Violence against the Rohingya people in the Rhakine state of Burma has resumed. I visited the Rhakine state and the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2015. I published an article about my experiences in New Matilda. It was a harrowing experience. The Rohingya people are some of the most disadvantaged in the world: denied citizenship in their own country and at risk of violence and persecution by the Burmese military; if they flee to Bangladesh they are subjected to awful conditions in overcrowded camps with no option of resettlement. It is no wonder they take boats to find other options for protection.
A few days ago I received messages from my friend Zhakir (name changed) reporting on the violence. Zhakir has previously sent me reports on the refugee camps in Bangladesh. Here is what he said:
From 9 October, the violence started again. A group people attacked a military camp in Rhakine state, Burma where some military died. The Burmese military accused Rohingya people and they started arresting the educated Rohingya people, beating them, raping females (especially the young ones), burning houses and destroying their properties. I met an eye witness who escaped to Bangladesh last week. He claims that Rohingya people had been burned to death in their houses, and he accused the military of throwing children into fires.
Some Rohingyas have been trying to escape to Bangladesh during the night but there is strict border security who try to prevent people fleeing across the border. Many people are trying to flee the violent but can’t get out. Yesterday I found four wounded Rohingya people and took them to the MSF clinic for treatment. I also met two families whose male head of the family was killed in Burma. In one family, the mother had five children who have no clothes to wear in this winter season. I gave some of my son’s and wife’s clothes to both their families. But they are most concerned about food and shelter.
When the violence resumed in October, I heard stories of Rohingya asylum seekers in Australia losing contact with loved ones. Many families are split when people come to Australia to seek asylum. Those left behind call their loved ones in Australia reporting on the violence, updating them on their escapes and near misses. One man sat before me, crumpled up like a used tissue, and told me his brother was murdered in Burma and his wife was on the run. Zhakir told me a story of a young family’s escape from Burma. Morium (26) is a mother of three children aged 9, 6 and 5:
On 12 November 2016 at about 5am, I escaped from my home with my children after hearing that the military had come to attack our village. My husband Azul (35) was a school teacher but that day he didn’t come back from work. I went to a forest to hide with my children. When we reached the forest, I saw that our house was on fire. We waited until evening, expecting my husband’s return but he never came back. We heard from a nearby man, who had come to the forest to hide, that my husband had been caught and slaughtered. I wanted to go to the village but I couldn’t as there were military around beating and chasing people. We started walking through the forest and reached Keyari Prang after two days. I told my family’s story to a boatman and he kept us at his house. After two days he helped us to cross the Naf river with his canoe and we reached the Bangladesh coast at midnight. The boatman handed us over to a man. He took us in a CNG (a kind of 3-wheeled vehicle) in the morning to go to Kutupalong refugee camp.
On the way, the border guard of Bangladesh caught us at a check point. They stopped the vehicle and ordered the driver to drop us at the border. I was crying a lot and asked the driver not to take us to the border. He let us go at a village called Gilatoli. We went to a nearby house and described our story to a family who sheltered us. After 3 days, I saw a woman begging. She told me that she was from Kutupalong and I asked her to take us there. She agreed but she didn’t have enough money to pay for all of us to go. I was penniless and the family who was sheltering us was also poor. She promised me that she would help us. The next day, two youths came from Kutupalong camp and took us there through the forest to escape from the border guards. My eldest daughter told me with tears in her eyes:
“I miss my father a lot and I hope that he will come back to us”.
I am staying at a refugee family’s room in Kutupalong makeshift camp but we have only one dress each. We don’t have winter clothes and we don’t have food.
The resumption of violence in the Rhakine state is especially frightening considering the failure of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to prevent the violence and protect the Rohingya people. The election of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy last year brought hope of a transition from military to civilian rule in Burma. This new wave of violence and the government’s weak response shows that this transition will take a long time. In the meantime, the Rohingya people continue to suffer with little hope of aid from the outside world.