Rohingya villages targets of 'systematic burnings' by Myanmar security forces, Amnesty International says
Tens of thousands of refugees still fleeing daily to Bangladesh
Amnesty International says it has turned up evidence of an "orchestrated campaign of systematic burnings" by Myanmar security forces targeting dozens of Rohingya villages over the last three weeks.
The advocacy group is releasing a new analysis of video, satellite photos, witness accounts and other data that found over 80 sites were torched in northern Rakhine state since an Aug. 25 militant attack on a border post.
The UN estimates that at least 370,000 people have fled to Bangladesh since then.
Top UN officials have previously expressed concerns about possible "ethnic cleansing" perpetrated against the Rohingya.
Amnesty's findings released Friday in Myanmar offer some of the most precise evidence that Rohingya areas were specifically targeted.
Myanmar authorities have curtailed access for journalists and rights advocates to Rakhine in recent months. The International Rescue Committee says, "To date, no UN agencies or NGOs are able to access Northern Rakhine in spite of increasingly urgent need."
The IRC says it is the largest provider of health assistance in Rakhine.
Rohingya mass exodus continuing
And nearly three weeks into a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar, thousands were still flooding across the border Thursday in search of help and safety in teeming refugee settlements in Bangladesh. The IRC estimates up to 50,000 Rohingya civilians are now arriving each day in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh.
The crisis has drawn global condemnation, with UN officials demanding Myanmar halt what they described as a campaign of ethnic cleansing that has driven some 400,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine state.
"The number may rise to 600,000, 700,000, even one million if the situation in Myanmar does not improve," Mohammed Abdiker, director of operations and emergencies for the International Organization for Migration, told a news conference in the Bangladeshi capital.
One of the dozens of boats carrying Rohingya to the Bangladeshi border town of Teknaf capsized Thursday and at least two people drowned, police said. That brought known drownings in the Naf River to 88 since the crisis began.
Those who arrived Wednesday in wooden boats on beaches near Shah Porir Dwip fishing village described ongoing violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where smoke could be seen billowing from a burning village — suggesting more Rohingya homes had been set alight.
One Rohingya man said his village of Rashidong had been attacked six days earlier by Myanmar soldiers and police.
"When military and police surrounded our village and attacked us with rocket launchers to set fire, we got away from our village and fled away to any direction we could manage," Abdul Goffar said.
More than one-third of Rohingya villages now empty
Myanmar presidential office spokesperson Zaw Htay said that out of 471 "Bengali" villages in three Rakhine townships, 176 were now empty while at least 34 more were partially abandoned. Many in Myanmar use that term as part of the long-standing refusal to accept Rohingya as citizens of the country.
Myanmar has accused the Rohingya of burning their own homes and villages — a claim the UN human rights chief criticized as a "complete denial of reality."
The crisis and refugee exodus began on Aug. 25, when Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts. Myanmar's military retaliated with "clearance operations" to root out the rebels, but the fleeing Rohingya say Myanmar soldiers shot indiscriminately, burned their homes and warned them to leave or die.
Others have said they were attacked by Buddhist mobs.
Hundreds have died, mostly Rohingya, and some of the refugees have needed treatment for bullet wounds.
Facing growing condemnation globally, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not attend UN General Assembly meetings Sept. 19-25 to instead deal with what the government said were domestic security issues.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says the suffering of the Rohingya people is an "abomination," and that Suu Kyi must use her authority to halt the violence against the Muslim minority group.
Speaking alongside Johnson in London, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, "This violence must stop, this persecution must stop," referring to the fate of the Rohingya population.
European Union lawmakers are demanding that Myanmar security forces halt the violence on Rohingya as thousands continued to flee Thursday.
The EU lawmakers adopted a resolution urging Myanmar "to immediately cease the killings, harassment and rape of the Rohingya people, and the burning of their homes."
They also called for aid groups to be given immediate access to the conflict area and fleeing people.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told reporters Wednesday that ethnic cleansing was taking place against Rohingya in Rakhine state. The term "ethnic cleansing" is defined as an effort to rid an area of an unwanted ethnic group — by displacement, deportation or even killing.
The UN Security Council called for "immediate steps to end the violence" and ensure civilian protections. Rohingya have faced decades of persecution in Myanmar, and are denied citizenship despite centuries-old roots in the Rakhine region.
Refugee camps packed beyond capacity
The thousands of Rohingya flooding into Bangladesh every day have arrived hungry and traumatized. Many need urgent medical care for violence-related injuries, severe infections or childbirth.
"The women who are coming for check-ups all have a terrified and exhausted look," said Sumaya, a midwife at the Nayapara refugee camp working in association with the UN population fund. "We keep hearing stories from them of walking through jungles and across hills for days without food, their children carried over their shoulders. They've lost their homes."
Two existing refugee camps were packed beyond capacity, and Bangladesh has said it would free land to build a third. Many of the new arrivals were huddling in makeshift shelters along roads or in open fields. Near the camp of Balukhali, some were setting up tents made of bamboo and plastic along hillsides muddy from days of rain. Children walked uphill to capture rainwater before it spilled into the teeming settlements below.
"There are acute shortages of everything, most critically shelter, food and clean water," UNICEF country representative Edouard Beigbeder said.
The UN children's agency said it needed $7.3 million to help just the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children now at high risk of contracting water-borne diseases.
On Thursday afternoon, a scuffle broke out at a makeshift relief centre at Kutupalong, where some refugees tried to break into the centre and were beaten back by at least four security guards wielding sticks.
Those who managed to receive some aid after waiting hours in line were dismayed by the meagre handout.
"I have just got a tarpaulin sheet but no food," said 55-year-old Osman, who gave only one name. "I need rice to eat, I need to feed my family. They said they can't give us anything else. What will I eat now?"
The head of the UN High Commission for Refugees said humanitarian assistance would increase "very, very quickly." Asked why the response has been slow, Filippo Grandi alluded to difficulties working in Bangladesh, but said he hoped this will change as the scale of the crisis becomes more apparent.
It is the Myanmar government's "responsibility to ensure that security returns to Rakhine," Grandi told The Associated Press at the Stockholm Security Conference in Sweden.
Bangladesh already was housing some 500,000 Rohingya who fled earlier flashes of violence including anti-Muslim riots in 2012. Rakhine state had up to one million Rohingya before the latest violence.
With files from Reuters and CBC News