UPDATED at 1:30 P.M. EST on 2017-10-10
An estimated 17,000 Rohingya Muslims from Buthidaung township in Myanmar’s violence-ridden northern Rakhine state have been trying to flee to safety in neighboring Bangladesh since Sept 26, the Myanmar government said Friday, well after the supposed end of a military crackdown in the region.
The unusual announcement by the Information Committee of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office comes a month after the government declared that attacks by Muslim terrorists and and a military counteroffensive had ended. The figure is much less than the half-million Rohingya refugees that the United Nations says have fled northern Rakhine.
Earlier this week, Bangladeshi officials said that 4,000 to 5,000 Rohingya were crossing the border each day following a brief lag in arrivals and that 10,000 more were waiting at the border.
The government statement said the 17,000 Rohingya have been fleeing Buthidaung since Sept. 26 because they are concerned about their survival, health, and security as a minority ethnic group and that their Muslim relatives in Bangladesh had asked them to come so they could all live together within the same clan.
The Rohingya have been arriving in the villages of Ywathit Kay, Layyinpyan Kwin, and Ngayantchoung that border Bangladesh, the statement said.
Though authorities intercepted them, the statement did not say whether the Rohingya were permitted to cross the border or were forced to return to their homes.
Bangladesh and humanitarian agencies have been struggling to accommodate and provide basic services for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who left northern Rakhine during a military crackdown following deadly Aug. 25 attacks on 30 police posts and an army facility.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant Muslim group, claimed responsibility for the attacks as well as for deadly smaller-scale raids on three border guard stations in October 2016.
Rights groups and the United Nations have accused the Myanmar military of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing in northern Rakhine amid numerous reports by Rohingya of security forces murdering civilians, burning villages, torturing people, and raping girls and women.
The government has denied the allegations and blamed the killings and torchings of villages on Muslim militants.
In a speech to diplomats on Sept. 19, Aung San Suu Kyi said the government did not know why the Rohingya were continuing to leave northern Rakhine after the “security operations” ended earlier that month.
She said that the majority of the 1.1 million Muslims living in Rakhine state had not fled and that more than 50 percent of their villages were still intact.
Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and has denied them citizenship, though some have lived in the country for generations. They have also been denied access to basic services such as education and health care.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have set up a working group to facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingya, though rights groups have warned that the Muslims who fled should not be forced to return to a country where they will continue to face systematic discrimination.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.