A year on, Rohingya still fleeing Myanmar for crowded camps
BALUKHALI REFUGEE CAMP, Bangladesh (Reuters) - Hamida Begum fled her home in Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh about two months ago with her husband, two-year-old son, and three-month-old baby. In the weeks before she left, her husband almost never slept at home out of fear of being arrested. “He would climb on top of a tree and sit there the whole night, even if it was raining really hard,” said the 18-year-old, wearing a yellow headscarf over a purple dress and sitting on the floor of her barren bamboo hut. Hamida now lives on the edge of the world’s largest refugee camp, one of the latest arrivals among some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who have escaped an army crackdown that the United Nations has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Though Myanmar says it is ready to take back the Rohingya, the continued outflow of refugees such as Hamida and her family underlines the lack of progress in addressing the crisis, a year on from the start of the offensive on Aug. 25, 2017. The Rohingya exodus has threatened Myanmar’s tense transition to democracy and shattered the image of its leader, Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, outside the country. “The crisis has done enormous damage to Myanmar’s standing in the world,” said Richard Horsey, a former U.N. diplomat in the country and a political analyst. Suu Kyi’s government has rejected most allegations of atrocities made against the security forces by refugees. It has built transit centers to receive Rohingya returnees to western Rakhine state. But stories brought by Hamida and other recent arrivals in Bangladesh - at least 150 people in August and nearly 13,000 since the beginning of the year - suggest the resolution of a crisis that enters its second year on Saturday remains distant. Around half a dozen new refugees who spoke to Reuters said that, after months of struggle amid charred huts and empty villages, they were forced to abandon their homes out of fear of harassment or arrest by the security forces. They said they had been confined to their homes and pushed to the brink of starvation, unable to visit farms for work, markets and fishing ponds for food, or mosques to pray. Myanmar says it did not provoke the crisis and its military launched a legitimate counterinsurgency operation in response to a violent campaign from within the Rohingya minority, who are mostly denied citizenship in the southeast Asian nation. “It was a systematic activity by a group in order to get a citizenship for Bengali people,” said Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar refer to the Rohingya as “Bengali”, which most in the Muslim minority regard as a derogatory term used to suggest they are interlopers from Bangladesh.