Thousands of Myanmar’s Muslim minority people, the Rohingya, are attempting to flee to Bangladesh amid ongoing violence in the border state of Rakhine. The violence began on Friday, following attacks on police stations by Rohingya fighters. It is estimated that around 3,000 Rohingya people have been able to cross the border into Bangladesh over the weekend, with the rest being discovered and turned back by border guards, adding to the tens of thousands who have previously made the journey, the BBC report. The Rohingya people face harsh persecution from the Buddhist majority in the southeast Asian country.
According to the Rohingya, they have been in the area for generations, while the Myanmar government believes them to be illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. As such, the Myanmar government refuses to give the minority citizenship, and they also face severe restrictions on their movement. In 2012, violence erupted between the Rohingya and the Buddhist majority, seeing 100,000 people displaced. The Muslim minority says that they are the victims of regular violence at the hands of the Myanmar military and police, with accounts of rape and murder commonplace, which the government say is not the true version of events, describing such reports as distortions of the truth.
Peace icon Aung San Suu Kyi, elected as leader in 2015, has been criticized for her refusal to condemn the violence. Instead, as the BBC notes, she accused critics of exaggerating their claims in an interview with NewsAsia.
“I’m not saying there are no difficulties, but it helps if people recognize the difficulty and are more focused on resolving these difficulties rather than exaggerating them so that everything seems worse than it really is.”
In another statement following the attacks on police stations in Rakhine, she condemned the “brutal attacks by terrorists on security forces in Rakhine state,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported. According to Reuters, the death toll from the attacks has risen t0 104, with most of the dead being Rohingya militants, along with 12 members of the security forces.
Pope Francis has expressed his sympathy with the Rohingya, calling them “brothers” in a statement. In the statement, the Pope asked for prayers for them.
“We all ask our Lord to come to their rescue and to prompt men of good will to come to their aid so they have full rights. Let us also pray for our Rohingya brothers…”
Some of those attempting to flee to Bangladesh have found themselves stuck in the no man’s land between the two countries, in locations such as Ghumdhum. For some, the no man’s land seems favorable to staying in Myanmar, with some Rohingya men fleeing to it from Myanmar following gunfire along the border. The Myanmar government have called on the Rohingya to cooperate, saying that those who are unrelated to the insurgency will not be affected. However, the situation has been desperate for some time, with an estimated 400,000 Rohingya having fled to Bangladesh since the 1990s, with around 1 million left in Myanmar.
[Featured Image by Mushfiqul Alam/AP Images]