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.