Tuesday 12 December 2017

'Wounded and afraid' Rohingya refugees reveal Burma violence

A Rohingya woman cries after being stopped by Bangladeshi border guards at a makeshift shelter at Ghumdhum, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh (AP)
A Rohingya woman cries after being stopped by Bangladeshi border guards at a makeshift shelter at Ghumdhum, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh (AP)

Thousands of Rohingya refugees are streaming across the border into Bangladesh every day, fleeing violence in western Burma.

One hospital is struggling to treat dozens of men who had arrived with broken bones, bullet wounds and horrific stories of soldiers opening fire indiscriminately.

Already, some 87,000 Rohingya Muslims have entered Bangladesh, fleeing violence which erupted on August 25.

The asylum seekers have filled three older refugee camps set up in the 1990s.

UN spokeswoman Vivian Tan said: "The existing refugees have taken in the new arrivals into their homes."

Thousands more are sheltering in local villages, or in open fields - wherever they could find space.

Ms Tan said: "What we desperately need is for land to be made available to get more emergency shelters up," as well as help with other aid supplies.

"These people have been walking for days. They likely have not eaten since they left their homes."

Many needed medical attention for respiratory diseases, infections and malnutrition.

"They are exhausted, they are traumatised ... There are babies, some newborns, who've been exposed to the elements."

On Monday, at the Cox's Bazar Sadar Hospital about two hours from the border, doctors were treating 31 men who arrived "distressed and afraid" with broken bones and bullet wounds, mostly to their limbs, according to the resident medical officer Dr Shaheen Abdur Rahman Choudhury.

They all told similar stories of Burmese soldiers opening fire randomly on their villages in western Burma on August 26-27 and setting buildings aflame, Dr Choudhury said.

The hospital, already "hugely overburdened," expects to receive many more wounded refugees, he said.

"What we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg."

The violence and the exodus began on August 25, when Rohingya insurgents attacked Burma police and paramilitary posts in what they said was an effort to protect their ethnic minority from persecution by security forces in the majority-Buddhist country.

In response, the military unleashed what it called "clearance operations" to root out the insurgents. The violence led the UN World Food Programme last week to halt aid deliveries to some 250,000 people in Rakhine state.

The latest violence is part of an ongoing struggle between Burma's minority Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists. Bloody rioting that erupted in 2012 forced more than 100,000 Rohingya into displacement camps in Bangladesh, where many still live today.

On Monday, Pakistani rights advocate Malala Yousafzai condemned the violence against Rohingya, in a Twitter statement. "I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same," she said of Burma's leader.

Security officials and Rohingya insurgents have accused each other of atrocities. The military has said nearly 400 people, most of them insurgents, have died in clashes.

Bangladesh police said dozens of Rohingya have died attempting to cross the river separating the two countries.

Burma's government blames the insurgents for burning their own homes and killing Buddhists in Rakhine state.

Outside the hospital in Cox's Bazar on Monday, Rohingya refugees who had been treated for bullet wounds recalled the violent events across the border differently.

Mohammad Irshad, 27, said he saw at least eight bodies after his village near the coastal town of Maungdaw was visited by at least 30 soldiers, who he said opened fire indiscriminately before setting fire to homes and other buildings.

Sixteen-year-old Mohammed Osama said he had tried to flee into the nearby forest when soldiers entered his village on August 26, but instead was shot by one of them in the thigh.

With a gaping bullet wound in his leg, he was carried by his father and some of his 11 siblings across the border. His family joined thousands now packed into the Bangladeshi fishing village of Shah Porir Dwip.

Yet another village near Maungdaw, in Burma, was destroyed by about 50 soldiers, according to 25-year-old Rohingya villager Mohammad Arafat.

"I started running when the firing started and lost track of both my parents. I don't know if they're dead or alive," he said.

"They're cutting up people, shooting people. I'm very afraid. I never want to go back."

His wife and mother-in-law were sheltering in the border area of Teknaf, but Mr Arafat sought treatment for his wound.

Press Association

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