Muslims in Bangladesh protest treatment of Rohingya refugees

More than 10,000 Muslims in Bangladesh have marched toward Myanmar's embassy in Dhaka to protest the country's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.

Participants chant against Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi for not stopping violence

Rohingya refugees stretch their hands to receive aid distributed by local organizations at a makeshift camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Monday. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

More than 10,000 Muslims in Bangladesh have marched toward Myanmar's embassy to protest the country's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.

At least 412,000 ethnic Rohingya have fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar in the past month and are living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh. Many say their homes were burned by Myanmar's military or by Buddhist mobs.

The protesters chanted slogans and waved Bangladesh's flag as they marched through the streets of Dhaka, the capital. One banner said, "Stop Killing Rohingya."

The march, organized by the hardline Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam, began at Bangladesh's main mosque but was stopped by police well before the protesters reached the embassy.

Supporters march toward Myanmar's embassy to protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Monday. (A.M. Ahad/Associated Press)

The marchers were most vocal in chanting slogans against Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, calling her a "terrorist" and blaming her for not stopping the military-led attacks on the Rohingya Muslims.

The UN Security Council and many countries have condemned the violence.

Escape from violence

Rohingya villagers arriving in Bangladesh, exhausted from their days-long escape from mobs of attackers and armed soldiers, recounted stories of neighbours killed and homes set ablaze.

"They set fire to people's homes and many elderly people got trapped inside. Young men fled home for the hills," said Mohammed Zakaria, 70.

He said he saw many bodies lying on the ground, often with their throats slit, as he and 14 other members of his family made their way from their home in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

Rohingya Muslims who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh stretch their arms out to collect food items distributed by aid agencies near Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh. (Dar Yasin/Associated Press)

Sitting outside a ramshackle tent in Balukhali, a hilly area recently designated by the Bangladesh government as the site of a new refugee camp, he said it took them 12 days to reach the safety of Bangladesh.

His son, Omar, 18, said their ordeal began about a month ago when Buddhist mobs attacked their homes.

"They didn't say anything. They just slaughtered Rohingya people wherever they found them," Omar said. "They have killed everybody, young and old."

Travelling on foot, mostly at night to avoid detection by Myanmar soldiers, Zakaria said they crossed the Naf River that divides the two countries after paying a large sum to a boatman.

Shelters under construction

The UN and other aid agencies have begun building shelters for new arrivals at the Balukhali site to provide protection as monsoon downpours lash the area.

"We are working with the authorities and partners to build emergency shelters and co-ordinate the provision of relief supplies and basic services including registration, water, sanitation, and health care," said Yante Ismail of the UN refugee agency.

A statement from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Monday said that humanitarian organizations need immediate access to Rakhine state in Myanmar to help those in need.

"Our teams in Bangladesh are hearing alarming stories of severe violence against civilians in northern Rakhine," said Karline Kleijer, emergency desk manager at MSF. "There are reports of significant internal displacement of Rohingya, ethnic Rakhine populations and other minorities. Villages and houses have been burned down, including at least two out of four MSF clinics."

Kleijer said there are approximately 120,000 people who require emergency assistance to survive, but national and international staff from MSF have had their access restricted either by lack of travel authorization or fear for their safety.

"We fear that those remaining there are unable to access the help they may need," Kleijer said.

"Injured, sick or chronically ill people in northern Rakhine must be accessed without further delay, while emergency health care and other humanitarian assistance should be provided."

Draconian restrictions

About a million Rohingya lived in Rakhine state until the recent violence. Most face draconian travel restrictions and are denied citizenship in a country where many Buddhists regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Hundreds of people, including both Hindus and Buddhists, gathered in Yangon on Monday to show their support for the Myanmar government and to condemn attacks by Rohingya insurgents in Rakhine that began on Aug. 25.

Hundreds of pro-government supporters rally in Myanmar

6 years ago
Duration 0:51
Show confidence in military crackdown on alleged Rohingya insurgents

One pro-government protester said people had suffered as result of the attacks, which were the insurgents' attempts to take over Rakhine state.

The Myanmar military's response to the attacks has led to accusations that there is a campaign to drive out the Muslim population.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects that, saying its forces are carrying out clearance operations against the insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which claimed responsibility for the August attacks and smaller raids in October.

With files from Reuters and CBC News