Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest and most crowded nations, plans to go ahead with work to develop an isolated, flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal to temporarily house tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, officials say.
Dhaka says the Rohingya are not welcome, and has told border guards to push back those trying to enter the country illegally. But close to 125,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh in just 10 days, joining more than 400,000 others already living there in cramped makeshift camps.
The Rohingya are caught up in a deadly and desperate situation in the Rakhine State on the western coast of Myanmar (also known as Burma). Tens of thousands of people are at risk of serious rights violations and aid efforts have been shut down.
For decades, unrest has rocked northern Rakhine State because of a wider context of long-standing discrimination against the Rohingya in Myanmar.
The ethnic Muslim group are denied the right to a nationality, and face severe restrictions on their rights to freedom of movement, access to education, healthcare, and livelihoods, to practice their religion and participate in public life.
The situation has been coming to a head in recent days after Rohingya militants launched a series of coordinated attacks on security forces in the north of Myanmar’s Rakhine state in the early morning of 25 August.
Since then, clashes between Myanmar’s military and the Rohingya armed group have continued and security forces have engaged in a disproportionate campaign of violence against the Rohingya.
Villages burned down
We have received numerous reports of human rights violations and abuses, including security forces opening fire on civilians fleeing, and homes and villages being burned down.
According to the Myanmar government almost 400 people have been killed since the clashes as of 4 September.
Humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State has also been suspended, while in other parts of the state the Myanmar authorities are preventing humanitarian agencies from reaching communities in need. As a result, life-saving relief efforts have been halted, and vital supplies of medicine, food and water are not making their way to the tens of thousands of desperate civilians caught in the middle of this deadly feud.
According to the UN, an estimated 90,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, while the Myanmar government has evacuated over 11,000 people belonging to other ethnic minority communities. Despite the huge influx, the Bangladesh government has maintained a policy of sealing the border with Myanmar, and border guards have pushed back hundreds attempting to flee.
The recent attacks mark a dangerous escalation in an already volatile area. Following similar (but smaller) attacks in northern Rakhine State in October 2016, the Myanmar authorities launched major security operations.
At the time we documented wide-ranging human rights violations against the Rohingya during these operations, including unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, rape and other sexual violence, as well as destruction of homes and property.
People in Rakhine State, in particular the Muslim Rohingya minority, have suffered a horrific catalogue of rights abuses for decades. Through our own investigations we have concluded that the Myanmar security forces may have committed crimes against humanity.
A humanitarian disaster
Simply put, Rakhine State is now on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster.
Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director for Crisis Response, said:
‘Nothing can justify denying life-saving aid to desperate people. By blocking access for humanitarian organisations, Burma’s authorities have put tens of thousands of people at risk and shown a callous disregard for human life.’
Authorities in Myanmar must swiftly improve the human rights situation and end discrimination. In particular, they must urgently lift restrictions on movement, allow full access for humanitarian workers and media in affected regions, and review and amend the country’s discriminatory citizenship laws.
What can be done to help the situation?
Put pressure on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Army, the person responsible for the ongoing security operations. Tweet the following at him now:
.@SGMinAungHlaing Shocking human rights violations by security forces in northern #Rakhine must end immediately. http://bit.ly/2gByLtV
.@SGMinAungHlaing It’s time to allow unrestricted humanitarian access to all people in all areas of #Rakhine State. http://bit.ly/2gByLtV
Without concrete action by the authorities to address long-standing grievances and decades of human rights violations, people in the region will continue to be trapped in a bloody cycle of deprivation and abuse