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10,000 Rohingya on Bangladesh border as exodus reaches half a million

Over 500,000 Rohingya have streamed into Bangladesh in just the past five weeks.

Newly arrived Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar look out from a madrasa window that they used as a shelter in Shahparirdwip, Bangladesh.
Newly arrived Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar look out from a madrasa window that they used as a shelter in Shahparirdwip, Bangladesh.
Image: AP/PA Images

MORE THAN 10,000 Muslim Rohingya have massed in Myanmar near a crossing point into Bangladesh, Myanmar media said today, apparently poised to join an exodus across the border due to food shortages and fear of attacks in their mainly Buddhist homeland.

Over 500,000 Rohingya have streamed into Bangladesh in just the past five weeks, and numbers are again swelling, raising doubt about the practicality of a Myanmar proposal to begin repatriating them.

Myanmar’s northern state of Rakhine has been emptied of half of its Rohingya population in weeks.

More are on the move as insecurity presses them to leave those villages which have so far been spared the worst of the violence that ripped through the state.

Attacks by Rohingya militants on 25 August spurred a ferocious Myanmar army crackdown that the UN says amounted to “ethnic cleansing”.

Over 10,000 Muslims have arrived “between Letphwekya and Kwunthpin village to emigrate to the neighbouring country”, the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

Myanmar’s government refuses to recognise the Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group, instead calling them “Muslims” or “Bengalis” – code for illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Authorities have tried to reassure fleeing Rohingya that they are now safe in Rakhine, the report added, but they want to leave “of their own accord”.

Violence appears to have ebbed in northern Rakhine, although independent reporting is still prevented by an army lockdown.

But fear has unsettled many of the Rohingya who remain, threatened by Myanmar’s army and their hostile ethnic Rakhine neighbours and cut off from aid agencies.

After a brief lull in arrivals, the Bangladesh Border Guard says 4-5,000 Rohingya are now crossing each day.

“They don’t want to stay (in Myanmar). They want to come here… they are being told to leave,” Lieutenant-Colonel S.M Ariful Islam told AFP.

Food is also running out, with villagers too fearful to tend to their crops in case they are attacked by their neighbours.

“In some villages they are scared to pass by Rakhine villages,” Chris Lewa, from Rohingya advocacy group the Arakan Project, told AFP.

© AFP 2017.

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