Fresh surge of Rohingya flee Myanmar

  • 10/10/2017
TEKNAFF, BANGLADESH - OCTOBER 08 : Rohingya Muslims, fleeing from ongoing military operations in Myanmars Rakhine state swim in the river to cross Bangladesh-Myanmar border on October 08, 2017 in Teknaff, Bangladesh.
Bangladesh said it would be one of the world's biggest refugee camp to house all the 800,000-plus Rohingya muslims who have sought asylum from violence in Myanmar.

PHOTOGRAPH BY Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read zakir hossain chowdhury / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar have sought refuge in Bangladesh, in a new surge in an unrelenting flow of people driven by violence the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing and increasingly by hunger too.

Reuters reporters on the Bangladeshi side of the border, in Palong Khali district, saw several thousand people crossing from Myanmar's Rakhine State on Monday, filing along embankments between flooded fields and scrubby forest.

"Half of my village was burned down. I saw them do it," said Sayed Azin, 46, who said he had walked for eight days with his 80-year-old mother in a basket strung on a bamboo pole between him and his son.

Soldiers and Buddhist mobs had torched his village, he said.

Some new arrivals spoke of bloody attacks by Buddhist mobs on people trekking towards the border.

About 519,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August 25, when attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts in Rakhine State sparked a ferocious military response.

Refugees and rights groups say the army and Buddhist vigilantes have engaged in a campaign of killing and arson aimed at driving the Rohingya out of Myanmar.

Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing and has labelled the militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army who launched the initial attacks as terrorists who have killed civilians and burnt villages.

Among those fleeing were up to 35 people on a boat that capsized off the Bangladesh coast on Sunday. At least 12 of them drowned while 13 were rescued, Bangladeshi police said.

The Myanmar government has said its "clearance operations" against the militants ended in early September and people had no reason to flee.

But in recent days the government has reported large numbers of Muslims preparing to leave, with more than 17,000 people in one area alone.

The government cited worries about food and security as their reasons.

The reports of food shortages will add to the urgency of calls by aid agencies and the international community for unfettered humanitarian access to the conflict zone.

The insurgents declared a one-month ceasefire from Sept. 10 to enable the delivery of aid but the government rebuffed them, saying it did not negotiate with terrorists.

The ceasefire is due to end at midnight on Monday but the insurgents said in a statement they were ready to respond to any peace move by the government.

Bangladesh was already home to 400,000 Rohingya who had fled earlier bouts of violence.

Mostly Buddhist Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, even though many have lived there for generations.

But even as refugees arrive, Bangladesh insists they will all have to go home. Myanmar has responded by saying it will take back those who can be verified as genuine refugees.

Many Rohingya fear they will not be able to prove their right to return.

Myanmar leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced scathing international criticism for not doing more to stop the violence.

Reuters