DRIVEN TO DE­SPAIR

Southeast Asia Globe - - In Sight -

Myan­mar’s fierce crack­down on its Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity is push­ing hun­dreds

of refugees across the bor­der into Bangladesh

ON the out­skirts of Ku­tu­palang Refugee Camp near Bangladesh’s bor­der with Myan­mar, a Mus­lim Ro­hingya wo­man is clutch­ing her child close. Cloaked in the black swathes of her niqab, her brown eyes stare down the prom­ise of a life lived in limbo, in­def­i­nitely cut off from the coun­try of her birth.

The wo­man is one of hun­dreds of Myan­mar’s long-suf­fer­ing Ro­hingya eth­nic mi­nor­ity driven across the bor­der to Bangladesh by a bru­tal cam­paign waged by the gov­ern­ment’s se­cu­rity forces against the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in Bud­dhist-dom­i­nated Rakhine State. The crack­down came af­ter a se­ries of co­or­di­nated as­saults on bor­der po­lice on 9 Oc­to­ber killed nine po­lice of­fi­cers – at­tacks that the mil­i­tary blamed on Ro­hingya ex­trem­ists. No group has yet claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks.

The re­sponse has been swift and bloody: al­though aid work­ers and in­de­pen­dent press have been cut off from the area in an at­tempt to stop them from cov­er­ing the vi­o­lence, satel­lite photos re­leased by Hu­man Rights Watch last month re­vealed the burned-out husks of more than 1,200 homes in Ro­hingya vil­lages, with whole com­mu­ni­ties re­port­edly flee­ing ahead of waves of gov­ern­ment troops. While ex­act fig­ures re­main un­clear, Ro­hingya ac­tivists state that more than 100 civil­ians have lost their lives and hun­dreds more their lib­erty.

Myan­mar’s gov­ern­ment, led by No­bel Peace Prize win­ner Aung San Suu Kyi, de­nies that Ro­hingya civil­ians are be­ing tar­geted by gov­ern­ment forces, ac­cus­ing the vil­lagers of set­ting fire to their own homes to drum up in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion.

The state coun­sel­lor has come un­der heavy crit­i­cism for what hu­man rights ac­tivists de­scribe as ap­a­thy to the plight of the op­pressed mi­nor­ity, with the me­dia and for­eign aid black­out sur­round­ing Rakhine State echo­ing the au­thor­i­tar­ian opac­ity of the for­mer mil­i­tary regime. Of­fi­cially un­recog­nised by the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment, the Ro­hingya have been dis­missed by many in the ma­jor­ity-Bud­dhist na­tion as il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh.

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