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/Burma (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 Burma 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.
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.
Burma’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.
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.
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.