❝ The Rohingya are often referred to as ‘one of the world’s most persecuted minorities’ by activists and the press.❞
Rohingya Muslims are the largest Muslim community in Myanmar. They form a distinct ethnic group, with their own language and culture. However, the Rohingya are subject to severe discrimination from the Myanmar government, compounded by marginalization from the general population. The Rohingya are considered “illegal immigrants” from neighbouring Bangladesh despite being able to trace their roots back for centuries in the territory which now forms the State of Myanmar. As a result, the Rohingya have faced protracted displacement, discrimination, lack of access to education, and restrictions on freedom of movement.
Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law establishes three tiers of citizenship, the highest order of which is only attainable to members of 135 “national races” that are deemed “indigenous” under the law. Rohingyas do not appear on this list. In order for Rohingyas to be eligible for the basic level of citizenship (naturalised), they are required to provide evidence of their ancestry in Rakhine State prior to 1948, as well as fluency in one of the national languages. The former, in particular, is an unattainable burden of proof for most. As such, the vast majority are effectively stateless, yet citizenship has de facto little impact on rights or ability to access services. Rohingyas and Muslims of other ethnicities that have citizenship documents face many of the same restrictions, despite the fact that their rights are technically enshrined in law.
In the 2014 census - the first census conducted in Myanmar since 1983 - the government prohibited Rohingyas from identifying themselves by their chosen designation and required them to register as “Bengali”, which most refused to do. The vast majority of Rohingyas were not counted by census enumerators and do not appear in the final census document. This most recent ‘erasure’ of the Rohingya compounds existing restrictions that have left most unable to access their rights to work, study, travel, marry, register births, and health services, a process that accelerated following 2012 communal violence in Rakhine State. In northern Rakhine State (northern Rakhine), Rohingya face being deleted from government ‘residency list’ if they are not present during annual “household inspections”. The implications of this are that without proof of residence, Rohingya may not be able to acquire citizenship in the future; for those who fled Myanmar, complying with this regulation may prove insurmountably - and intentionally - difficult.
The majority of Rohingya Muslims live in the northern areas of Rakhine State in northwestern Myanmar, with populations particularly concentrated in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships. Rakhine State is one of the most deprived states in Myanmar, with chronic poverty, poor infrastructure, limited access to basic services, few livelihood opportunities, as well as human security and human rights challenges.
The Rohingya and other Muslim populations in Rakhine State face official restrictions on movement and segregation from other communities. Rohingyas in Rakhine State must obtain official permission in order to travel between townships or outside of the state, a process which is notoriously bureaucratic. Across northern Rakhine, travel between villages requires passing through checkpoints, making the Rohingya vulnerable to threats, extortion and physical violence. In these areas of the state, curfews are also often in place, prohibiting people from leaving their homes or travelling at night.
Since the 1970s, a number of ‘crackdowns’ on the Rohingya have resulted in mass expulsions – most notably in 1978 and 1991-1992 – which sent hundreds of thousands over the border to Bangladesh, where they have remained.
Myanmar gains independence from Britain
Ethnic minorities face increasing discrimination and human rights abuse following a military coup
Rohingya denied right to vote
Crackdown on “illegal immigration” resulted in an estimated 200,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, majority return the following year
Myanmar enacts the 1982 Citizenship Law denying Rohingya citizenship
Alleged crimes against the Rohingya lead to 250,000 fleeing to Bangladesh
The authorities begin issuing Rohingya with Temporary Registration Cards (TRC)
Anti-Muslim riots across Myanmar result in the displacement of Rohingya
Myanmar holds significant general elections, Rohingya are allowed to vote, and a Rohingya candidate is elected as a Member of Parliament
Official transfer of power to a quasi-civilian government
Violence breaks out between Muslims and Buddhists greatly impacting the Rohingya. Leads to persecution and restriction to the Rohingya’s freedoms
Myanmar holds its first nationwide census since 1983, Rohingya are not incorporated or represented
TRCs are revoked leaving the Rohingya without identity documents
ARSA attacks police posts leading to heavy military response. More than 87,000 Rohingya flee to Bangladesh
ARSA launches attacks against security groups. The military respond with extreme violence against the Rohingya. More than 600,000 Rohingya flee to Bangladesh over two months
In the wake of political reforms in Myanmar, communal tensions and outbreaks of violence increased markedly in Rakhine State. Two waves of intercommunal violence between Muslims and Buddhists swept across the state in June and October 2012, and there is strong evidence to suggest the violence was coordinated and encouraged by the security forces. This resulted in widespread injury and death, destruction of property, and the displacement of 140,000 people, most of whom remain segregated in internment camps near the state capital, Sittwe, five years on. Unsurprisingly, 2012 saw the start of a mass exodus to Malaysia by boat, with hundreds of thousands facing extreme dangers at sea and predation from unscrupulous human traffickers. The sea route has been disrupted since mid-2015, when governments in the region cracked down on maritime smuggling networks.
