Seek­ing shel­ter

U.N. of­fi­cial calls cri­sis ‘a text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing’

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­NIE GOWEN an­nie.gowen@wash­ Mush­fique Wadud in Cox’s Bazar con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Of­fi­cials say some 370,000 Ro­hingya have headed for Bangladesh af­ter flee­ing a mil­i­tary crack­down in Burma.

dhaka, bangladesh — The num­ber of Ro­hingya refugees flee­ing a mil­i­tary crack­down in Burma has now topped 370,000, a cri­sis the United Na­tions hu­man rights chief called “a text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing.”

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of the long-per­se­cuted eth­nic mi­nor­ity con­tin­ued to stream via land and rick­ety boats into Bangladesh this week, ar­riv­ing ex­hausted, de­hy­drated and re­count­ing tales of night­mar­ish hor­rors at the hands of the Burmese mil­i­tary, in­clud­ing friends and neigh­bors shot dead and homes torched be­fore their eyes.

“It seems they wanted us to leave the coun­try,” said Nur­ja­han, an el­derly Ro­hingya woman who es­caped her burn­ing vil­lage 10 days ago and ended up camped by the side of the road, un­sure of where to go.

In Geneva on Tues­day, the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mion put the num­ber flee­ing Burma at 370,000 but ad­mit­ted it could rise sharply.

“Clearly the es­ti­mates have been by­passed sev­eral times over,” said spokesman Leonard Doyle. “I’m re­luc­tant to give a num­ber, but ob­vi­ously peo­ple fear that it could go much higher.”

As the refugees con­tinue to in­un­date the area, ferry op­er­a­tors are charg­ing about $122 for a river cross­ing — far out of reach for many of them.

Re­lief ef­forts have been rapidly over­whelmed, with stocks of food, tem­po­rary shel­ter kits and other sup­plies run­ning low. Prices of veg­eta­bles, bam­boo and plas­tic sheet­ing used to make shel­ters are soar­ing.

With camps full, many of the Ro­hingya refugees like Nur­ja­han have sim­ply sat down on the road­side.

On Tues­day, Bangladesh’s prime min­is­ter, Sheikh Hasina, vis­ited the camps in the Cox’s Bazar area of the coun­try, which has shel­tered thou­sands of the state­less Ro­hingya refugees since an ear­lier ex­o­dus in the 1990s. Her for­eign min­is­ter has ac­cused Burma of com­mit­ting “geno­cide.”

She said Burma, also known as Myan­mar, would have to take back its Ro­hingya refugees, since Burmese author­i­ties “cre­ated this prob­lem, and they will have to solve it.”

In­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion of Burma’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has in­ten­si­fied, along with re­peated calls for her No­bel Peace Prize, which she won in 1991 as a re­sult of her long fight for democ­racy in Burma, to be re­scinded — some­thing the No­bel Com­mit­tee has said will not hap­pen.

On Mon­day, the White House is­sued a state­ment con­demn­ing the at­tacks and the en­su­ing vi­o­lence, say­ing it was “deeply trou­bled” by the on­go­ing cri­sis and “alarmed” by “al­le­ga­tions of hugra­tion man rights abuses, in­clud­ing ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, burn­ing of vil­lages, mas­sacres, and rape, by se­cu­rity forces and by civil­ians act­ing with th­ese forces’ con­sent.”

Matthew Smith, chief ex­ec­u­tive of For­tify Rights, a hu­man rights group, said in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the group spent nine days at the bor­der doc­u­ment­ing atroc­i­ties.

Suu Kyi has long had strong sup­port­ers in the U.S. Congress and in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, who saw her as the one leader who could bridge the coun­try’s ten­ta­tive tran­si­tion from mil­i­tary junta to civil­ian govern­ment.

But with Suu Kyi’s con­tin­ued re­luc­tance to speak out on the plight of the Ro­hingya and the en­su­ing hu­man rights cri­sis, her star has be­gun to dim. Her sup­port­ers say the episode has demon­strated how lim­ited her pow­ers are, as the mil­i­tary still con­trols 25 per­cent of the seats in the par­lia­ment as well as the se­cu­rity forces.

Burma’s more than 1 mil­lion Ro­hingya Mus­lims are es­sen­tially state­less, and the Burmese govern­ment con­sid­ers them il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh.

The mi­nor­ity group has en­dured decades of dis­crim­i­na­tion and ne­glect, which wors­ened in 2012 af­ter Ro­hingya clashed with Bud­dhists in Burma’s western Rakhine State. More than 100,000 were then con­fined to camps where their move­ment, ac­cess to jobs and ed­u­ca­tion were se­verely re­stricted.

A mother of two, Khadiza, 35, said that they were used to liv­ing with vi­o­lence but that this lat­est episode was dif­fer­ent: “Both the army and the Bud­dhists at­tacked us this time.”

At first, her hus­band con­vinced her things would im­prove, but when a neigh­bor­ing vil­lage was burned, they de­cided to leave. As they were flee­ing over­land, their group came un­der fire and the cou­ple were sep­a­rated, she said. She has not seen her hus­band since.

“I have no idea where he is now,” she said. “I only came to save my two chil­dren.”

The ex­o­dus be­gan Aug. 25 af­ter an in­sur­gent group of Ro­hingya mil­i­tants called the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army (ARSA) at­tacked dozens of po­lice out­posts and an army camp, killing 12 and ig­nit­ing days of vi­o­lent ret­ri­bu­tion.

In ad­di­tion to torch­ing hun­dreds of vil­lages and killing civil­ians, the Burmese mil­i­tary has been ac­cused by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and other hu­man rights groups of plant­ing land mines at the bor­der, based on the wounds suf­fered by some of those es­cap­ing.

U.N. high com­mis­sioner for hu­man rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hus­sein on Mon­day pointed to satel­lite im­agery and re­ports of “se­cu­rity forces and lo­cal mili­tia burn­ing Ro­hingya vil­lages.”

“The Myan­mar govern­ment should stop pre­tend­ing that the Ro­hingyas are set­ting fire to their own homes and lay­ing waste to their own vil­lages,” he said, a swipe at Suu Kyi’s govern­ment, which has ac­cused the Ro­hingya of do­ing the torch­ing them­selves. He called it a “com­plete de­nial of re­al­ity.”

Since the emer­gence of armed Ro­hingya rebels, Suu Kyi’s govern­ment has shifted its po­si­tion, fram­ing the is­sue as a mat­ter of na­tional se­cu­rity rather than a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. On Mon­day, her govern­ment spokesman, Zaw Htay, re­it­er­ated that po­si­tion, say­ing in a state­ment the govern­ment shares the con­cern of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity over the “vi­o­lence ig­nited by the acts of ter­ror­ism.”


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