Thousands of new Rohingya refugees flee
violence, hunger in Myanmar to Bangladesh
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[October 16, 2017]
By Zeba Siddiqui and Wa Lone
COX'S BAZAR/YANGON (Reuters) - Hungry,
destitute and scared, thousands of new Rohingya refugees crossed the
border into Bangladesh from Myanmar early on Monday, Reuters witnesses
said, fleeing hunger and attacks by Buddhist mobs that the United
Nations has called ethnic cleansing.
Wading through waist-deep water with children strapped to their sides,
the refugees told Reuters they had walked through bushes and forded
monsoon-swollen streams for days.
A seemingly never-ending flow entered Bangladesh near the village of
Palongkhali. Many were injured, with the elderly carried on makeshift
stretchers, while women balanced household items, such as pots, rice
sacks and clothing, on their heads.
"We couldn't step out of the house for the last month because the
military were looting people," said Mohammad Shoaib, 29, who wore a
yellow vest and balanced jute bags of food and aluminum pots on a bamboo
pole. "They started firing on the village. So we escaped into another.
"Day by day, things kept getting worse, so we started moving towards
Bangladesh. Before we left, I went back near my village to see my house,
and the entire village was burnt down," Shoaib added.
They joined about 536,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar since
Aug. 25, when coordinated Rohingya insurgent attacks sparked a ferocious
military response, with the fleeing people accusing security forces of
arson, killings and rape.
Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing and has labeled the
militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army who launched the
attacks as terrorists, who have killed civilians and burnt villages.
Not everyone made it to Bangladesh alive on Monday.
Several kilometers (miles) to the south of Palongkhali, a boat carrying
scores of refugees sank at dawn, killing at least 12 and leaving 35
missing. There were 21 survivors, Bangladesh authorities said.
"So far 12 bodies, including six children and four women, have been
recovered," said police official Moinuddin Khan.
Bangladesh border guards told Reuters the boat sank because it was
overloaded with refugees, who pay exorbitant fees to cross the Naf
River, which forms a natural border with Myanmar in the Cox's Bazar
region of Bangladesh.
The sinking came about a week after another boat capsized in the estuary
on the river, which has become a graveyard for dozens of Muslim
FOOD, AID RESTRICTED
Refugees who survived the perilous journey said they were driven out by
hunger because food markets in Myanmar's western Rakhine State have been
shut and aid deliveries restricted. They also reported attacks by the
military and Rakhine Buddhist mobs.
[to top of second column]
Fsarul Begum, a Rohingya refugee who fled from Myanmar is carried
with her new born baby as they wait to be let through after crossing
the border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 16, 2017.
The influx will worsen the unprecedented humanitarian emergency
unfolding in Cox's Bazar, where aid workers are battling to provide
refugees with food, clean water and shelter.
On Monday, the Red Cross opened a field hospital as big as two
football fields, with 60 beds, three wards, an operating theatre, a
delivery suite with maternity ward and a psychosocial support unit.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya had already been in Bangladesh
after fleeing previous spasms of violence in Myanmar, where they
have long been denied citizenship and faced curbs on their movements
and access to basic services.
The United States and the European Union are considering targeted
sanctions against Myanmar's military leaders, officials have told
EU foreign ministers will discuss Myanmar on Monday, and their draft
joint statement said the bloc "will suspend invitations to the
commander-in-chief of the Myanmar/Burma armed forces and other
senior military officers".
The powerful army chief, Min Aung Hlaing, told the United States
ambassador in Myanmar last week that the exodus of Rohingya, whom he
called non-native "Bengalis", was exaggerated.
But despite Myanmar's denials and assurances that aid was on its way
to the north of violence-torn Rakhine State, thousands more starving
people were desperate to leave.
"We fled from our home because we had nothing to eat in my village,"
said Jarhni Ahlong, a 28-year-old Rohingya man from the southern
region of Buthidaung, who had been stranded on the Myanmar side of
the Naf for a week, waiting to cross.
From the thousands gathered there awaiting an opportunity to escape,
about 400 paid roughly $50 each to flee on nine or 10 boats on
Monday morning, he added.
"I think if we go to Bangladesh we can get food," he said.
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in Cox's Bazar and Wa Lone in Yangon;
Additional reporting by Jorge Silva and Nurul Islam in Cox's Bazar;
Writing by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence
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