TWO YEARS ago, Myanmar’s military launched a crackdown of fire and violence against the Muslim Rohingya population of Rakhine state in the western part of the country. In the attacks, which the United States has described as ethnic cleansing and U.N. investigators called possible crimes against humanity, civilians were killed, their villages burned to the ground and some 750,000 people fled for their lives.
Now, the displaced Rohingya languish in neighboring Bangladesh, a seething humanitarian challenge, while Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma, tries to cover up and forget the destruction of Rohingya villages and homes.
Consider one of the most woeful days of the violence. On Sept. 2, 2017, 10 Rohingya men from the village of Inn Din were roped together while watching Buddhist villagers dig a shallow grave. Before long, all 10 men lay dead in the grave. Two had been hacked to death by the Buddhists, and eight were shot by the Burmese security forces, according to Reuters, which interviewed witnesses to the massacre and exposed it.
Recently, Jonathan Head, Southeast Asia correspondent for BBC News, was on a government tour of Rakhine state. Myanmar has refused to allow unfettered international investigations of the violence against the Rohingya, and journalists are not permitted to move about freely. The tour was tightly controlled and intended to show off Myanmar repatriation facilities. But Mr. Head found four locations where police barracks, government buildings and refugee relocation camps have been built on what satellite images show were once Rohingya settlements. The government denies doing this.
One of the settlements was identified as Inn Din. The satellite imagery shows a Buddhist quarter untouched, quiet and peaceful. But “no trace of the Muslim quarter remains,” Mr. Head reported, saying that “when you reach where the Rohingya houses used to be, the trees have gone, replaced by barbed-wire fences enclosing an extensive new Border Guard Police barracks.” The Buddhist residents “told us they would never accept Muslims living next to them again,” he said.
Meanwhile, the tormented Rohingya are facing additional difficulties in Bangladesh. The refugees have resisted two attempts to repatriate a handful of them back to Myanmar, where they have suffered persecution and second-class status for decades. The Bangladesh government was rattled by a protest rally last month of some Rohingya to commemorate the second anniversary of their flight and to demand repatriation to Myanmar with full citizenship. On Monday, the regional telecom regulator ordered network operators to halt all cellphone service in the area covering the Rohingya camps near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh near the Myanmar border. The blackout will certainly raise tensions in the camps as the Rohingya feel more isolated than ever. A solution to their humanitarian crisis is nowhere in sight. Military and political leaders in Myanmar show no sign of relenting in their long hostility toward the Rohingya.
The Rohingya are now a people of nowhere. They shouldn’t be abandoned.