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Desperate Rohingya flee Myanmar along trail of suffering

Shamsu Nahar, a Rohingya refugee, collapsed with exhaustion and chest pains last week after crossing the border illegally near Amtoli, Bangladesh.
Shamsu Nahar, a Rohingya refugee, collapsed with exhaustion and chest pains last week after crossing the border illegally near Amtoli, Bangladesh.Adam Dean/New York Times

REZU AMTALI, Bangladesh — They stumble down muddy ravines and flooded creeks through miles of hills and jungle in Bangladesh, and thousands more come each day, in a line stretching to the monsoon-darkened horizon.

Some are gaunt and spent, starving and carrying listless and dehydrated babies, with many miles to go before they reach any refugee camp.

They are tens of thousands of Rohingya, who arrive bearing accounts of massacre at the hands of the Myanmar security forces and allied mobs that started on Aug. 25, after Rohingya militants staged attacks against government forces.

The retaliation that followed was carried out in methodical assaults on villages, with helicopters raining down fire on civilians and front-line troops cutting off families’ escape.


The villagers’ accounts all portray indiscriminate attacks against fleeing noncombatants, adding to a death toll that even in early estimates is high into the hundreds.

“There are no more villages left, none at all,” said Rashed Ahmed, a 46-year-old farmer from a hamlet in Myanmar’s Maungdaw Township. He had been walking for four days. “There are no more people left, either,” he said. “It is all gone.”

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority who live in Myanmar’s far western Rakhine state. Most were stripped of their citizenship by the military junta that used to rule Myanmar, and they have suffered decades of repression.

A new armed resistance is giving the military more reasons to oppress them.

But the past week’s exodus of civilians caught in the middle, which the United Nations said had reached nearly 76,000 Saturday, dwarfs previous outflows of refugees to Bangladesh in such a short time period.

Friday’s influx alone was the single largest movement of Rohingya here in more than a generation, according to the UN office in Dhaka.

The dying is not yet done. Some of the Rohingya militants have persuaded or coerced men and boys to stay behind and keep up the fight. And civilians who have stayed on the trail are running toward conditions so grim that they constitute a second humanitarian catastrophe.


They face another round of gunfire from Myanmar’s border guards, and miles of treacherous hill trails and flood-swollen streams and mud fields ahead before they reach crowded camps without enough food or medical help.

Dozens were killed when their boats overturned, leaving the bodies of women and children washed up on river banks.

Tens of thousands more Rohingya are waiting for the Bangladeshi border force to allow them enter. Still more are moving north from the Rohingya-dominated districts of Rakhine state. And the violence there continues.

“It breaks all records of inhumanity,” said a member of the Border Guard Bangladesh named Anamul, stationed at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp. “I have never seen anything like this.”

Here, in the forests of Rezu Amtali near the border with Myanmar, dozens of Rohingya told stories that were horrifying in their content and consistency.

After militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police posts and an army base on Aug. 25, killing more than a dozen, the Myanmar military began torching entire villages with helicopters and petrol bombs, aided by Buddhist vigilantes from the ethnic Rakhine group, those fleeing the violence said.

Person after person along the trail into Bangladesh told of how the security forces cordoned off Rohingya villages as the fire rained down, and then shot and stabbed civilians. Children were not exempt.