The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar may have been victims of crimes against humanity according to top UN officials.
Seventy four thousand of them have crossed the border into Bangladesh since last October following a violent military crackdown in the wake of a deadly attack on an army post.
Kutupalong is the biggest refugee camp in South East Bangladesh. The registered camp and the makeshift camp stand side by side. The latter hosts over 66,000 people, the so called “Undocumented Myanmar Nationals”. The vast majority are Rohingya who have been denied refugee status.
Fifteen-year-old Zannat is among them. She arrived three months ago. Married at 13, she told us she was raped by Burmese soldiers when she was pregnant.
“The military came to my place and they took my husband. That evening they came to take me as well,” Zannat told our reporter. “They brought me to the bush and around five, six, seven soldiers raped me”.
“I feel very bad that many people have been killed by the soldiers. I feel very bad because many muslims have been tortured and killed in front of us. Many people”.
Zannat’s story is all too familiar. Bangladesh insists that the Rohingya should stay in the country only temporarily, but many have been there for decades. Last year the World Food Programme managed to open a nutrition centre funded by EU Humanitarian Aid. Zannat’s baby goes there regularly.
We met up with Mohammad Ashikulla, a senior nutrition programme assistant with the World Food Programme (WFP). He explained, “In this center we have around 7,000 six to 59 month-old children, and around 1,390 pregnant and lactating women. Since October we have seen a 40 percent increase in the regular daily beneficiaries”.
Babies are measured and weighed once a month. Their mothers are also given super cereals with vitamins to combat malnourishment. The other residents of the makeshift camp receive food by distribution, while in the nearby official camp registered refugees receive e-cards. The aim is to harmonize the assistance offered.
A pressing problem is not only food, but also access to healthcare. We drove from Kutupalong to Leda, next to the river Naf which is the geographical border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
An IOM (International Organisation for Migration) clinic opened near the makeshift camp last October thanks to European funds. It soon became a referral hub seeing over 5,000 patients per month. We took a tour with Dr Mohiuddin Khan, an IOM health officer. We started with the emergency centre.
“We can handle all sorts of emergency cases through this center, we can refer them to the high level center instantly. This is the disability prevention and rehabilitation corner of this facility,” said Dr Mohiuddin Khan. “The clients are coming from the makeshift settlement. This is the laboratory; we provide very basic but very comprehensive range of laboratory services”.
Euronews’ Monica Pinna asked: “What did patients have to do before this clinic was built?” Dr Mohiuddin Khan told her: “They had to travel around, at least 40 kilometers to access laboratory services”.
In the clinic we met Mohammed Nurul Islam. He broke his arm last December while fleeing his village as it was being attacked by Burmese soldiers. He came to Bangladesh straight away and was operated on. Now he is doing a follow-up examination. Mohammed lost five members of his family in October, including two daughters, brothers and sisters.
“I saw many incidents happening in front of my eyes. I saw people abducted, I saw gang rapes, children thrown onto fires and killed,” Mohammed revealed. “My village was burnt. Being Rohingya muslims, we want our recognition and then our nationality and then peace in our villages. I don’t want to live here, I want to go back”.
We asked Pierre Prakash, a representative from EU Humanitarian Aid, if the recent spate of violence had changed the way Bangladesh hosts the Rohingya, who, even in Myanmar have no citizenship.
“Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, in the region, and having many problems of its own, Bangladesh has let these people stay on its soil, explained Pierre. “Nevertheless it doesn’t have the means to deal with the humanitarian situation here. It doesn’t have the resources and therefore it’s very important that the international community is present. The people you see around us are 100 percent dependent on humanitarian assistance.”
Euronews – Monica Pinna
“So what’s the next step? What needs to be done?”
EU Humanitarian Aid -Pierre Prakash
“Obviously humanitarian assistance on its own is not a long term solution, and there is a need for a long term solution for this crisis, but the solution can only come from political willingness to deal with the problem, mostly from the other side of the border, in Myanmar, where these people keep fleeing to this side of the border”.
On the other side of the river Naf, Myanmar denies access to the media and has limited humanitarian activities, while the United Nations (UN) is investigating alleged ethnic cleansing.