These Arakan Province Muslims who have escaped the massacre in Myanmar have taken shelter at camps in the border villages of Cox’s Bazaar district in Bangladesh and now struggle to survive incessant raining in makeshift, unsound camps. According to UN sources, since the beginning of ethno-religious tensions and attacks by extremist Buddhists and other fanatical groups that target Muslims in Myanmar, nearly 100,000 people have left their homes.
Many refugees have indicated that unless their security in their country is guaranteed, most do not plan to return home. Fifty-year-old Taiba Aynun fled to Bangladesh five months ago. “Myanmar is just like hell. If you decide to go out into the street, then you risk being killed. They killed my husband and my brothers and they raped me. I managed to flee thanks to the help of my neighbors. Yet, here the Bangladesh, the government cannot take care of us any longer. We are stuck between the two countries now,” she said.
Muhammed Ekrem, a thirty-five-year-old who fled from Myanmar years ago, spoke about what he and other Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Arakan Province have gone through. “We were not allowed to go to mosques. They [Buddhist extremists] declared a night curfew to prevent us from going to the Tarawih [a voluntary night prayer performed during Ramadan] and, in this way, they had an excuse to kill whoever went out at night. They made life in the country unbearable for us. They banned agriculture and trade. They tortured our young girls. Then soldiers raided our houses. They killed one of my brothers by stabbing in the stomach and another by cutting off his head. They walked one of my brothers through the streets, pulling him by his beard for days. Soldiers raided our houses in Myanmar and yet here floods raid our houses,” he said.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims, with children in their arms, have walked barefoot in heavy rains through the jungle to reach the coast, from which they sailed on to Bangladesh.
Kulame Kullam?ya described how he set out from Myanmar for Bangladesh a year ago. “I got on a boat with some Muslims who shared my destiny and who were fed up with the violence in Arakan, just like me. We starved for days and finally arrived in Bangladesh. When we arrived on the shore in Bangladesh, we hid in a forest for weeks. Two of my sons returned to Myanmar to bring our relatives. Although months have passed, I have not received any news from them. I am terribly afraid that they died.”
Bashar Ahmed is one of the oldest refugees at the Kutupalong refugee camp. He is 52 years old, has a family of nine and has been living at the camp for seven years. Ahmed, who says he had owned many properties in Myanmar, explained that he and his family had to flee after the state seized all of them and left him with nothing. “They objected to our sons’ marriages because they did not want our population to reproduce. Those of our sons who did marry were subjected to torture. They also shut down all the mosques,” explained Ahmed. He added that if their security is guaranteed, he will return to his country.
A man named Abdullah who came to Bangladesh three years ago was allowed neither to study nor to teach in Myanmar. He recounted that when the house he and his 11-member family were living in came to be too small for them, they started to build another house for themselves. For doing so, they were brutally tortured, he said. Said Nur arrived in the camp 20 days ago. “We were not allowed to go into the street between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. [in Myanmar]. There was no security of person there. We were not able to contact the Myanmar Muslims who were taken away by soldiers. More than 2,000 people were stabbed to death before my eyes,” he said. Nur arrived in Bangladesh after a five-hour journey from a village in Myanmar near the border with Bangladesh.
Rohingya Muslims are not seen as citizens of Myanmar by nationalist Myanmar leaders, officials and fanatic Buddhists and consequently face intense discrimination. The violence in Myanmar reached an extreme in June after claims were made that three Rohingya Muslims had raped a Buddhist woman. Fanatical Buddhists then began to kill Muslims living in Arakan Province and burned the houses and workplaces of the minority group. More than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar have been killed and over 90,000 have been left homeless since the outbreak of violence, international activist groups have claimed.
Mosques in Arakan, where Muslims face the greatest violence, have been closed in line with the demands of Buddhist monks who maintain that mosques serve as gathering places for Muslim protesters. No foreigners are allowed into the region except for UN staff and employees of humanitarian aid organizations.