside wooden homes, arrested young men, raped women, told residents to leave, and then burned homes to prevent the residents’ return.

Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where the Rohingya have mostly lived, remains locked down by the Tatmadaw, preventing media and humanitarian access. But NGO Human Rights Watch has released satellite images showing almost 300 Rohingya villages razed.


Video courtesy and copyright the author (Ronan Lee).

In some instances, these burnt Muslim villages stand adjacent to fully intact Buddhist communities. Disturbingly, at the camps in Bangladesh, UN doctors have treated dozens of Rohingya women for injuries consistent with violent sexual assaults.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights describes Myanmar military’s actions as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. French President Emmanuel Macron has called it “genocide”. He is not the first to make this assertion.

In 2015, the International State Crime Initiative published a detailed research report that concluded the Rohingya were victims of a process of genocide, and predicted the ferocity and intent of the current Tatmadaw campaign.

Aid queue at the Kutupalong Camp.
Ronan Lee, Author provided

Stories from the ground

The result of this crackdown has been one of the fastest and largest forced migrations in the region since the second world war. Within just eight weeks, and during the monsoon season, a staggering 600,000 people have fled Myanmar on foot.

These new arrivals are not the only Rohingya here. They are joining hundreds of thousands already forced to live in Bangladeshi camps who are victims of previous intensive Myanmar military persecutions. This highlights the decades-long discrimination against the Rohingya in Myanmar.

I conducted interviews with male residents of unregistered camps and at Kutupalong Camp. One elderly man who has recently arrived in Kutupalong Camp explained that ten men were arrested in his village. Their families, he said, had not heard from them since. He said the military told his village’s residents to leave:

The military led us to prayer and some kind of religious work, and they openly told us to go to Bangladesh – otherwise you will be killed.

A Rohingya man, dressed in a traditional Burmese Longyi skirt, said his village was “friendly” and “quiet”:

We were living there, very friendly. At midnight we heard the sound of bullets, we went outside to see what is happening. I think they behaved like this – arresting, torturing, shooting, hitting – because we are Rohingya and Muslim. We’re not at fault, we are really innocent.

When asked if anyone in his village was hurt, he said:

No-one in my family was killed, but some near my home were killed.

A 60-year-old man from Buthidaung explained his village was burnt, showing me a large bandaged leg wound he said was from a bullet injury:

Among my four sons, one was killed by the military in front of me, and one arrested, and one of my daughters – my adult daughter – was arrested but I don’t know where she is.

Explaining how he travelled to Bangladesh, a man in his 20s said:

When our village was burned we moved to another village, and then they came to burn that village, and we moved another village, and when they came to burn that village and we moved, and that’s how we came here at last. They used the helicopter to burn the villages.

I am grateful to camp residents for their courage in sharing still-raw experiences with me in the hope the international community would hear them and help them.

Myanmar has denied the Rohingya their human rights, so it’s up to the international community to provide the Rohingya with the protections they are entitled to as human beings. They deserve no less.

A Rohingya man in his 20s asked:

I humbly request to you that, we want to be human, live as a human, but Myanmar treats us as animals. We want to go back there as humans.

He should not need to ask.


Video courtesy and copyright the author (Ronan Lee).

Yahiya Khan contributed to this article.

The ConversationEditor’s note: The syntax and grammar has been edited in some of the quotes to ensure they are comprehensible for readers.

Ronan Lee, PhD Candidate, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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World must act to end the violence against Rohingya in Myanmar



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Rohingya refugees carry their child as they walk through water after crossing the Naf River border by boat to Teknaf, Bangladesh.
Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Chris Wilson

A new phase of massive violent ethnic cleansing is under way in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. An estimated 160,000 men, women and children of the Muslim Rohingya community have crossed into Bangladesh, fleeing indiscriminate attacks by the armed forces.

The military crackdown was in response to a co-ordinated assault against police posts by a Rohingya militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The militants killed 12 security personnel. In the armed forces’ “clearance operations” that followed, 400 people have died so far.

This is the latest wave of violence involving the local Buddhist Rakhine ethnic community and the Rohingya since 2012. Around 1,000 have died over this period, amid reports of mass rape and the deliberate razing of villages by the military.

About 250,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh in the past five years. Others have embarked on an often deadly journey to find asylum, while many more remain in squalid detention camps within Myanmar, to which aid workers or outside observers are regularly denied access. Satellite images suggest that over 100km of land has been burned in the recent attacks.

A boat carrying Rohingya refugees leaves Myanmar on the Naf River while thousands of others wait their turn in Maungdaw, Myanmar.
Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Survivors have recounted numerous atrocities such as beheadings and the slaughter of children. These are often acts of intimidation intended to ensure communities do not return. It seems likely that another round of violent, intentional and perhaps permanent expulsion has occurred.

