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Aid Groups Fear Worsening Conditions for Thousands Fleeing Rakhine Violence

  • VOA News

Members of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority wait for a boat to cross a canal at Shah Porir Deep, in Teknak, Bangladesh, Aug. 31, 2017. Last week, a group of ethnic minority Rohingya insurgents attacked at least two dozen police posts in Myanmar's Rakhine state, triggering fighting with security forces that left more than 100 people dead and forced at least 18,000 Rohingya to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.

International refugee agencies and relief workers in Bangladesh and Myanmar are concerned about worsening conditions for the thousands of people who have fled sectarian violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Vivian Tan, the Asia press director for the U.N. refugee agency, is in Bangladesh and told VOA’s Burmese service that there is a shortage of shelter for the more than 18,000 people who have fled over the border from Myanmar.

The International Organization for Migration and other aid groups have told VOA’s Bangla service that as many as 20,000 more people are staged just inside Myanmar, hoping to enter Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi villagers help two elderly Rohingya women from a boat after crossing a canal at Shah Porir Deep, in Teknak, Bangladesh, Aug. 31, 2017.
Bangladeshi villagers help two elderly Rohingya women from a boat after crossing a canal at Shah Porir Deep, in Teknak, Bangladesh, Aug. 31, 2017.

In Myanmar, some communities are packed with internally displaced people, and relief workers fear that the lack of food safety and personal hygiene facilities could spread infectious diseases, a VOA journalist reported.

People began flowing out of their villages in Rakhine Aug. 25, after a group of Muslim insurgents launched a series of attacks on police posts. There are reports that Myanmar security authorities responded with brutal raids on Rohingya villages.

Fleeing Buddhist Rakhine residents arrive by ship from the unrest in Maungdaw region at the jetty, Aug. 29, 2017, in Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar.
Fleeing Buddhist Rakhine residents arrive by ship from the unrest in Maungdaw region at the jetty, Aug. 29, 2017, in Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar.

Hindus among those fleeing

The attacks, the worst violence in the region in at least five years, sent both Rohingya, who are Muslims, and people from the Buddhist majority scrambling for safety.

Members of Myanmar’s Hindu minority also have fled, the leader of a Hindu community in Bangladesh told VOA’s Bangla service. Shapawn Sharma Roni said 412 Hindus, mostly women and children, have crossed the border in the past three days.

Sharma said his community is helping the refugees and has arranged for shelter for them. The Hindu refugees said at least 86 relatives have died in attacks in Myanmar, but they don’t know who the attackers were.

A Hindu woman who entered Bangladesh two days ago said a few hundred more members of her community remain stranded at the border.

Onlookers watching as firefighters attempt to extinguish fires from houses burnt by Rohingya militants in Maungdaw township in Rakhine State in Myanmar, Aug. 27, 2017.
Onlookers watching as firefighters attempt to extinguish fires from houses burnt by Rohingya militants in Maungdaw township in Rakhine State in Myanmar, Aug. 27, 2017.

In Myanmar, journalists were allowed to reach the Rakhine village of Myothagyi on Thursday. A VOA journalist reported the community had been burned down and abandoned. Local authorities said its inhabitants had been involved in last week’s attacks.

Journalists couldn’t reach another Rohingya village, Maw-ni, but were able to speak to its leader, who said his community wasn’t involved in the violence and wants to live in peace. He told VOA his village carefully watched strangers, in case they intended to cause violence, and that he had turned over to police two men he suspected of being terrorists.

Strict security on the border has forced some Rohingya refugees to try entering Bangladesh by boat across the Naf River, VOA’s Bangla service reported. Border Guards in Bangladesh recovered 23 bodies after at least two boats carrying Rohingya capsized in the Teknaf subdistrict of Cox’s Bazar Wednesday night.

Bangladeshi villagers cover bodies of Rohingya women and children at Shah Porir Deep, in Teknak, Bangladesh, Aug.31, 2017. Three boats carrying ethnic Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar have capsized in Bangladesh and 26 bodies of women and children have been found.
Bangladeshi villagers cover bodies of Rohingya women and children at Shah Porir Deep, in Teknak, Bangladesh, Aug.31, 2017. Three boats carrying ethnic Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar have capsized in Bangladesh and 26 bodies of women and children have been found.

Government airdrops food

The Border Guard has set up a medical camp to support the thousands of refugees stranded along the border.

Myanmar officials are working to get aid to the region.

Soe Aung, the Myanmar permanent secretary for social welfare and relief, told VOA’s Burmese service the air force is dropping food supplies to remote villages for both the Buddhist and Muslim communities. He said that an estimated 10,000 people have sought shelter in makeshift camps.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the United States supports democracy in Myanmar and condemned attacks by militant groups in Rakhine. And she warned security forces in Myanmar, also known as Burma, to end attacks on civilians.

“As Burmese security forces act to prevent further violence, they have a responsibility to adhere to international humanitarian law, which includes refraining from attacking innocent civilians and humanitarian workers and ensuring assistance reaches those in need,” Haley said Thursday. “We call on all members of the Security Council to support the Burmese government in ensuring the rights and dignity of all communities in Rakhine State and throughout Burma.”

Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N., Hau do Suan, told VOA’s Burmese service that his office regularly briefs officials at the U.N. on the latest events. The ambassador said the government is trying to resolve what he called a complex and sensitive problem in Rakhine.

Rakhine state, Myanmar
Rakhine state, Myanmar

The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya to be economic migrants from Bangladesh and has never granted them citizenship, even though most can show their families have been in the country for generations.

Sectarian violence has flared periodically in Rakhine state for more than a decade.

Last October, Muslim militants attacked police posts, prompting a crackdown by security forces that sent tens of thousands of people across the border to Bangladesh. The Myanmar government has denied allegations that its forces used rape and torture against the Rohingya.

With contributions from Amir Khasru in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; Moe Zaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar; VOA Burmese Service and VOA Bangla Service.

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