❝ The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), formerly called Faith Movement or Harakah Al Yaqeen, are a Rohingya insurgent group active in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. The group have been training people since 2013. The Central Committee for Counter-Terrorism of Myanmar declared the ARSA a terrorist group in August 2017. The group refute this claim, stating its main purpose as defending the rights of Rohingyas.❞
In October and November 2016, some 300 Rohingya men ostensibly from a previously unknown insurgent group calling itself Harakah al-Yaqin, or “The Faith Movement”, attacked three border posts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships in Rakhine State, killing nine police officers. The Myanmar military responded with a brutal crackdown in a major security operation. During this operation, government troops were accused of myriad human rights abuses. As a result of this, 87,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.
On August 25th 2017, the same group, which had rebranded itself as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, is believed to have orchestrated attacks on 30 police posts and an army base, killing 11 members of the security forces. This was the bloodiest day of fighting since conflict the broke out in 2016 and marked a significant turning point in the state’s campaign to remove Rohingyas from northern Rakhine. The Myanmar military responded, supported by the Border Police and armed ethnic Rakhine villagers, by launching sweeping attacks against Rohingya villages. Despite official denials, there is overwhelming evidence indicating that the Myanmar military targeted the Rohingya population as a whole rather than the individuals responsible for the attacks.
As a result, more than 600,000 additional Rohingya have fled northern Rakhine to Bangladesh. Satellite images analysed by Human Rights Watch show a 100-kilometre-long area in Rakhine State razed by fires following the crackdown. This area is five times larger than where burnings by Myanmar security forces occurred from October to November 2016.
The objective of this research was to collect, analyse and make freely available for further dissemination, data collected on the journeys and events/incidents committed against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine which triggered the mass exodus to Bangladesh from Myanmar. This research combines quantitative and qualitative methodologies in order to address the following research questions following the August 25th military operation:
❝ For the purpose of this survey, an “incident” was defined as an event or abuse of some kind that was considered serious or meaningful enough to the respondent to push them to flee their home in Myanmar.❞
A Senior Researcher was sent to Bangladesh to train two local teams of enumerators, fluent in the Rohingya language, who were then deployed to Cox’s Bazar district. They interviewed Rohingya refugees who had entered Bangladesh from Northern Rakhine as a result of events on or after August 25th 2017. The data collection team focused in particular on the number and types of incidents that occurred, as well as the routes taken by the refugees from their hometowns in Myanmar to Bangladesh.
Between 15th September and 15th October 2017, the team collected 1,360 interviews in Cox’s Bazar district, which included detailed testimonies on the events and incidents/abuses they had either experienced personally or had witnessed before or during the journey to Bangladesh. The team was comprised of 3 male enumerators and 1 female enumerator. The team’s female enumerator focused on interviews with women, to ensure that interviews were conducted in a gender-sensitive manner.
The ‘Northern’ data collection team was formed of two male Rohingya enumerators, who collected data in Kutupalong, a registered camp that hosts most of the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district, as well as the unregistered camps of Balukhali and Falonghali. The ‘Southern’ data collection team was formed of two Rohingya enumerators (one male, one female) who covered Nayapara registered camp, Leda and Zadi Murah camps, as well as the hosting village of Shamlapur.
All interviews were conducted inside the respondent’s tent, or secluded areas nearby to ensure privacy and preserve the dignity of the respondents. The principle of confidentiality was also explained to all respondents. Within this report, all respondent’s names have been changed to protect their identities. Finding individuals to interview was done through random identification of residents on site across the camps, without prior announcement of the enumerator’s arrival.
The data collection team gathered written and audio testimonies, as well as photographic evidence of abuses. Each respondent was asked what village they previously resided in before leaving Myanmar, in order to locate and map their places of origin and to divulge where incidents they reported had taken place. This was done in order to map where these incidents occurred and corroborate the findings with satellite images, as well as track routes taken across to Bangladesh.
