Netizen 24 IRL: 'When they began slaughtering us we ran for our lives': Rohingya trapped inside Myanmar

'When they began slaughtering us we ran for our lives': Rohingya trapped inside Myanmar Humanitarian response 'When they be...

'When they began slaughtering us we ran for our lives': Rohingya trapped inside Myanmar

Humanitarian response 'When they began slaughtering us we ran for our lives': Rohingya trapped inside Myanmar

Alex Crawford of Sky News reports from Rakhine state on the fleeing Rohingya Muslims unable to get to Bangladesh and stranded on Dang Khali Saur beach, desperate for food and water

It’s the sound of the wailing that is most haunting. It’s a deep, soulful, pit-of-your-being, howling hurt. And it follows us as we’re swept along by this moving, wretched mass of humanity. These are the Rohingya Muslims who are unable to flee the violence being unleashed against them by travelling overland to Bangladesh because of the distances involved; the certainty of running into Myanmar soldiers and having to navigate landmines. They’ve run in the only other direction they could â€" towards the beaches of Maungdaw district in Rakhine state, until they reached water and could go no further.

We’ve travelled in a traditional Bangladeshi fishing boat to Dang Khali Saur beach, now home to what’s believed to be the largest number of stranded Rohingya in Rakhine. Here, the bulk of the atrocities by the Myanmar military have been taking place.

We wade through the shallows from the boat and are met by a group standing knee-deep in water. At the front, being held up by a young man, is a small, frail woman, with hollowed out cheeks and sunken eyes. I grasp her upper arm to steady her as she wobbles and her thin frame takes my breath away. I can encircle her entire upper arm by touching my thumb with my forefinger. We follow the crowd along the beach. It’s slow progress because of the sheer numbers. Men are crying openly. A woman walking behind me sobs continuously: big, helpless gulps of despair.

Alex Crawford of Sky News, in Rakhine state in November 2017 Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Alex Crawford of Sky News, in Rakhine state in November 2017. Photograph: Sky News

Through night vision on the camera we can see the hordes of people around us, holding babies, grasping tiny hands, propping up their elderly. We’re constantly stopped as parents thrust their babies at me. One father holds his baby boy’s skinny little leg, imploring me to feel how slight it is. A young woman is holding a newborn and she tells us her baby was born a week ago, right on this beach. Some of them have been here for two months, trapped on this sand prison, they say. There is an army outpost nearby, they tell us, and landmines beyond the beach prevent them from returning inland, to their villages.

“When they started b urning our homes and slaughtering us, we ran for our lives,” one man tells us. “We ran towards the beach and the soldiers guided us past the landmines down a path to the [shore], then they sealed the path behind us. Now we’re trapped here.” They tell us repeatedly of killings and rapes at the hands of the Myanmar military.

As I’m talking to one mother, asking her about her baby â€" how old he is, where he was born â€" others push their way through the crowd. Suddenly there are rows of women cradling their young ones in their arms. A 19-year-old girl says she gave birth the day before and we can see the umbilical cord is still attached. She’s half hunched over, her face twisted in pain.

The captain of our boat has said we can take about 15 people back with us. It was taking in water even on the trip over, with his crew scooping out bucket-loads from the bottom minutes after we set off. He is keeping a careful count of who is coming on board. The girl insis ts on her mother, and the father of her baby, coming too.

Q&A

Who are the Rohingya?

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The Rohingya are Muslims who live in majority-Buddhist Myanmar. They are often described as "the world's most persecuted minority".

Nearly all of Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya live in the western coastal state of Rakhine. The government does not recognise them as citizens, effectively rendering them stateless.

In 2012, deadly clashes with Buddhists in Rakhine caused 140,000 Rohingya to flee their homes. Many have since paid people smugglers to take them on dangerous sea voyages to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, where they are often exploited.
Extremist nationalist movements insist the group are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although the Rohingya say they are native to Rakhine state.
Rights groups accuse Myanmar authorities of ethnic cleansing, systematically forcing Rohingya from the country through vi olence and persecution, a charge the government has denied.

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The boatman has done this trip several times before. He’s well aware of the desperation of these people so he’s anchored his boat some distance away from shore to avoid a sudden rush when we set off. It is a cruel selection procedure. The consensus of the boat and crew is that the very youngest, the most frail and the most vulnerable should be given passage. But those who fulfil that criteria far exceed the boat’s capacity. One of the men on the boat has come in search of his relatives. He tracks down only two of them, a younger brother and a young cousin. But he guides them to the waiting area to board the boat, grateful that he’s managed to find at least two. One woman holds my hand, sobbing, and tells us her husband was shot by the soldiers. She’s alone with three young children.

There’s feverish activity at one stretch of t he beach as a huge contraption of jerry cans, bamboo and plastic string is being turned into a life-raft. It looks about 40 square feet and there are scores of men with small head torches working on it. “We have no money at all, so we have to make our own boat,” we’re told.

These people who’ve survived the arson, execution and rape inland. But now, unless they somehow get away from this beach hell, they tell us they fear dying of starvation and disease. In the shadows, we can just make out some tents, rigged up from small plastic covers and bamboo sticks. The heat is stifling but these people are stranded here, exposed to the elements with no easy access to fresh water, food or shelter. A young man is carried to us and the crowd tells us he was beaten trying to forage for water. Their testimony is in stark contrast to the denials being issued by the Myanmar authorities, who insist there’s no persecution and their security “clearance” is because of terrorist act ivity against the army.

Rohingya children on the boat with Alex Crawford, Rakhine state Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Rohingya children on the boat with Alex Crawford, Rakhine state. Photograph: Courtesy of Sky News

The boatman is getting very agitated about how long we’ve been ashore and the crowd is increasingly chaotic and frantic. He’s worried there will be a rush for his craft when they see we’re leaving. So many are being left to fester further on this miserable stretch of land.

A few of the crew try to hold people back, waving their arms and shouting at them to stay back. The group who board carry sackfuls of the few belongings they’ve managed to bring with them â€" a few solar panels, rice and clothes. Once again, these Rohingya are on the move but there’s no joy among them, not even discernible relief. These are people who have endured an awful lot. Twin boys of five or six years old sit clinging to each other on the side of the boat. They look terrified. They, like everyone on the boat, has no idea how they’re going to manage from now or what will happen to them. But somehow whatever is in front of them is worth running towards because it cannot possibly be as bad as what they are escaping from.

  • Alex Crawford is Sky News special correspondent
Topics
  • Humanitarian response
  • Governance
  • Myanmar
  • South and Central Asia
  • Conflict and development
  • features
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Source: Google News

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Netizen 24 Ireland: Netizen 24 IRL: 'When they began slaughtering us we ran for our lives': Rohingya trapped inside Myanmar
Netizen 24 IRL: 'When they began slaughtering us we ran for our lives': Rohingya trapped inside Myanmar
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