Rohingya left in Rakhine State trapped in limbo
YANGON: Torched villages and unharvested padi fields stretch to the horizon in violence-gutted Rakhine State, where a dwindling number of Rohingya remain trapped in limbo after an army crackdown coursed through the region.
A rare military-organised trip for foreign media by helicopter to Maungdaw district, the epicentre of a crisis that exploded in late August, showed a landscape devoid of people, with the emerald padi fields scarred by the blackened patches of destroyed Rohingya villages.
More than 600,000 Rohingya had fled the area over the past two and a half months, running from a scorched-earth military campaign against militants that the United Nations described as a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing.
Under the watchful eye of an army brigadier and border police, journalists on Sunday spoke to some of the hundreds of Rohingya camped at the beach near Ale Than Kyaw village, hoping to flee across treacherous waters to Bangladesh.
While the worst violence appeared to have subsided, those left behind said they were trapped — unable to afford the US$50 (RM210) boat fee, but without the means to eke out a living in the region.
“We used to work in farming and fishing, but the owners don’t want labour,” said Osoma, 25, explaining that most Rohingya businesses and landowners had joined the exodus.
The mother of three, carrying a month-old baby in her arms, said her family was not certain if life in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps would be better.
“But, we want to stay with the others who are there.”
Rakhine’s northernmost Maungdaw district was once home to three quarters of Myanmar’s 1.1 million-strong Rohingya population, according to government figures.
Aid workers estimated that only 150,000 remain there, with other communities living south.
With no one left to work Maungdaw’s fields, huge swathes of verdant farmland were at risk of rotting, a cruel irony given the severe food shortages in aid-dependent Rakhine and the refugee camps across the border.
Myanmar said it had trucked in workers from other parts of the state to harvest more than 28,000ha of abandoned padi fields. But some stretches had started to turn brown in the mountain-studded region.
The media trip to Rakhine came amid mounting global pressure on Myanmar over its handling of the crisis, with United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson set to visit the capital today. He is expected to take a firm tone with the country’s powerful military leaders, whom he deemed “responsible” for the crisis.
On the shores of Rakhine, some desperate Rohingya were taking matters into their own hands.
Ro Shi Armad, 18, had teamed up with others to build a flimsy-looking raft using plastic containers and bamboo.
Scores of refugees had drowned in recent months while attempting the perilous journey to Bangladesh.
“We’re not worried if we die on the way over.” AFP
An aerial view of a burnt Rohingya village near Maungsaw town in Rakhine State.