Rohingya Muslims and others fleeing towards Bangladesh to escape violence in western Myanmar are facing the twin dangers of sickness and exile.
A series of attacks on security forces in Myanmar’s Rakhine state last week, allegedly by Rohingya rebels, has triggered a mass migration by villagers.
Over a hundred people have been killed in the clashes, most of them militants but also including civilians and members of the security forces.
Still, authorities in Bangladesh are trying to stop people and send them back into Myanmar.
People caught in between, like this woman Win who fears the Rohingya militants, say they cannot go home.
“I will not live there again, even if someone gives us gold or money. I will live if there are no more Muslims. I will not live at all if there are Muslims. I feel bad from my heart. My husband was also killed, as they slit his neck.”
This Rohingya woman, identifying herself only as Begum, says the Rohingya fleeing the violence have no choice either.
“In Myanmar, they are killing us. They burn our houses, killing Muslims, and, because of that, we have come here. They rounded us up with helicopters, looted our belongings, chasing and killing our men. They killed many people. So we came here.”
Conflict has simmered since last October, when a smaller series of Rohingya militant attacks on security posts prompted a fierce military response.
Myanmar’s national security adviser, Thaung Tu, has condemned the latest violence by the militants.
“It is a crime against Myanmar citizens. It is a crime against your country. It is crime against civilised nations that cannot be accepted by the civilised world.”
The United Nations has focused on the fighting in the area, issuing a plea that civilians be allowed to seek shelter.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, says the recent events can be put down to years of civil-liberty breaches.
“I utterly condemn the violent attacks on security personnel, which have led to the loss of many lives and the displacement of thousands of people. Unfortunately, what we feared appears to be occurring. Decades of persistent and systematic human-rights violations, including the very violent security responses to the attacks since October 2016, have almost certainly contributed to the nurturing of violent extremism, with everyone ultimately losing.”
Bangladesh border guards reportedly have sent about 550 Rohingya back to Myanmar.
Still, more than 8,700 have registered in Bangladesh since late last week.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots that go back centuries.