However, each village of origin has dual toponymy; a Rakhine (or Burmese) name and Rohingya name. Interviewers asked for both names, as well as the township of origin. The government-recognised Burmese names have been geolocated by the Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU), a data portal for humanitarian actors in Myanmar, while Rohingya-language names are not displayed on official maps. As many of the respondents were only able to report the Rohingya name, the remote team had to locate the corresponding Burmese name.
In addition to this, the remote research team used other secondary research, including authoritative, third-party reports on the events prior to and following August 25th. The team also consulted recent online newspapers and social media reports from Myanmar and Bangladesh on the situation, to cross-reference events and allegations of human rights violations.
The data was collected through face-to-face interviews, recorded or typed directly into a mobile application. The use of the application allowed the data to be collected offline and uploaded to the server later. The data was collected simultaneously from the seven locations in Cox’s Bazar district.
In order to ensure a heterogeneous sample of respondents from northern Rakhine, the data collection team spread their interviews widely, where many of the newly arrived Rohingya refugees settled. The respondents were chosen from seven locations in Cox’s Bazar district. Of these locations, most of the data was collected in Kutupalong, Nayapara and Zadi Murah camps which host a larger number of refugees.
The aim of this survey is to obtain a broad sample of Rohingya refugees who fled northern Rakhine en masse after August 25th attacks. The number of refugees that entered Cox’s Bazar district after August 25th is uncertain, however the Inter Sector Coordination Group harmonizing the humanitarian response in Bangladesh has estimated a total of 620,000 new arrivals into Cox’s Bazar district as of November 2017. The data collection team gathered enough respondents to deem the study representative of the Rohingya refugee population as a whole.
Preparation time for the survey was limited, as was data collection training time. As a result, the data collection team acted as interpreters and translators as well as enumerators. Due to the large number of interviews conducted and the need to release the data in a timely manner, the quickest and most practical method of collecting testimony was by typing the testimony directly into the app, rather than using audio recording and transcribing it later. This resulted in testimonial data that varied in quality, particularly due to the variable levels of English fluency of the data collection team. Consequently, there is a lack of depth in description of events, and not all data collected was used.
The sensitive nature of the incidents
The numbers associated with incidents as collected by the enumerators are likely to understate the severity of the actual incidents that occurred on or after August 25th in northern Rakhine. The enumerators were trained on interview ethics and therefore recorded according to the respondents’ wishes. Some respondents may not have wished to disclose serious and traumatic incidents experienced, particularly those of a sexual nature. The privacy available for interviews in a camp setting was also limited; particularly in the temporary shelters. Therefore, the figures for sexual abuses are likely to be greater than they appear due to the stigma and culture of shame around the subject and the social costs of disclosure.
A number of respondents struggled with recalling the precise dates on which incidents occurred. This may cause inaccuracies in the data.
Geolocation of incidents
❝ The Rohingya villages have dual toponyms: a Rakhine (or Burmese) language name and a Rohingya-language name.❞
Each respondent was asked for both toponyms, but in many cases they did not know the place name in Burmese, nor the correct spelling. As no official register exists for these dual toponyms, to geo-locate villages, web-based research was used. This included using sources from Rohingya based news outlets and social media feeds, as well as through on-the-ground networks developed by the enumeration team. Through these sources, the corresponding Burmese names for 80% of the villages were found and geolocated by cross-referencing responses with the names of villages listed in MIMU datasets. Therefore, the geolocation of some villages of origin may not be entirely accurate.
The Xchange team interviewed a total of 1,360 ethnic Rohingya who fled northern Rakhine and recently arrived in Bangladesh after the events of August 25th 2017.
The participants came from 120 unique villages across northern Rakhine. The most commonly reported villages of origin were:
The sample ranged in ages from 18 to 92 years old, though the majority (65%) were between 18 to 40.
Of the 1,360 research participants in the survey:
The research team asked respondents what, if any, forms of identification they possessed. This included any documentation provided by the Myanmar authorities, the Bangladesh authorities, or UNHCR.
It is also worth noting that the majority of respondents had not been registered as refugees yet and therefore did not have documentation acquired in Bangladesh. However, as the interviews were conducted between one to six weeks after their arrival in Bangladesh, in the early stages of the mass migration, respondents are now likely to have identification documents as the chaos of the first few weeks has settled into a protracted crisis.