History of the conflict

The causes of the turmoil are as complex as they are old. Rakhine State is the poorest region in Myanmar. Both the Muslim Rohingya and the indigenous Buddhist Rakhine community have suffered longstanding injustices at the hands of the military regime and each other.

Many Rakhine believe they lost large tracts of traditional land when the British encouraged Bengali labourers to move into Burma after assuming control in 1824. Large-scale violence between the two communities has occurred several times since the second world war.

Many Rakhine died when the Rohingya fought for Muslim-majority parts of northern Rakhine State to be integrated into East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Subsequent military campaigns drove many Rohingya into Bangladesh: 250,000 in 1978 and a further 250,000 in 1991 and 1992, although many were forcibly repatriated to Rakhine.

Many Rakhine now seemingly support the expulsion of the group from the state, with some participating in recent military-led attacks. The ARSA attacks have dramatically worsened the already perilous position of the 1 million Rohingya left in Rakhine.

The broader political context

Also driving the contemporary violence are two broader phenomena. The first is political liberalisation since 2005; the second is a national discourse that denies the Rohingya rights as citizens of Myanmar.

A 1982 citizenship law stripped the Rohingya of the status of one of Myanmar’s “national races”, deeming them to have entered the country after 1823. This means they have no citizenship, voting rights or the right to travel. Any property they own remains vulnerable to expropriation.

Now that a partial democracy has come to Myanmar, both national and Rakhine-based political parties (such as the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party) deride the Rohingya as “Bengalis”, “interlopers” and the perpetrators of brutal crimes. This is a way of radicalising and thereby capturing the Buddhist vote.

The historical record suggests that these claims of the Rohingyas’ recent arrival in Myanmar are questionable. Many are descended from Bengali labourers who arrived after 1823, but this means they have resided in the state for almost two centuries.

And many Rohingya also lived in Rakhine before 1823. In 1799, Francis Buchanan, a visiting representative of the East India Trading Company, reported meeting “Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan (Rakhine), and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan”. Many Muslims were living in Rakhine under the Kingdom of Mrauk-U between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Has the hatred become genocide?

Buddhist nationalists, in particular the Ma Ba Tha (Patriotic Association of Myanmar) led by the monk Ashin Wirathu, are promulgating much of the hatred of the Rohingya. Despite Muslims constituting only 4% of Myanmar’s population, he and other nationalists have portrayed the Rohingya as a potentially devastating cultural and physical threat to Buddhists in Myanmar.

Wirathu’s extremism has brought him a large following and, with it, political influence. He successfully pushed a series of “race and religion” laws through parliament, including a population control bill he described as necessary to “stop the Bengalis”.

Boys stand among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya in western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar.
Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

Many observers now say that recent events in Rakhine constitute genocide. The bar to this most heinous of crimes is set very high, reserved for events intended to eliminate a group in whole or in part.

The difficulty of proving intent has left many large-scale killings uncategorised as genocide. But it seems increasingly apparent that the military’s campaign against the Rohingya meets this restrictive criterion. The repeated mass violence, the execution of civilians, destruction of villages, and atrocities designed to engender terror and effect permanent exodus, combined with the government’s ongoing denial of citizenship and other rights, all point to an intention to eliminate the Rohingya as a distinct group within Myanmar.

Using a phrase commonly used in genocides around the world, the Myanmar army chief said recently that the Bengali problem was a longstanding one which has become an unfinished job.

How can and should the international community intervene?

It is difficult to see how these waves of killings and forced expulsions will cease without international involvement. While her supporters will say she can do little in the face of ongoing military power, government leader Aung San Suu Kyi has chosen to inflame rather than calm the situation. Her office has referred publicly to “Bengali terrorists”, claimed aid agencies are assisting Rohingya militants, stated Muslims are burning their own houses, and denied any wrongdoing by the military.

Regional and international states should intensify their pressure on the Myanmar government and the military to halt the violence and protect all civilians, whether citizens or not. ASEAN states in particular should pressure Myanmar to bring the crisis to an end.

Once this has been achieved, several measures might help reduce the frequency and intensity of the violence. The first and most important step is to grant the Rohingya naturalised citizenship and the rights that go with it. The group would then continue to live in the state, be allowed to vote and hold politicians to account.

To deflect the concerns of Rakhine, the Rohingya will need to rescind their claim to indigenous status and their ties to a traditional homeland in Rakhine. The implementation of certain electoral mechanisms – such as requirements for parties to win a portion of the votes from each community and for pairs of running mates to include a member from each group – will also slowly depoliticise ethnicity in the state.

The provision of aid, which must be rapid and substantial, must be carefully balanced so as not to cause further anger. It should be delivered to both displaced and non-displaced communities from both Rakhine and Rohingya.

The ConversationNone of these measures will be easy. All will face substantial resistance. But the alternative is ongoing mass killing and displacement, and further radicalisation.

Chris Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.