Thousands of Rohingyas Fleeing Violence Are Stranded on the Bangladesh-Myanmar Border

The Rohingya community in Myebon. 2013. Image from Flickr by European Commission DG ECHO. CC BY-NC-ND

Violence between an insurgent group and Myanmar's security forces during the last week of August 2017 drove thousands of Rohingya Muslims to enter Bangladesh in search of refuge.

The surge led Bangladesh to begin to restrict crossings, meaning many others were turned away and left to wait on the border.

Members of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) staged a major coordinated attack on around 30 police posts and an army base in Rakhine state, Myanmar. Around 1,000 militants took part in the offensive in the Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships. The military retaliated and at least 59 insurgents and 12 members of the security forces were killed on August 25, 2017 alone.

Fighting between the two sides continued for days. Myanmar's armed forces raided villages and torched houses, claiming their actions were part of the fight against the insurgency group. The Myanmar government evacuated at least 4,000 non-Muslim villagers, and many Rohingyas fled on their own.

The violence threatens the already precarious situation of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. The government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar doesn't recognize the Rohingya people as among the country’s ethnic groups and denies them citizenship. Authorities and Buddhist nationalists consider them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though the Rohingyas have roots in the Rakhine state that go back centuries.

Rohingyas are often subjected to racial and religious slurs, including being called “Bengalis.” It's for these reasons they are often described as the “most persecuted minority group in Asia.”

The majority of Rohingyas are non-violent, but a group calling itself Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army took up arms late last year. In October 2016, its armed militants attacked several border police posts, leaving nine police personnel dead. Myanmar forces retaliated by killing dozens of “alleged insurgents” and the counter-insurgency operation saw reports of wide-scale human rights violations on the part of the army, including incidents of extrajudicial murder, gang rapes, arson, and infanticide.

After the recent round of fighting broke out, thousands of Rohingya fled their villages and gathered near the Bangladesh border as gun shots could be heard from the Myanmar side. A Rohingya Facebook page claimed that the Myanmar military conducted air attacks in northern Maungdaw, shooting villagers from helicopters. Videos were circulated on social media showing villages burning, Rohingya refugees fleeing and dead bodies on the river.

Myanmar citizens also expressed concern for Rakhine's ethnic majority who were exposed to the violence. However, some took it a step further and blamed the entire Rohingya community for the attacks against the security outposts.

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the State Counsellor of Myanmar and whose party is now the head of Myanmar's government, has attracted criticism for failing to stop the persecution of the Rohingya.

She, in turn, has accused international aid workers of helping the violent militants. According to reports, Suu Kyi’s administration is trying to restrict access to Rakhine for aid groups and the media while publicly discrediting them. Several aid workers have been seen leaving the area already.

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, condemned on Twitter the statement of against aid groups:

Bangladesh, home to 400,000 Rohingyas, begins turning refugees away:

Bangladesh remains the only country which has repeatedly agreed to allow Rohingya refugees inside its borders. The refugees are sheltered in temporary camps and are surviving with the help of aid and donations from authorities and the local people. The World Food Programme and other local NGOs have pledged food and emergency medical aid support.

But on August 26, Bangladesh declared that they will not allow any more refugees from Myanmar, citing that the country already hosts about 400,000 Rohingyas. The government maintains that as Bangladesh is overpopulated with little or no form of social security for its own citizens, it simply is not in the position to host refugees indefinitely. It added that the influx of refugees has already caused “massive” social, economic and environmental problems.

The Bangladesh government started to push back hundreds of Rohingyas into Myanmar, putting them further in danger.


Faruk Wasif, a journalist with the Bangla daily Prothom Alo, appealed for a comprehensive solution to the problem instead of simply blaming the victims:

রোহিঙ্গাই হোক বা স্বদেশি পাহাড়িই হোক, ভিক্টিমকে দোষারোপ না করে আমাদের তাই তাকাতে হবে সমস্যার গোড়ায়। মায়ানমারে গণতন্ত্র আসেনি, এসেছে উগ্র বর্ণবাদী জাতীয়তাবাদ। আমাদের সীমান্তে তা নিয়মিত জন্ম দিচ্ছে দুঃসংবাদ।

Whether it's the Rohingya or the indigenous group, we should not blame the victims and instead look at the root of the problem. In Myanmar democracy is still elusive, extreme racist nationalism persists. This is creating bad news at the borders.

1 comment

  • Patricia Behler

    I think that the UN and the world community should not continue to overlook this desperate situation for the Rohingya people with no safe place to be. Human rights protection should be the first consideration to solve this situation. Although it is a difficult decision, there should be an appropriate
    opportunity for these people to be relocated in a welcoming nation.

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