A fresh crackdown by Myanmar’s military in the country’s troubled Rakhine state has caused a new wave of Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh, as they continue to fear persecution in their home country.
Speaking to new Rohingya refugees in Teknaf, who arrived on August 18 and 19, this correspondent found that reports of military operations in nearby villages were enough to send them fleeing across the border.
Although the Rohingya families are not carrying tales of atrocities of the kind that shocked the world last year, they consistently expressed fear that a new wave of repression is about to be unleashed by the military.
Solim Ali told the Dhaka Tribune that he left his village, Rohingyadong, without his family after his wife informed him that it was already surrounded by the army.
Solim, however, added that his family will cross the Naaf river into Bangladesh on August 20 and are already en route.
Rasheda, who came from the Jamuinna area of Maungdaw township in Rakhine state with her husband and five children, said: “I have never come to Bangladesh before, but when we heard that the military will again raid our houses and detain the men on suspicion of them being extremists or giving shelter to extremists, we fled our house.”
She added that the boatman who helped get them across the river did not even take them all the way, forcing them to disembark in neck-deep water.
Another of the new arrivals, Sanaullah, claimed he made up his mind to come to Bangladesh at all costs after the Myanmar military tortured him the previous week.
“The military raided our house and mercilessly beat my brother and I. Thank God we were not arrested, as usually the Myanmar military arrests the male person from the Rohingya villages on suspicion of them being militants,” he said.
He added that it took them three to four days to arrive in Bangladesh, despite the distance being very short. This was on account of military raids in villages along the most direct route, which the Rohingya refugees avoided at all costs.
“If they find us while we are fleeing to Bangladesh, they will detain us, torture us or shoot on sight, like what happened last October,” Sanaullah said.
This atmosphere of fear created by the raids in the Rakhine state and consequent exodus of Rohingya people has caused some of their villages to become little more than ghost towns.
Sanaullah’s wife Achiya said: “In the last year, the military has burnt most of the houses in our village, Jambuniya.
“At best, a hundred or so people remain, and the military is doing their best to wipe them out.”
Meanwhuile, on early August 19, the Teknaf Coast Guard pushed back 31 more Rohingyas while they were trying to enter Bangladesh territory at the Naf river in Teknaf’s Shah Porir Dwip area.
Among the 31 Rohingyas, 18 were male, 9 were female and 4 were children, confirmed Coast Guard Chittagong East Zone Operations Officer Lieutenant Commander Fokor Uddin.
When contacted, Sanjukta Sahany, head of International Organisation for Migration Cox’s Bazar, told the Dhaka Tribune: “We are monitoring the situation. Some new families have been seen in the Balukhali makeshift area, but we are not sure whether they came to the makeshift area by crossing the border or from others makeshift areas.”