In just one month, 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children, are estimated to have been shot, burnt or beaten to death in Myanmar according to the Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) surveys conducted in the Bangladesh refugee settlements. And that’s our most conservative estimation.
The survey gives the clearest indication yet of the widespread and indiscriminate nature of this violence forcing Rohingya to flee en masse or remain and be killed. The exodus started on 25 August when the Myanmar military, police and local militias launched “clearance operations” in Rakhine in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. This clearance operation turned into a massacre targeting civilians and has led to the displacement of at least 647,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.
"MSF was horrified both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member had died as a result of the violence, but also the horrific ways in which they had been killed or severely injured"
Six retrospective mortality surveys were conducted in early November in different sections of the refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar, for the period between 25th August to 24th September. In conducting the survey of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, MSF was horrified both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member had died as a result of the violence, but also the horrific ways in which they had been killed or severely injured.
Gunshots were the cause of death in 69% of the violence-related deaths; followed by burned to death in their houses (9%); and beaten to death (5%). Young children were not spared: more than 59% of children below the age of five who were killed during were reportedly shot; 15% burned to death in their home; 7% beaten to death and 2% died due to landmine blasts.
If this proportion is applied to the total population that had arrived since 25 August in the camps, it would suggest that between 9,425 and 13,759 Rohingya died during the initial 31 days following the start of the violence, including at least 1,000 children below the age of five. More than 7 out of 10 of the reported deaths were caused by violence.
The numbers of deaths are likely to be an underestimation. Our teams haven’t been able to survey all the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The findings don’t account for the families who never made it out of Myanmar. Our teams in Bangladesh heard reports of entire families who perished after they were locked inside their homes, while they were set alight. And the wounds and patient accounts of the 250 people MSF treated in the first three weeks of the crisis in its health facilities in Bangladesh are in line with these types of violence.
"The numbers of deaths are likely to be an underestimation. Our teams haven’t been able to survey all the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh"
The violence hasn’t stopped. Currently people are still fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh. New patients continue to arrive at our clinics in Cox’s Bazar and report being subjected to violence. I fear for the Rohingya people who are still in northern Rakhine in Myanmar. Very few independent aid groups are able to access this area to provide the humanitarian assistance that the population has previously depended on. What’s more, they remain stateless and without any legal protection and thus vulnerable to further violence and intimidation.
It’s amid this climate that Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal to return hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. And it’s also in this climate that the Australian government has allegedly continued to offer up to $25,000 to Rohingya refugees currently held in Papua New Guinea to drop their protection claims and return home.
"How could the current political situation in Myanmar possibly be adequate for Rohingya refugees to return safely?"
How could the current political situation in Myanmar possibly be adequate for Rohingya refugees to return safely? The international community, including Australia should only encourage Rohingya return if their security and freedom of movement can be guaranteed, and if the voluntary nature of the return process is ensured. This is simply not the case right now and it is hard to imagine that this would be the case if the root causes of this recent violence are not addressed.
In the light of this level of violence, carried out clearly on ethnic lines and with intent to kill, it is incumbent on leaders in our region to come up with long-term, durable solutions that ensure the recognition, protection and safety of the Rohingya people. Forcing them to return to almost certain ongoing violence and suffering should be unthinkable at this stage.