Mus­lims watch homes burn,

Group has proof of an ‘or­ches­trated cam­paign of sys­temic burn­ings’

Waterloo Region Record - - FRONT PAGE - Jul­has Alam

TUMBRU, BANGLADESH — Days af­ter flee­ing their vil­lage on the Myanmar side of the bor­der fence, a group of Ro­hingya Mus­lims watched from just in­side Bangladesh as yet an­other house went up in flames.

“You see this fire to­day,” said Farid Alam, one of the Ro­hingya who watched the fire burn from about 500 me­tres away. “That is my vil­lage.”

The vil­lagers said they had es­caped days ago, cross­ing into Bangladesh at the bor­der point of Tumbru and join­ing thou­sands of other eth­nic Ro­hingya hud­dling in the open in the district of Ban­dar­ban to es­cape re­cent vi­o­lence in Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myanmar.

When they crossed the bor­der, they saw land­mines that had been newly planted by Myanmar forces, Alam said.

Thou­sands of Ro­hingya are con­tin­u­ing to stream across the bor­der, with UN of­fi­cials and oth­ers de­mand­ing that Myanmar halt what they de­scribe as a cam­paign of eth­nic cleans­ing that has driven nearly 400,000 Ro­hingya to flee in the past three weeks.

That num­ber in­cludes an es­ti­mated 240,000 chil­dren, UNICEF said in Geneva on Fri­day.

“We had a big house, we are 10 peo­ple in the fam­ily, but they burned our home,” Alam said as he watched the other house burn­ing Fri­day. “My fa­ther was a vil­lage doc­tor, we had a med­i­cal store. We had land and cat­tle, all are gone.”

Eth­nic Ro­hingya have long faced dis­crim­i­na­tion in Myanmar and are de­nied ci­ti­zen­ship, even though many fam­i­lies have lived there for gen­er­a­tions.

Af­ter a Ro­hingya in­sur­gent group at­tacked po­lice posts in Myanmar’s Rakhine State on Aug. 25, the mil­i­tary re­sponded with “clear­ance oper­a­tions.” Flee­ing Ro­hingya say se­cu­rity forces shot in­dis­crim­i­nately, burned their homes and threat­ened them with death. The gov­ern­ment says hun­dreds died, mostly Ro­hingya, and that 176 out of 471 Ro­hingya vil­lages are now aban­doned.

UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res on Wed­nes­day de­scribed the vi­o­lence against Ro­hingya as “eth­nic cleans­ing” — a term that de­scribes an or­ga­nized ef­fort to rid an area of an eth­nic group by dis­place­ment, de­por­ta­tion or killing.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said Thurs­day that it has ev­i­dence of an “or­ches­trated cam­paign of sys­tem­atic burn­ings” by Myanmar se­cu­rity forces tar­get­ing dozens of Ro­hingya vil­lages over the last three weeks.

In a sep­a­rate re­port, Hu­man Rights Watch said Fri­day that high-res­o­lu­tion satel­lite images showed 62 vil­lages where fires had oc­curred, in­clud­ing 35 with ex­ten­sive dam­age.

Abul Bashar, a 73-year-old Ro­hingya in Ban­dar­ban, said he trav­elled 15 days on foot to reach Bangladesh on Wed­nes­day, and was sep­a­rated from the rest of his fam­ily.

He took noth­ing with him as he fled.

“I have lost ev­ery­thing,” he said. “Our homes were burned … It was painful, very painful.”

Else­where, along a fence near the Ku­tu­pa­long refugee camp in Bangladesh’s bor­der district of Cox’s Bazar, men, women and chil­dren ran af­ter aid trucks as vol­un­teers tossed cloth­ing and pack­ets of dry food.

With refugee camps over­flow­ing and hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ro­hingya strug­gling to find shel­ter, food and other es­sen­tial ser­vices, aid work­ers say they are deeply wor­ried by the con­tin­u­ing in­flux of peo­ple by land and wa­ter.

“This is des­per­ate. It’s one of the big­gest man-made crises and mass move­ments of peo­ple in the re­gion for decades,” Martin Faller, a deputy re­gional di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Red Cross and Red Cres­cent So­ci­eties, said.

“Peo­ple have no food, wa­ter or shel­ter and they are in des­per­ate need of sup­port. No one should have to live like this,” Faller said.

UN refugee agency spokesper­son Joseph Tripura said that, un­less au­thor­i­ties ad­dress health con­cerns, “we might see a very bad sit­u­a­tion in com­ing days” with dis­ease out­breaks.

The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion in Geneva be­lieves “thou­sands of peo­ple are wait­ing to take boats to Cox’s Bazar,” ac­cord­ing to Asia-Pa­cific spokesper­son Chris Lom. “There is no sign that this flow is go­ing to dry up.”

UN agen­cies fear con­tin­ued vi­o­lence in Myanmar may even­tu­ally drive up to one mil­lion Ro­hingya into Bangladesh.

On Fri­day, one of the re­cently ar­rived men, Moulana Arif Ul­lah, led about 300 other Ro­hingya Mus­lim men in weekly prayer.

“There are sol­diers over there … we can’t have free­dom there,” he said to wor­ship­pers at a makeshift mosque at the Ku­tu­pa­long refugee camp.

“Who can save us? Who can give us food?” he asked, shout­ing and sob­bing. “Al­lah,” they shouted back. “What can we do? We pray to Al­lah. He will save us,” Mo­hammed Ashikur said as the prayers ended.

DAR YASIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ro­hingya Mus­lims who re­cently crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh in­ter­ro­gate a sus­pected child traf­ficker near Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh, on Fri­day. Thou­sands of Ro­hingya con­tinue to stream across the bor­der. The UN of­fi­cials de­scribed the vi­o­lence against Ro­hingya as ‘eth­nic cleans­ing.’

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