Rakhine exodus leaves ghostland behind
ALe ThAN KYAw: Torched villages and unharvested paddy fields stretch to the horizon in Myanmar’s violence-gutted Rakhine state, where a dwindling number of Muslim 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 paddy fields scarred by the blackened patches of destroyed Rohingya villages.
Myanmar has denied committing atrocities, but has heavily restricted access to the conflict zone.
Under the watchful eye of an army brigadier and border police, journalists on Sunday were able to speak to some of the several hundred Rohingya camped at the beach near Ale Than Kyaw village, hoping to flee across treacherous waters to neighbouring Bangladesh.
While the worst violence appears to have subsided, those left behind say they are trapped – unable to afford the US$50 (RM209) boat fee, but without the means to eke out a living in the region.
“We used to work in farming and fishing, but now the owners don’t want labour,”said 25-year-old Osoma, explaining that most Rohingya businesses and landowners had joined the exodus.
The young mother of three 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 already,”she said.
Rakhine’s Maungdaw district was once home to about three quarters of Myanmar’s 1.1 million-strong Rohingya population, according to government figures.
Aid workers estimate only some 150,000 remain there, with other communities living further south.
With no one left to work Maungdaw’s fields, huge swathes of verdant farmland are at risk of rotting – a cruel irony given the severe food shortages in aid-dependent Rakhine and squalid refugee camps across the border.
Myanmar says it has trucked in workers from other parts of the state to harvest 28,320ha of abandoned rice fields. But some stretches of untouched fields are already turning brown.
On the shores of Rakhine, some desperate Rohingya are taking matters into their own hands.
Ro Shi Armad, 18, has teamed up with several other families to build a flimsy-looking raft using plastic containers and bamboo.
Scores of refugees have drowned in recent months while attempting the perilous journey to Bangladesh.
“We’re not worried if we die on the way over,” the teenager said. “What else can we do now?”—
Scorched earth: An aerial view of a burned Rohingya village near Maungdaw. — Reuters