Most Rohingya refugees fleeing northern Rakhine in Myanmar did not travel far: northern Rakhine is immediately adjacent to Bangladesh, with Maungdaw Township lying on the border; Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships border Maungdaw. The refugee camps in Bangladesh have been established in Cox’s Bazaar district, on the relatively thin peninsula immediately across the Naf river from Myanmar. This represented an exhausting journey, and for many, also included -sometimes treacherous- river or sea crossings.
Zubair, 50, Chut Pyin (Rathedaung).
The average journey time taken, from the date of departure until the date of arrival in the camp, varied according to the proximity to the border of the respondent’s home. For those originating from Maungdaw, the findings show an average journey time of between 1-5 days. For Rathedaung, individuals took between 5-15 days, and Buthidaung, 6-17 days.
As demonstrated in the table, mass arrivals increased sharply from August 31st onwards. This trend continues to be evident until the 26th September. The majority of the sample (62%) arrived in Bangladesh over a period of just ten days, between 1-10 September. Although this may be simple correlation due to the survey collection period being immediately afterwards, the UNHCR has also found that the majority of arrivals occurred in September.
These figures reflect the build up of intercommunal tensions preceding as well as in the wake of events following August 25th.
The Xchange research team discovered fifteen main entry points to Bangladesh. For the purpose of this survey, entry points are defined as the first villages that the respondents reached upon entering Bangladesh, whether by boat across the Naf river or on foot. Almost all of the respondents stated that they had to walk for some or all of their emigration. Almost all entered into Bangladesh by crossing the Naf river that separates the two countries.
Faizal, Nayapara refugee camp.
Rohingyas had to rely on smugglers with boats to cross the Naf river; 85% of respondents paid a smuggler to cross the border. Anecdotal reports inform us that these smugglers were exclusively Bangladeshis who capitalised on the mass exodus in order to turn a quick profit. Most were not professional smugglers, but found their services in demand by virtue of having access to a boat.
The amounts paid by refugees varied widely. However, there are some observable trends in the average price paid at each major entry point. The prices reflect the width of the river at each entry point and how much time it takes to cross: the wider the river, the higher the price. Additionally, the research team were informed that smuggling prices depended on the smugglers’ assumptions about the wealth of the individuals crossing and would accept jewellery or gold in lieu of money in some cases. Some respondents reported being robbed or otherwise abused by the smugglers.
Ahmed, 46, Tha Pyay Taw (Rathedaung).
In areas further north, the width of the river narrows significantly, making the use of boats superfluous: 11% of respondents answered that they crossed narrow parts of the river without a boat (entry points; Ajukaya, Tumburu, Dial Fara, Amtoli). Of these respondents, practically none reported having paid a smuggler.
79 respondents reported that they did not enter Bangladesh by crossing the Naf river but via Shamlapur, a coastal fishing village, which they reached by undertaking a longer sea journey. These respondents took an average of 7 days from the place of origin to Bangladesh. The respondents who made this crossing originated mostly from Maungdaw (41) and Rathedaung townships (34) and paid on average a significantly higher price to undertake this journey ($77) than those crossing the Naf river.
The primary aim of this research was to investigate the push factors that led to the mass migration of Rohingyas following the events of August 25th in northern Rakhine. To do so, it was necessary to elicit the event(s) or incident(s) that led to the respondents departure. The survey questions were as follows:
Have you suffered or witnessed any major incident in Rakhine since October 2016?
If the question was answered in the affirmative, a description of the incident was requested with the following prompts:
❝ For the purpose of this survey, an “incident” is defined as an event or abuse of some kind that was considered serious or meaningful enough to the respondent to induce them to flee their home in Myanmar. This question was intended to elicit responses relating to incidents personally experienced or directly witnessed by the respondents. Incidents that occurred in a neighbouring village, where the respondents were not physically present, were not considered. ❞
Of the 1,360 respondents interviewed by the Xchange team, 92% answered yes to having suffered or witnessed a major incident that prompted them to flee to Bangladesh. These testimonies were then recorded by the field team and later analysed by the remote research team.
A basic statistical analysis of these testimonies reveals the most common type(s) of incident(s) experienced or directly witnessed by the respondents. Out of 1,360 responses, the frequency of each type of incident reported was as follows;
Many accounts list multiple rather than singular incidents that amount to gross human rights violations. Although the details of incidents reported varied, the testimonies of most survivors held certain consistencies. The following testimony is representative of many of the abuses recorded;
Azara, 19, Pan Kaing (Rathedaung).
