Southeast Asia Globe - - Front Page - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy by Adib Chowd­hury

ONa hu­mid night in Au­gust 2017, Myan­mar gov­ern­ment troops, aided by Bud­dhist mili­tias, swept through Ro­hingya vil­lages in Rakhine State, also known as Arakan, and opened fire on vil­lagers. The army had launched what the gov­ern­ment has called “counter-ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tions” in re­sponse to an at­tack on bor­der po­lice posts by Ro­hingya mil­i­tants.

Their tar­gets were mem­bers of the state's Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, a peo­ple de­nied cit­i­zen­ship in their home coun­try by a gov­ern­ment – led by No­bel lau­re­ate Aung San Suu Kyi – that con­tin­ues to la­bel them il­le­gal Ben­gali im­mi­grants. The en­su­ing vi­o­lence has re­sulted in the forced dis­place­ment of more than 640,000 Ro­hingya as of De­cem­ber 2017, ac­cord­ing to OCHA, the UN hu­man­i­tar­ian af­fairs agency. It is the big­gest exodus of refugees since the 1994 Rwan­dan geno­cide, and the UN has de­scribed the vi­o­lence as “eth­nic cleans­ing”.

Cur­rently, most of the dis­placed live in the mud­died hills of Cox's Bazar in neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh. Across the choppy wa­ters of the Naf river, the nat­u­ral boundary be­tween Bangladesh and Myan­mar, vil­lages could pre­vi­ously be seen burn­ing from fires set by the mil­i­tary and mili­tias. All day and through the night, thick plumes of smoke bel­lowed up, mix­ing with the heavy mon­soon clouds. Small fish­ing boats shaped liked cres­cents would glide in, packed with newly ar­rived and ex­hausted Ro­hingya, many of whom had trekked for days to reach the over­crowded camps. The shel­ters here are made out of bam­boo and dug into the hills by the Ro­hingya them­selves.

The mon­soon weather brings with it the risk of wa­ter­borne dis­eases, and there is in­ad­e­quate med­i­cal treat­ment to help with the scale of psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma from wit­ness­ing and be­ing vic­tims of the vi­o­lence per­pe­trated by the Myan­mar mil­i­tary. Many of the ac­counts of the peo­ple South­east Asia Globe spoke to cor­re­sponded with tes­ti­monies in in­ter­views con­ducted by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and Hu­man Rights Watch, which have doc­u­mented vil­lage at­tacks, mass shoot­ings and rapes. In this por­trait se­ries, some of the Ro­hingya liv­ing in camps along the Myan­mar bor­der re­count their or­deal and voice their anger at the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in hand­writ­ten let­ters.

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