After a pause of several days, at least 8,000 Rohingya refugees entered southeastern Bangladesh in 24 hours, local authorities said Tuesday, with some of the new arrivals claiming their houses had been sprayed with petrol from helicopters and then set on fire.
Relief agencies working in the area meanwhile updated their overall figure of the number of refugees who have entered Bangladesh since Aug. 25 to 480,000, or roughly half of the Muslim population of Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“Every morning, helicopters fly over Rohingya villages and pour petrol. The Mogh mobs moving around the villages then set the houses on fire,” Marium Begum, a Rohingya refugee, told BenarNews, using a derogatory name for Rakhine Buddhists.
Begum, 45, said she arrived in southeastern Cox's Bazar district on Monday after fleeing from Hasurata village in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township. She and her husband and two daughters hid in the jungle while soldiers and militia members attacked their village, she said.
“They used to leave the women [alone] after raping them. But this time, they rape the women and kill them,” she told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Bangladeshi officials who said over the weekend that the unprecedented influx from Rakhine had stopped, acknowledged that it had picked up again since Monday.
Around 8,000 Rohingya entered the sub-districts of Ukhia and Teknaf through three border-crossing points since late Monday, according to Nur Hossain, chairman of the Sabrang Union Council in Teknaf.
The new arrivals told him that the Myanmar military and civilian militias had intensified violence against Rohingya in their effort to “get them out of Arakan [Rakhine],” Hossain said.
“In the last 12 hours, more than 2,000 new Rohingya entered Ukhia. We are seeing more people coming in,” Gafur Uddin Chowdhury, the chairman of Ukhia sub-district, told BenarNews.
Refugee Md Habibullah, 50, arrived with his wife on Monday night after fleeing from Dakhshin Angdang village in Maungdaw.
“On Saturday, the military and the Mogh attacked our village. I, my wife and three children fled. But my 103-year-old father could not flee. Later, we came to know that they slaughtered my father,” Habibullah told BenarNews.
“Was my 103-year-old father a terrorist?” he added.
‘Crimes against humanity’
Meanwhile, an agency that coordinates the work of international relief agencies and NGOs working in southeastern Bangladesh sharply updated its figures to show that 480,000 refugees had entered from Rakhine since violence broke out there in late August.
The jump in the estimate provided by the Inter Sector Coordination Group was due to the arrival of 35,000 refugees at two local camps that the group had not previously recorded, the ISCG said.
“Movement across the border reportedly decreased from 21-24 September, especially along the Ukhia border areas. On 25 and 26 [September], many hundreds of people were reportedly observed crossing again,” according to the latest ISCG report published on Tuesday.
In Geneva on Tuesday, the U.N.’s refugee agency called for the international community to double its humanitarian outreach in order to respond to the burgeoning refugee situation in southeastern Bangladesh.
“Despite every effort by those on the ground, the massive influx of people seeking safety has been outpacing capacities to respond, and the situation for these refugees has still not stabilized,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said during a news briefing.
“We continue to identify and support the most vulnerable refugees such as unaccompanied children, women, the elderly and disabled, who are in urgent need of shelter, food, water, and healthcare,” he said.
The Bangladeshi government announced Tuesday that it planned to build separate shelters for some 6,000 Rohingya refugee children who had arrived across the border alone, the Associated Press reported. According to UNICEF, children make up more than 60 percent of the refugees who have come from Rakhine since late August.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the violence unfolding in Rakhine “crime against humanity.”
“The Burmese military is brutally expelling the Rohingya from the Northern Rakhine State. The massacre of villagers and mass arson driving people from their home are all crimes against humanity,” James Ross, HRW’s legal and policy director, said in a statement.
“The United Nations Security Council and concerned countries should urgently impose targeted sanctions and an arms embargo on the Burmese military to stop further crimes against humanity,” the New York-based global rights watchdog said.
Myanmar officials have denied that the country’s security forces have targeted Muslim civilians in the violence in Rakhine, blaming it instead on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an insurgent group that launched deadly attacks on Myanmar border police outposts on Aug. 25.
In a speech to diplomats in Naypyidaw last week, de facto Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said there had been no further clashes or clearance operations in Rakhine state after Sept. 5, and claimed that her government was “committed to the restoration of peace, stability and rule of law throughout the state.”
On Sunday, Myanmar’s government said that about 300 ARSA members had carried out the Aug. 25 attacks, and had also killed roughly 100 people from several Hindu villages in the area. Authorities said they had uncovered mass graves in Maungdaw township that held the bodies of 45 members of the Hindu minority.
An ARSA spokesman rejected the allegations.
“ARSA has internationally pledged not to target civilians and that remains unchanged, no matter what,” the insurgency group’s spokesman, who identified himself only as Abdullah, told Reuters.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.