Nearly 40,000 people have fled violence to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape violence in Rakhine, western Myanmar, according to UN estimates. Many people have reportedly died since Rohingya insurgents attacked an army base in Rakhine State on August 25 wielding knives, sticks, and crude bombs that killed at least 117 people, according to Reuters. The backlash perpetrated by Myanmar’s security forces against Rohingya Muslims caused civilians to flee the region. While attempting to escape the violence, many civilians drowned. As such, Western critics have criticized Bangladesh for pushing back civilians to Myanmar.
In Bangladesh, Reuters reported that many villages were ablaze in the town of Maungdaw in Rakhine, and charred debris and smoke was said to be billowing from the forest. According to the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, in conversation with Reuters, said the humanitarian situation was dramatically deteriorating. In a statement, Lee told Reuters that “Many thousands of people are increasingly at risk of grave violations of their human rights. The worsening cycle of violence … must be broken urgently.”
Meanwhile, according to the Telegraph, Fortify Rights reported Abdul Rahman of Chut Pyin, as saying “My brother was killed – [Myanmar Army soldiers] burned him with the group.” Pyin added that “[they] found [my other family members] in the fields. They had marks on their bodies from bullets and some had cuts. My two nephews, their heads were off. One was six years old and the other was nine years old. My sister-in-law was shot with a gun.”
Moreover, U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, called on Myanmar’s security forces and said, “as Burmese security forces act to prevent further violence, they have a responsibility to adhere to [the] international humanitarian law, which includes refraining from attacking innocent civilians and humanitarian workers.”
Furthermore, many Rohingya are attempting to reach Bangladesh by crossing the Naf river, and 16 more bodies were found on the shore on Friday. In total, 40 people are believed to have lost their lives in capsized boats.
“We are seeing lots of makeshifts tents and shelters on the side of the road – every available space is being occupied,” Vivian Tan, UNHCR regional spokeswoman, told the BBC.
In addition, over a million people live in Rakhine, the poorest region in Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority region where the Rohingya have faced decades of persecution and are not considered citizens. Persecution against Rohingya is the biggest problem facing the Myanmar leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Nonetheless, Ms. San Suu Kyi has not spoken out against the persecution despite several decades of persecution claims.
According to the BBC, for the past several years, waves of violence have marked the region. For instance, nine policemen were killed in a deadly attack on border posts in October 2016, the most significant recent attack. Thus, ethnic tensions had been simmering for decades, but there had been no sign of an armed insurgency until this particular outbreak.
The most significant recent attack and the outbreak in October were both perpetrated by a group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). However, after the attacks in October, the military conducted a crackdown that led to widespread rape, murder, and torture allegations. Consequently, tens of thousands of Rohingya began to flee to Bangladesh. According to the BBC, the government claims that ARSA is a terrorist group. Despite this, the group says that its aim is to protect Muslim Rohingya from state repression in Myanmar.
With that said, currently, the UN is conducting a formal investigation into the attacks. However, the Burmese military claims no wrongdoing. Therefore, it is essential that humanitarian aid reaches civilians fleeing Myanmar and shelter is provided. Bangladesh must fulfil international obligations, which it has not adhered to by forcing those fleeing back to Myanmar. We also urge Ms. San Suu Kyi to call on security forces to prevent further violent outbreaks perpetrated against civilians.