Nearly 30,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh as communal violence rages in Myanmar’s northwest. Tens of thousands remain stuck in a no-man’s-land at the border.
Around 400 people are reported to have died in communal violence that started on August 25 in Myanmar’s Rakhine state after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts.
The latest death toll was posted in a statement on Friday on the Facebook page of the country’s military commander, Min Aung Hlaing. The statement said 370 of the dead were insurgents, whom it described as terrorists.
The army says it is conducting clearance operations against “extremist terrorists” in response to the attacks on police posts. But Rohingya allege that security forces are indulging in arson and killings to force them to flee.
The plight of the ethnic minority group has drawn international criticism, most notably for national leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. She has been accused for not speaking out for the persecuted minority.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday expressed concern over “reports of excesses during security operations” in Rakhine. He urged restraint and calm to “avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.”
The searing violence, some of the deadliest to have hit Myanmar’s Rohingya community, has forced tens of thousands to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
The influx has come despite Bangladeshi authorities toughening border patrols in a bid to prevent more refugees from entering a country that already hosts an estimated 400,000 Rohingya refugees.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) regional spokeswoman Vivian Tan told DW more than 27,000 Rohingya had crossed into Bangladesh up to Friday. She warned the number was likely to be revised upward.
Reuters news agency reported on Friday that around 38,000 people were estimated to have crossed over. It said 20,000 more Rohingya were stuck in a no-man’s-land at the border.
“We are working with the Bangladeshi authorities and our partners to provide life-saving assistance, including temporary shelter, food and medical treatment for those who need it,” Tan said.
“The (refugee) camps are swelling fast so there is a need to find additional land to build new shelters and services.”
Many of the new arrivals were women and children, including heavily pregnant women, she said.
“They are all exhausted after walking for days to reach Bangladesh, often with no food and just the clothes on their backs. They also seem traumatized by what they have been through,” Tan told DW.
Around 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya currently living in mainly Buddhist Myanmar have been denied citizenship and are classified as illegal immigrants. They are often subjected to violence.
In October, a similar series of insurgent attacks on police posts in Myanmar prompted a brutal military response that resulted in human rights abuse allegations.