DRIVEN TO DESPAIR
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.