'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
Itâs the sound of the wailing that is most haunting. Itâs a deep, soulful, pit-of-your-being, howling hurt. And it follows us as weâre 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. Theyâve 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.
Weâve travelled in a traditional Bangladeshi fishing boat to Dang Khali Saur beach, now home to whatâs 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. Itâs slow progress because of the sheer numbers. Men are crying openly. A woman walking behind me sobs continuously: big, helpless gulps of despair.
Through night vision on the camera we can see the hordes of people around us, holding babies, grasping tiny hands, propping up their elderly. Weâre constantly stopped as parents thrust their babies at me. One father holds his baby boyâs 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.
âWhen they started b urning our homes and slaughtering us, we ran for our lives,â one man tells us. âWe 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 weâre trapped here.â They tell us repeatedly of killings and rapes at the hands of the Myanmar military.
As Iâm 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. Sheâs 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.
The boatman has done this trip several times before. Heâs well aware of the desperation of these people so heâs 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 boatâs 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 heâs managed to find at least two. One woman holds my hand, sobbing, and tells us her husband was shot by the soldiers. Sheâs alone with three young children.
Thereâs 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. âWe have no money at all, so we have to make our own boat,â weâre told.
These people whoâve 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 thereâs no persecution and their security âclearanceâ is because of terrorist act ivity against the army.
The boatman is getting very agitated about how long weâve been ashore and the crowd is increasingly chaotic and frantic. Heâs worried there will be a rush for his craft when they see weâre 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 theyâve managed to bring with them â" a few solar panels, rice and clothes. Once again, these Rohingya are on the move but thereâs 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 theyâre 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
- Humanitarian response
- South and Central Asia
- Conflict and development
- Share on Facebook
- Share on Twitter
- Share via Email
- Share on LinkedIn
- Share on Pinterest
- Shar e on Google+
- Share on WhatsApp
- Share on Messenger
- Reuse this content