Myan­mar refugee ex­o­dus tops 500,000 as more Ro­hingya flee

The Republican Herald - - WORLD - By TOdd PIT­MAN

TEK­NAF, Bangladesh — He trekked to Bangladesh as part of an ex­o­dus of a half mil­lion peo­ple from Myan­mar, the largest refugee cri­sis to hit Asia in decades. But af­ter climb­ing out of a boat on a creek on Fri­day, Mo­hamed Rafiq could go no fur­ther.

He col­lapsed onto a muddy spit of land cradling his wife in his lap — a limp fig­ure so ex­hausted and so hun­gry she could no longer walk or even raise her wrists.

The cou­ple had no food, no money, no idea what to do next. Their two trau­ma­tized chil­dren hud­dled close be­side them, un­sure what to make of the coun­try they had ar­rived in just hours ear­lier, in the mid­dle of the night.

Rafiq said their third child, an 8-month-old boy, had been left be­hind. Bud­dhist mobs in Myan­mar burned the child to death, he said, af­ter set­ting their vil­lage ablaze while se­cu­rity forces stood idly by — part of a sys­tem­atic purge of eth­nic Ro­hingya Mus­lims from Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar that the United Na­tions has con­demned as “a text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing.”

Five weeks af­ter the mass ex­o­dus be­gan on Aug. 25, the U.N. said the to­tal num­ber of ar­rivals in Bangladesh has now topped 501,000.

And still, they keep com­ing.

“We don’t ever want to go back,” a stunned Rafiq said, de­scrib­ing his fam­ily’s or­deal as Bangladeshi vol­un­teers stuffed a small wad of cash into his hand and gave their chil­dren bis­cuits. An­other man of­fered a bot­tle of wa­ter, and Rafiq poured some into his wife’s mouth as she lay in his arms, star­ing blankly at the sky.

“This is not our home. It is not our coun­try,” Rafiq said. “But at least, we feel safe here.”

Not all those who have fled over the last few des­per­ate weeks have sur­vived. The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion said more than 60 refugees were con­firmed dead or miss­ing and pre­sumed dead af­ter one ves­sel cap­sized on rough seas in the area Thurs­day.

The cri­sis be­gan when a Ro­hingya in­sur­gent group launched at­tacks with ri­fles and ma­chetes on a series of se­cu­rity posts in Myan­mar on Aug. 25, prompt­ing the mil­i­tary to launch a bru­tal round of “clear­ance op­er­a­tions” in re­sponse. Those flee­ing have de­scribed in­dis­crim­i­nate at­tacks by se­cu­rity forces and Bud­dhist mobs, in­clud­ing monks, as well as killings and rapes.

While the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has con­demned the vi­o­lence and called on Myan­mar to pro­tect the Ro­hingya, Sufi Ul­lah, a po­lice of­fi­cer in Tek­naf, said noth­ing has changed.

“We’re see­ing them come across when­ever they get the chance,” Ul­lah said. “They’re hid­ing them­selves in the forests and hills (in­side Myan­mar) in the day­time. And when they get the chance, they run. The Myan­mar army is putting pres­sure on them. These peo­ple are afraid.”

As­so­ci­Ated Press

Ro­hingya Mus­lims walk to­ward a camp for refugees Fri­day af­ter cross­ing the bor­der from Myan­mar into Bangladesh in Tek­naf.

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