Rohingya Muslims trapped in no man's land between Myanmar and Bangladesh are sitting ducks vulnerable to violence from the Myanmar military.
Approximately 200,000 Rohingya Muslims are currently trapped in what can only be described as a “genocide zone” in the northernmost part of Rakhine State, located on the Myanmar side of the border the Buddhist majority country shares with Bangladesh.
If they flee towards Bangladesh, they risk exposure to internationally banned anti-personnel landmines the Myanmar military has planted along a narrow stretch of territory forming part of the northwestern border of Rakhine State.
If they flee towards the south, they are picked off by the same Myanmar soldiers that carried out what the United Nations determined to be “textbook ethnic cleansing” against them during 2017-2018. If they remain where they are, they live under the ever-present threat of being shelled and bombed by Myanmar warplanes, artillery and helicopter gunships, which are carrying out sorties in increasing frequency and ferocity.
“A few days ago, a [Myanmar] gunship attacked Rohingya village in the township of Buthidaung,” Mohammed Salam, Chairman of a local Rohingya Welfare Committee in Rakhine State, told me via phone on Thursday.
“A half dozen were killed, and the injured were taking to the hospital in Buthidaung, which is running out of medicines and anaesthesia.”
Myanmar's security forces have effectively ring-fenced 200,000 Rohingya in an area comprising only dozens of small villages, blocking all humanitarian aid, including food and medicine, from entering the townships of Buthidaung, conjuring comparisons with the biblical siege of Jericho, and Assad’s recent starvation sieges of Homs, Aleppo, and Eastern Ghouta.
“We have no freedom of movement. We cannot even go from one village to another village, because we are surrounded by military checkpoints and landmines,” says Salam.
“Also, Myanmar does not give us citizenship rights or identification cards, so we are unable to pass the checkpoints, anyway.”
Trapped with nowhere to go, and with ever-dwindling supplies, while being periodically strafed by warplanes and gunships, these genocide survivors are now being pursued by the very same Myanmar army divisions that carried out atrocities against the Rohingya in August and September 2017, according to Amnesty International.
“Despite international condemnation of the Myanmar military’s atrocities, all evidence suggests that they are brazenly committing yet more serious abuses,” declared Tirana Hassan, Director of Crisis Response at Amnesty International.
It’s worth noting here that 24,000 Rohingya Muslims were killed by Myanmar soldiers, alongside another 18,000 women and girls who were raped, during the August 2017 to November 2018 period, according to respective reports published by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA), and another titled, 'Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience'.
Myanmar soldiers deployed to Rakhine State have been ordered to “crush” the separatist Arakan Army, which the government has listed as a “terrorist organisation,” but these deployed military divisions include the notorious 99th Light Infantry Division, which was recently given orders to slaughter the Rohingya, thus providing further evidence of the government’s twin objectives here: crush Arakan separatist aspirations and eradicate the Rohingya, once and for all.
“We cannot escape anywhere,” says Salam. “Even those who try to bribe guards at checkpoints are arrested and then disappear.”
Thousands of Rohingya were fortunate enough to escape the region in late March and early April; however, many are still stuck.
Those that did escape by land towards Bangladesh or by boat to Malaysia did so by selling all their belongings to pay human traffickers for safe passage, which serves as another damning indictment of the international community.
The safety and security of Rohingya genocide survivors should not befall upon unscrupulous human trafficking organisations that opportunistically prey upon the most vulnerable, but rather on the United Nations, or any number of regional security alliances, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
This, however, will not provide security and safe passage for those trapped in the townships of Buthidaung and Rathedaung at this moment. What’s needed is direct and immediate international pressure on the quasi-democratic government of Myanmar, whether via the application of expanded sanctions or the threat of further punitive measures.
“The Myanmar government should urgently allow access to human rights monitors, journalists, and aid workers to affected areas in Rakhine State,” John Quinley, a human rights specialist with Fortify Rights, told me, adding that the international community should push for accountability for atrocities against the Rohingya which he believes will also have a “preventative effect” in stopping further attacks.
Unfortunately, UN bureaucrats have shown only a proclivity for wanting to wipe the Rohingyas from their collective consciousness and schedules, so much so that the very institution that enshrined the promise of “never again” into international law – the United Nations – went along with a plan proposed by Bangladesh to callously dump 800,000 Rohingya refugees on a “doomed island” in the Ganges delta.
The proposed island refugee dumping ground “only emerged from the sea in 2006” and is “extremely vulnerable to monsoons, and would certainly not allow for the development of stable, self-sufficient communities in the long term,” observes Foreign Policy, adding, “The move would be a disaster for the refugees’ future.”
Clearly, and as 200,000 Rohingya remain trapped in Rakhine State’s “genocide zone,” the time for inaction or callously proposed non-solutions have long passed.
Immediate and direct intervention is needed to save these souls. The UN has already failed Cambodians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Darfurians, Iraqi Kurds, Syrians, and the Rohingya once before. If the UN is at all serious about preventing genocide—its most sacred duty—it can’t fail the Rohingya again.
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