Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledges help for Rohingya fleeing violence ‘beyond description’ in Myanmar
At least 313,000 of the Muslim minority group have flooded into the neighbouring nation since August 25
The Bangladeshi prime minister on Tuesday visited a struggling refugee camp that has absorbed some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled recent violence in Myanmar – a crisis she said left her speechless.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed urged Myanmar, which is largely Buddhist, to “take steps to take their nationals back”, and assured temporary aid until that happened.
“We will not tolerate injustice,” she said at a rally at the Kutupalong refugee camp, near the border town of Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar district.
Ahead of her visit to the camp, Hasina criticised the neighbouring nation for “atrocities” that she said had reached a level beyond description. Noting that Bangladesh had long protested the persecution of Rohingya Muslims, she told lawmakers she had “no words to condemn Myanmar”.
At least 313,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh since August 25, when insurgents of the Muslim minority attacked police posts, prompting Myanmar’s military to retaliate with “clearance operations” to root out the rebels.
The crisis has drawn sharp criticism from around the world. The UN human rights chief said the violence and injustice faced by the ethnic Rohingya minority in Myanmar “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. UN rights investigators have been barred from entering Myanmar.
“The Myanmar government should stop pretending that the Rohingya are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in Geneva earlier this week, calling it a “complete denial of reality.”
Meanwhile, a Rohingya villager in Myanmar said security forces had arrived in Pa Din village on Monday, firing guns, setting new fires to homes and driving hundreds of people to flee.
“People were scared and running out of the village,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Myanmar police disputed the villager’s claims, saying the houses were burned by terrorists they called Bengalis – a term used derisively by many in Myanmar to describe the Rohingya.
Bangladesh has said it would free 810 hectares of land for a new camp in Cox’s Bazar district, to help shelter newly arrived Rohingya.
Kutupalong and another pre-existing Rohingya camps in Bangladesh have already reached capacity, forcing many new arrivals to stay in schools, or huddle in makeshift settlements without toilets along roadsides and in open fields.
Aid agencies have been overwhelmed by the influx of Rohingya with basic resources such as food, clean water and medical aid scarce. Many of the new arrivals are hungry and traumatised after walking days through the jungle or enduring long journeys on packed, rickety wooden boats.
Many have told similar stories of Myanmar soldiers firing indiscriminately on their villages, burning their homes and warning them to leave or to die. Some say they were attacked by Buddhist mobs.
In the past two weeks, the government hospital in Cox’s Bazar has been overwhelmed by Rohingya patients, with 80 being admitted with gunshot wounds and bad infections. At least three Rohingya have also been wounded by landmine blasts, and dozens have drowned when their boats capsized during sea crossings.
Myanmar’s authorities said more than a week ago that about 400 Rohingya – mostly insurgents – had died in clashes with troops, but it has offered no updated death toll since.
Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination and persecution in Myanmar and are denied citizenship despite many families having long roots in the Rakhine region.
Before August 25, Bangladesh had already been housing more than 100,000 Rohingya who arrived after bloody anti-Muslim rioting in 2012 or amid earlier persecution drives in Myanmar.