In January, while visiting a refugee settlement here, I interviewed a woman whose daughter had been killed in front of her in Myanmar. Behind her, inside a hut, a group of ethnic Rohingyas—Muslims driven across the border by violence—were holding a meeting. They heard my questions and invited me in.

Rashida
“They hauled my husband away. I don’t know if he was killed or where they’d taken him. They took my young daughter and slaughtered her in front of me. I saw this. At night, the child’s body was covered with clothes and secretly buried by the people.”

 

Several people were inside, some of them girls as young as 14. The meeting organizer asked them to show their hands if they had been assaulted. Three went up.

“He is a journalist,” she said, repeating the request. “Tell him.”

All the hands went up.

 

Tasmina
“After burning our house and slaughtering my father, they were trying to take me away. My mother yanked at me. Soon afterwards, they slaughtered my mother, too. Then, they took me into an empty house. About 10 to 15 of them abused me.”

 

Then they took off their niqabs, declaring that their dignity had been taken by the Burmese army. They had been raped and tortured in front of their families and communities. Many had seen family members, including babies and young children, butchered in front of them. They saw no reason to hide their faces if it meant telling the world what happened to their homes and loved ones in Myanmar.

 

Anwara
“They kept me as long as they wanted to. Those who came at 8 p.m. raped me till 12 a.m., and those who came at 12 a.m. stayed till 1 a.m. In this way, they did whatever they wanted.”

 

In early January, the government of Aung San Suu Kyi took unusual action against soldiers depicted on a viral video rounding up and beating people in a Rohingya village. She detained several officers and launched an investigation into that case. But there has never been a broad investigation into the scores of more serious allegations of murder, burnings and rape of Rohingya in Rakhine State. The U.N. in February released a report detailing “devastating cruelty,” and the researcher Azeem Ibrahim dubbed the violence in his 2016 book as “Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide.”

 

Nur Qaida
“They taunted me and tortured me. They put the video of my rape on the internet. They put me up as a daughter of poor parents being abused by the Mog [the predominant ethnic group in Rakhine State, mainly Buddhist and the military.”

Now there’s a new dynamic as Rohingya flee across the border to Bangladesh, where the government refuses to grant them legal status. The women I spoke to here have been left to beg, dependent on humanitarian aid and at risk of trafficking. They will receive no psychological support for the trauma they experienced.

 

Doulu
“They beat my husband so hard that he couldn’t move. We all carried him, but we had to leave him on the other side [of the border]. I couldn’t locate my little one. I found the other three children.”

Worse, a virulent anti-Rohingya sentiment has already taken hold in parts of society in southern Bangladesh. The Rohingya, it is believed, are thieves, drug traffickers and terrorists. Rohingya cause environmental destruction, and they run off with Bangladeshi women. The list of warrantless allegations is long. I spoke with people who believe the Rohingya must have done something to bring the Burmese wrath on themselves.

Driving through Ukhiya, one can’t help but notice women, infants, children and elderly men sitting by the roadside. They stretch out their hands as vehicles drive past. But their presence has not engendered sympathy from the locals. Instead, it has resulted in an astonishing plan by the Bangladeshi government to relocate Rohingya refugees to a remote and uninhabitable island called Hatiya.

“It has to be assured by taking preventive measures that they cannot spread out and mix with the locals,” the government declared.

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Shafiur Rahman
Shafiur Rahman is a U.K.-based documentary filmmaker with a particular interest in human rights, labor and refugee issues.