90,000 Rohingya refugees flee Myanmar in wave of violence

Increasing pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene on behalf of Muslim minority

A member of a group calling themselves friends of Muslim Rohingya shouts “God is Great” during a rally in front of the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia on Monday. Photograph:  Ed Wray/Getty Images

A member of a group calling themselves friends of Muslim Rohingya shouts “God is Great” during a rally in front of the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia on Monday. Photograph: Ed Wray/Getty Images

 

Nearly 90,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since violence erupted in Myanmar in August, pressuring scarce resources of aid agencies and communities already helping hundreds of thousands of refugees from previous spasms of violence in Myanmar.

Two blasts rocked an area near the Bangladeshi border on Monday, accompanied by the sound of gunfire and thick black smoke. Bangladeshi border guards said a woman lost a leg from a blast about 50 metres inside Myanmar and was carried into Bangladesh to get treatment.

The violence in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine state was triggered by an attack on August 25th on dozens of police posts and an army base by Rohingya insurgents. The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people.

Myanmar officials blamed Rohingya militants for the burning of homes and civilian deaths but rights monitors and Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh say the Myanmar army is trying to force Rohingya out with a campaign of arson and killings.

The treatment of Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s roughly 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya is the biggest challenge facing leader Aung San Suu Kyi, accused by western critics of not speaking out for the minority that has long complained of persecution.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has come under increasing diplomatic pressure from countries with large Muslim populations such as Bangladesh, Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan to protect Rohingya civilians.

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, on Monday called on Ms Suu Kyi to condemn the “shameful” treatment of the Rohingya, saying “the world is waiting” for her to speak out.

“Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment,” Malala said in a statement on Twitter. “I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same.

“The world is waiting and the Rohingya Muslims are waiting.”

Myanmar says its security forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against “terrorists” responsible for a string of attacks on police posts and the army since last October.

Second wave

The number of those crossing the border into Bangladesh – 87,000 – surpassed the number who escaped Myanmar after a series of much smaller insurgent attacks last October that set off a military operation beset by accusations of serious human rights abuses.

Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, on Sunday. Photograph: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters
Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, on Sunday. Photograph: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

The newest estimate, based on calculations by UN workers in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar, takes to nearly 150,000 the total number of Rohingya who have sought refuge in Bangladesh since October.

“We are trying to build houses here, but there isn’t enough space,” said Mohammed Hussein (25), who was still looking for a place to stay after fleeing Myanmar four days ago.

“No non-government organisations came here. We have no food. Some women gave birth on the roadside. Sick children have no treatment.”

An unofficial camp for Rohingya refugees that sprang up after the October attacks is being dramatically expanded.

Hundreds of Rohingya milled beside the road while others slung tarpaulins over bamboo frames to make shelters against the monsoon rain.

Among new arrivals, about 16,000 are school-age children and more than 5,000 are under the age of five who need vaccine coverage, aid workers said over the weekend.

The number of unaccompanied children was high and many were “traumatised and hungry”, they said.

Md Ali Hossen, deputy commissioner for the Cox’s Bazar district, said that some new arrivals were setting up new camps and the government was not stopping them or taking the camps down on humanitarian grounds.

Bangladesh officials have said at least 53 bodies have either washed up on Bangladeshi shores or have been found in the Naf River, which separates the two countries, many with bullet or knife wounds.

Turkish offer

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said on Friday that violence against Myanmar’s Muslims amounted to genocide, last week called Bangladesh’s president Abdul Hamid to offer help in sheltering the Rohingya, Dhaka said.

Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi met Ms Suu Kyi and other officials in Myanmar on Monday, to urge a halt to the violence. Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population. A petrol bomb was thrown at the Myanmar embassy in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on Sunday.

Ms Suu Kyi’s office said Ms Marsudi expressed the Indonesian government’s “support of the activities of the Myanmar government for the stability, peace and development of Rakhine state”. They also discussed humanitarian aid and the two countries would collaborate for the development of the state, Ms Suu Kyi’s office said without giving further details.

There were more anti-Myanmar protests in Jakarta on Monday.

In addition to tens of thousands of Rohingya, more than 11,700 “ethnic residents” had been evacuated from northern Rakhine state, the Myanmar government has said, referring to non-Muslims.

The army said on Sunday that Rohingya insurgents had set fire to monasteries, images of Buddha as well as schools and houses in the north of Rakhine state. It posted images of destroyed Buddha statues.

Humanitarian crisis - main issues

New settlement clusters are being set up spontaneously and are quickly expanding, with support from communities despite cautioning by authorities against any attempt to provide refugees with materials. Materials most urgently needed would be for shelters, such as tarps, bamboo and rope.

A stock of high-energy biscuits will only last two weeks. Rice supplies for both the refugees who crossed the border last year as well as this year’s arrivals “may be problematic”.

There is enough safe water available to supply 2,500 people for 72 hours with additional stocks in the pipeline.

Safe sanitation and hygiene can be provided for 500 people with an additional 1,000 kits available. There are 400 emergency latrine chambers with 60 more under construction.

Overcrowded camps and a lack of knowledge of available medical facilities hamper the mobility of women in labour or those experiencing an emergency.

Vaccination for children under five has started at the Kutupalong settlement area with 285 children vaccinated for oral polio, measles, rubella and also given vitamin A shots.

Reuters