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Tallying the dead

  • Published at 02:58 am August 14th, 2018
The surveyors say they have not even reached 100,000 of the over one million refugees who live in the camps Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Armed with nothing but pen and paper, a group of Rohingya youth have set out to record the persecution of their people

A group of young Rohingya men have taken an initiative to record all atrocities committed against their community in their homeland, though their work is now on hold due to a fund crunch.

Using the most elementary methods, they went from door-to-door in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, asking fellow Rohingya refugees who they have lost, and which of their possessions Rakhine state by oppression.

The Dhaka Tribune has obtained a copy of the surveys carried out, and it shows records of 3,945 Rohingyas killed in 152 villages in the Rakhine state.

The youths involved told the Dhaka Tribune that they were a team of 15-20 people who fled Myanmar last August.

Jafor Alam, a Rohingya leader from Kutupalong camp, has been leading the team. He organized the volunteers, and also got in touch with the Rohingya diaspora from around the world for financial support for the initiative.

The youths are recording, based on personal accounts, all atrocities committed against the Rohingya people by the Myanmar army, the Myanmar Border Guard Police and their neighbours in the Rakhine state, the Rakhine people, over the years.

The survey started last December from Kutupalong camp. The volunteers went from door-to-door, asking about the burning of homes, shops, markets and mosques, killings, arrests, rapes, injuries and mass graves.

The surveyors said they had no funds when they started, but later gathered some funds from a number of Rohingyas living around the world.

The money received was used for printing, transport costs for the surveyors and a small remuneration. However, the funds have dried up since February, and work has been on hold since May.

Jafor Alam told the Dhaka Tribune: “The Rohingyas are not very educated. No one in the present generation has gone to a university. What we are doing is a a basic counting.”

“We need modern survey methodology to find out the exact figures of all our losses and casualties since 1962.”

The volunteers have been recording their findings on printed forms by hand.

They are still only trying to collect information from everyone and will think about authentication and aggregation later.

Their plan now is to reach all the refugees residing in the camps, and collect information, said Mohammad Hussain, one of the surveyors.

“We believe that no Rohingya will lie to us on these matters, but we will verify the information after ending collection,” he added.

3,945 deaths counted

The survey so far has recorded the deaths of 3,945 Rohingyas in 152 villages under Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung Townships under Rakhine state since October 2016.

The surveyors told the Dhaka Tribune they have covered deaths and destruction in 104 villages in Maungdaw; 36 in Buthidaung and 12 in Rathedaung so far.

“Due to the fund crunch, the survey work had stopped for last couple of months,” said Jafor Alam, a team leader of the surveyors, who lives in Kutupalang camp now after fleeing Buthidaung last year’s late August.

This correspondent obtained the 425-page survey.

The incomplete survey, all handwritten, counts 67,138 houses burned down at those 152 villages since October 2016, and 138 mass graves.

It has found 1,073 women raped and 935 persons wounded in attacks by the Myanmar Army, Border Guard Police and the Rakhines.

The international rights group Human Rights Watch has said that based on satellite imagery, 354 villages were partially or totally destroyed by fire in northern Rakhine since August 25, 2017. The destruction encompassed tens of thousands of structures, homes of Rohingyas. The HRW, however, found that 656 other villages were intact.

The surveyors told this correspondent they have not even reached 100,000 refugees. There are over 1 million refugees in the camps.

“The world is still in the dark about how many Rohingya people were killed in Rakhine since last August after the crackdown, as Myanmar government does not allow any organization in Rakhine,” one surveyor said.

Nay San Lwin, a coordinator for Free Rohingya Coalition based in London, told the Dhaka Tribune: “In Tula Toli and Chut Pyin, the majority of the Rohingya villagers were killed by Myanmar security forces last year.”

“In those two villages alone the death toll could be 4,000. We still do not have the exact figure of deaths. It could be higher than 10,000,” he said.

Surveys conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in refugee camps estimate that at least 6,700 Rohingya died in Rakhine during the attacks.

“We need international commission of inquiry to investigate fully. Myanmar government must allow international inquiry commission like fact-finding missions to get in,” said Nay San Lwin.

“Foreign ministers from different countries are visiting Yangon and Dhaka to make repatriation happen but Rohingyas need international protection in their homeland of Arakan. Rohingyas want justice,” he added.

Nearly a year has passed since the latest influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh. More than 700,000 Rohingyas, mostly children and women, crossed into Bangladesh since August 26, joining more than 400,000 others who were already living in camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh government’s Department of Social Services, conducting a survey over the orphan Rohingya children from last September 20 to last November 7, has found 36,673 orphan Rohingya children in the Rohingya camps – in which 5,900 children were found who lost their parents in Myanmar.

Myanmar Army in its statement in August last year said the army killed a total 370 Rohingya ‘fighters’ in 90 armed engagements between army and fighters of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).