Refugees fleeing the ongoing Myanmar army crackdown on the Rohingya community in northern Rakhine state bring with them harrowing tales of brutal atrocity which shock the conscience.
Traumatised and terror-stricken survivors recounted to this correspondent the Myanmar army’s modus operandi of rounding up several families, then forcing men, women and children into a house and locking every exit. They then set fire to the whole house along with the screaming inmates, according to eye-witness accounts.
The refugees fleeing the programme claim that these are not isolated incidents but routine occurrences. Due to a media blackout in Rakhine state, the Dhaka Tribune has not been able to independently verify these accounts.
However, stories of such atrocities are so common among the newly-arrived Rohingyas, it quickly reminds one of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when Hutu militias embarked on annihilating the entire race of Tutsis. Off course the Hutu-led government was not successful.
Family 'burnt alive' inside house
Hafez Shufayet, 18, from Kearipara in Maungdaw, arrived at the Leda makeshift refugee camp with a similar story. On October 12, three days into the military offensive, 19 members of his family, including his uncles, aunts, their children and his grandparents were burnt alive inside their own house.
Hasina Begum paid money equivalent to Tk2,000 for crossing the Naf River early yesterday with her three children. She described how her husband, Mohammad Moslem, had been shot and then beheaded by the military personnel in front of her at the village of Amtoly Valley about 20 days ago.
“I grabbed my children and ran towards the forest, and waited there with several hundred people,” Hasina said. The opportunity to cross the border came last night with 20 other people.
Filthy and squalid, the makeshift camp of Leda, where around 2,500 families are huddled together, has no legality in any official book. They receive no rations and hundreds of Rohingya children roam around the narrow rows of landings without any access to education, medical care or sanitation. Despite that, the new arrivals are enthusiastically supported by the older ones.
Still, the Rohingyas feel safe in the camp.
“I shall earn my bread here, and if necessary, I shall travel to Dhaka for work,” Hasina said clutching her son firmly. “One thing I am sure of, is that those Burmese men cannot come here to kill us,” she added.
The chairman of the Leda camp, Dudu Mia, has been in the same camp for 15 years. He said that the atrocities on Rohingyas had remained the same for as long as he could remember. Rape, arson, killings and looting of Rohingya families have continued until today.
“The UN should deploy peacekeeping forces to protect thousands of Rohingyas from total annihilation,” he said, adding: “In all their official proceedings, Rohingyas are classified as Bangalis and they [military] want us to escape to Bangladesh.”
As the Rohingyas continue to flee into Bangladesh in their hundreds, the Border Guard Bangladesh has set up five checkpoints along the 54km long river border. Bangladesh shares a total of 218 km of border with Myanmar.
Morshed Ali Khan is a veteran conflict zone reporter who is operating as a freelancer for this story.