FRONTLINES…

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Over half a mil­lion Ro­hingya have been forced to flee Myan­mar due to eth­nic cleans­ing. Con­cern’s Kieran McConville talks to Stu­art Clark about the hor­rors they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced, and the re­sult­ing Bangladeshi refugee cri­sis.

Plus McCann and The Hog

It re­ally wasn’t sup­posed to turn out like this. Aung San Suu Kyi had been hailed by ev­ery­one from U2 and Kofi An­nan to Pope John Paul II and the No­bel Com­mis­sion – they awarded her their 1991 Peace Prize – as Myan­mar’s saint­like demo­cratic saviour. Her re­lease in 2010 after 20 years of house ar­rest was meant to usher in a new Myan­mar, free from the iso­la­tion­ist mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship that had been in power since 1962.

The dream turned into a bloody night­mare, though, on Oc­to­ber 9, 2016 when hun­dreds of mil­i­tants, drawn from Bud­dhist Myan­mar’s mi­nor­ity Mus­lim Ro­hingya com­mu­nity, at­tacked three check­points along the coun­try’s bor­der with Bangladesh. After fur­ther fight­ing, which claimed the lives of 103 mil­i­tants and 32 mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces, the army launched a ma­jor crack­down that ini­tially saw them ar­rest and il­le­gally de­tain thou­sands of Ro­hingyas, some of them young chil­dren who clearly had no links to the mil­i­tants.

Worse was to come with sol­diers and vig­i­lante mobs launch­ing a scorched earth pol­icy in Myan­mar’s eastern Rakhine state.

The United Na­tions Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hus­sein, re­vealed that his team on the ground was “re­ceiv­ing ac­counts of in­dis­crim­i­nate shoot­ings, sum­mary ex­e­cu­tions, ar­bi­trary ar­rest, en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances, rape and other forms of sex­ual vi­o­lence and tor­ture.”

The in­ter­na­tional jury is out on ex­actly how com­plicit Aung San Suu Kyi has been in the vi­o­lence – former Aus­tralian prime min­is­ter, Kevin Rudd, is among those who be­lieve she’s lost con­trol of the mil­i­tary – but no one is dis­put­ing how se­ri­ous the cri­sis is.

In the past eight weeks, 589,000 Ro­hingyas have fled Myan­mar for Bangladesh where they’ve been re­stricted to a net­work of camps along the Cox’s Bazar-Tek­naf penin­sula, which has the long­est un­bro­ken beach in the world and has for sev­eral decades been a pop­u­lar back­pack­ers’ des­ti­na­tion.

“The Ro­hingya have ex­pe­ri­enced dif­fi­cul­ties in Myan­mar for a long time – there were a cou­ple of hun­dred thou­sand in Cox’s Bazar al­ready as a re­sult of pre­vi­ous dis­place­ments - but the scale of this has over­whelmed ev­ery­body,” says Kieran McConville, a pho­tog­ra­pher and film­maker work­ing with Con­cern who have 40 staff in four camps where they’ve reached more than 250,000 refugees. “Ev­ery day you see big open-backed trucks com­ing up the road with a new in­flux of fright­ened and bedrag­gled fam­i­lies packed into them. I met a lady who said that peo­ple, in­clud­ing her brother-in-law, had been shot whilst cross­ing the bor­der. There are un­con­firmed re­ports of land­mines be­ing laid, which, if true, will mean even more deaths and ca­su­al­ties.

“The Bangladeshi gov­ern­ment are plan­ning to build an­other camp with ser­vices for 800,000 peo­ple so the ex­pec­ta­tion is that the sit­u­a­tion is go­ing to get a whole lot worse.”

One of the first peo­ple McConville met in Cox’s Bazar was 24-year-old Amir.

“He limped up to us slowly, his right-calf wrapped in a dirty ban­dage,” Kieran re­sumes. “Amir told us how sol­diers had burst into his home, killed his young son and daugh­ter and then shot him. His par­ents are also dead, and he can’t lo­cate his wife. He’s wan­der­ing around Ku­tu­pa­long, this big camp, in a state of shock with a bul­let-wound in his leg and no re­al­is­tic

Refugees at Hakin Para watch as Ro­hingya vil­lages burn across the bor­der

Over half a mil­lion Ro­hingya have been forced to flee Myan­mar due to eth­nic cleans­ing. Con­cern’s Kieran McConville talks to Stu­art Clark about the hor­rors they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced, and the wors­en­ing refugee cri­sis in neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh.

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