DhakaTribune
Tuesday November 21, 2017 11:38 PM

Well-off Rohingyas also forced to flee despite paying off the Myanmar military

Well-off Rohingyas also forced to flee despite paying off the Myanmar military
Rohingya refugees walk by night after crossing the border from Myanmar, on the Bangladeshi shores of the Naf river in Teknaf on September 29, 2017AFP

As of October 17, around 582,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August

When thousands of Rohingya fled the violent persecution inflicted by the Myanmar security forces in the northern region of Rakhine state, some families bribed the military and local influential figures so they would not have to leave home.

In the end, even that could not save them from the military’s wrath, and the wealthy Rohingya were also forced to flee to Bangladesh, leaving everything behind.

Abdur Gafur, 42, is one of the well-off Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh in September.

“When the crackdown began, some of my family members paid off the military and the local big shots so they could live in their own home,” Gafur told the Bangla Tribune.

“But as the situation is escalating, that technique is no longer working. They [the well-off people], too, are being forced to leave Myanmar with the hundreds of thousands of others and flee to Bangladesh.”

Back home, Gafur’s family owns several multistorey buildings. Amid the growing fear that the Myanmar military would abduct and abuse his nieces, he fled to Bangladesh with the girls, leaving his brother and their father behind to take care of their assets. Later, his brother, too, was forced to flee home.

“My brother is now hiding in the jungle. It will take him some time to reach the border and cross over to Bangladesh,” Gafur said.

There are a number of well-off Rohingya families now waiting to cross into Bangladesh. Many of them own vast areas of land, money, small businesses and even factories in Rakhine.

The families with money have paid a hefty amount in bribes to the army, police and local influentials since the crackdown began in August. Despite this, the security forces have raided their houses and businesses and robbed most of their assets.

“Some families moved toward the city area to survive, but that did not work out either. Eventually, they were forced to flee to Bangladesh,” Gafur said.

The security forces also make frequent rounds of the Rohingya villages to make lists of young girls.

“They visit our villages and enlist the names of young girls. During each round, they come and collect the girls and take them away. Most of those girls ever come back. Their mutilated bodies are found later,” Gafur said.

Azharul Haq, 44, fled his home in Rashidhang area of Rakhine with his wife and a group of children.

“Only one of these children are mine; the others are my nephews and nieces,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

“I managed to make it here in Cox’s Bazar, by my brother stayed behind to look after our mobile phone shop, hoping that the situation would get better some day and we would be able to go back home.”

However, a few days after he arrived in Cox’s Bazar, Azhar learnt that their shop had been attacked. “It wasn’t burnt down, but they [the military] took away the mobile handsets.”

Zohar used to be the chairman of his local government council in Rakhine. To escape the violence, he had to flee Rakhine and take refuge in a shanty inside one of the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

“I never thought I would see the day when I would have to live like a refugee, forced to abandon my ancestral home,” he told the Bangla Tribune.

It is evident that Zohar comes from power and money; his appearance and attitude makes him stand out among the ordinary Rohingya refugees.

“The rich from our village tried to escape the violence by moving to the city, but that did not work in the end. Now they are contacting us to find a way out of Rakhine and into Bangladesh. They just lost everything. No one could do anything,” said a dejected Zohar.

As of October 17, around 582,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since the latest military crackdown began in Rakhine in August, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Officials working on the ground have also said that at least 15,000 Rohingya are currently stranded near the border at Palangkhali in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhiya upazila, waiting to enter Bangladesh.

The story was first published on banglatribune.com

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