Nearly 200 Hindu families displaced by violence in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state last year will be resettled from refugee camps to a village outside of Maungdaw township in around two months, a camp leader said Friday.
More than 1,200 Hindus are living in refugee camps in the townships of Maungdaw and Sittwe after fleeing Muslim insurgents from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) who burned down their homes and killed members of their community in August 2017.
Ni Maul, a Hindu social worker and community leader at the refugee camp in Maungdaw told RFA’s Myanmar Service that officials from the township’s general administrative office recently informed him that they are building homes for Hindu refugees near Aung Bala village, near Maungdaw.
“The foundations for 148 houses are done and another 42 houses will be also be built next to Aung Bala village,” he said, adding that “all 190 houses are for Hindu refugees.”
“I believe the houses in Aung Bala village will be finished within two months,” he said.
He said the refugees are happy to leave the Maungdaw camp because they are currently “struggling to survive.”
“Only a third of the assistance needed by refugees in the Maungdaw camp is being provided by the government and donors,” Ni Maul said. “The Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Department only began providing us with some weekly food rations about two months ago, and we must manage ourselves for the rest.”
Another Hindu community leader at the Maungdaw camp named Bu Hal Swe told RFA that the refugees feel safer relocating to a village far from where their homes were attacked.
“These Hindu refugees will not go back to their old villages because they are [majority] Muslim villages,” he said. “They were the minority group and all their houses were burned down by Muslims. So they will live in the houses in Aung Bala village, as it is far from the Muslims.”
His account could not be independently corroborated in the face of tight restrictions on media access to the conflict zone in Rakhine state.
Phy Bwin, a Hindu refugee at the camp, said his house was burned down and several of her family members killed by Muslims during the violence last year.
He told RFA that the refugees are living in “poor conditions” in the camp, and are having difficulty making ends meet.
“We have to work to survive, although we do get support from donors sometimes, such as baskets of rice, cooking oil and some soap each week,” he said.
Phy Bwin said that he used to earn money making jewelry to sell to dealers from Bangladesh, but they had stopped coming across the border since the violence occurred.
He said he had heard that houses were being built for Hindu refugees in Aung Bala village, but that they were not for residents of his village.
“There are refugees from three or four villages living in this camp, but refugees from our village, called Lay Mine, are not in the list to go and live in the new houses in Aung Bala,” he said.
“We don’t know where we will have to go to live,” he said. “It seems we will have to continue staying in this camp for the time being.”
Maungdaw, along with neighboring Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships, was the focal point of a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military against Rohingya Muslims that began late last August following a deadly attack by the ARSA Muslim militant group.
Thousands of Rohingya, who comprise the majority ethnic group in Maungdaw, were killed in the violence, and nearly 700,000 others fled to safety in neighboring Bangladesh where they live in sprawling displacement camps.
Hindus and other non-Muslims residing in northern Rakhine at the time of the crackdown have accused members of ARSA, the militant group that conducted attacks on police outposts northern Rakhine on Aug. 25, of invading their villages and driving out or killing residents.
In May, London-based rights group Amnesty International published a report which found that ARSA militants killed 53 members of the Hindu community in the Kha Maung Seik village tract on the same day that the attacks occurred and dumped their corpses in mass graves. Another 46 Hindus from neighboring Ye Bauk Kyar village who disappeared are believed to be dead.
The militants also forced young Hindu women to convert to Islam and took them to a Muslim refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Other Hindus fled to Bangladesh or to other parts of Rakhine state to escape the violence.
As part of a repatriation program for those who fled to Rakhine state during the violence, Bangladesh in February sent Myanmar a list of 8,032 refugees who indicated that they wanted to return voluntarily to Rakhine state.
So far, Myanmar officials have verified some 500 Rohingya refugees as eligible for return as well as about 400 Hindu refugees who also fled to Bangladesh from northern Rakhine and had been approved for return prior to the issuance of the list, Myint Thu, permanent secretary of Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told RFA in April.
According to Myanmar's 2014 census, Hindus make up only 0.5 percent of the country's population, whereas 88 percent of the people identify as Buddhist and 4.3 percent as Muslim.
Reported by Min Thein Aung and Khet Mar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.