The majority of respondents mentioned one or multiple groups of perpetrators committing the abuses. An overwhelming number of respondents (96%) stated that the Myanmar military were the perpetrators of these abuses. A further 51% reported that local ethnic Rakhine ‘extremists’ were involved. However, the involvement of ethnic Rakhine civilians was usually in a supportive role to the military. These civilians attacked Rohingyas, burned buildings, and committed other violent crimes that had the effect of driving Rohingyas away from their homes:
Laila, 25, Maungdaw City Quarter 4 (Maungdaw).
Police were also frequently mentioned committing abuses against the Rohingya, often in collaboration with the other groups:
Amir, 22, Ba Da Kar (Buthidaung).
Kobir, 46, That Kaing Nyar (Maungdaw).
Aziza, 60, Kyaung Taung (Maungdaw).
The destruction of property by burning was the most commonly reported incident. This was often committed with the use of petrol, rocket launchers or by air strikes from helicopters, which resulted in widespread destruction of homes and often entire villages. This destruction was a major catalyst for respondents to flee Myanmar.
Yousuf, 15, unknown village (Maungdaw).
The use of fire for the destruction of homes and the razing of entire villages appeared to be systematic and coordinated:
Showfik, 65, Myin Hlut (Maungdaw).
Many testimonies indicated that rocket launchers and helicopter attacks were commonly used by the Myanmar army. Civilian attackers and members of the security forces alike used petrol and homemade grenades to set Rohingya villages ablaze.
Zafor, 50, Kyee Kan Pyin (Maungdaw).
Sultan, 30, Ah Lel Than Kyaw (Maungdaw).
Satellite imaging analysis conducted during the dates of reported incidents verify these testimonials. Imaging conducted independently by UNITAR - UNOSAT, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International provide evidence of this. They independently show widespread fires across the three townships.
The remote research team geolocated the villages where the respondents originated from and mapped them, in order to triangulate oral testimony with satellite data. There was a strong correlation between the villages in the satellite imagery and our own reports.
A number of respondents reported witnessing mosques in their respective villages being targeted by assailants. The targeting of religious structures provides evidence that suggests religious discrimination and targeted attacks to instil fear and force local Rohingyas to leave.
Nur, 35, Godu Sara (Maungdaw).
In addition to severe destruction of property, arson was also allegedly used to murder individuals and families by intentionally trapping people inside burning buildings. There were numerous reports of fatalities caused both incidentally and intentionally by these operations.
Fatama, 29, U Daung [Kone Tan] (Maungdaw).
Many respondents described witnessing the military attacking villages in systematic offensives, charging into villages and shooting indiscriminately.
Ajimullah, 65, Than Dar (Maungdaw).
Testimony indicates that there appears to have been a series of coordinated attacks across the region, directly aimed at forcing the Rohingya to flee.
Yasin, 35, Kyauk Pyin Seik (Maungdaw).
Despite the fact that independent investigators are barred from northern Rakhine, the frequency and quantity of similar reports indicates widespread use of these tactics across the region. The Xchange team met numerous respondents with injuries that appeared to be caused by gunfire.
Enumerators collected numerous reports that claimed indiscriminate gunfire and/or targeted assassinations by the military or other groups resulting in a large number of casualties. Many respondents report witnessing the death of a fellow villager or a family member.
Sirajul, 55, unknown village (Maungdaw).
Many respondents either witnessed or experienced varying forms of sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, and sexual assault, committed against both minors and adults. Rape, at times, resulted in death, or was quickly followed by other abuses that resulted in death. Often, family members or members of the public witnessed the abuse, or the victim of the sexual abuse was made to watch the murder and/or abuse of their family members. Thus, multiple violations and trauma were incurred in a short period of time for many respondents:
Hala, 35, Sein Hnyin Pyar (Buthidaung).
Respondents reported that the perpetrators made calculated decisions to target women and girls by rounding them up, or kidnapping them after storming the villages, indicating a calculated campaign of sexual violence against women and girls.
Rama, 50,Ka Nyin Tan [Pa Din] (Maungdaw).
Anwar, 45, Kyun Pauk Pyu Su (Maungdaw).
Often, women were raped by multiple perpetrators in a gang rape, either in front of family members or in public to terrorise them, instil fear, or humiliate and shame them. The fact that many of the reports of sexual violence were not from the victims themselves but witnesses – often to gang rapes - demonstrates the public nature of the incidents. The Myanmar military and ethnic Rakhine ‘extremists’ were identified by witnesses as the perpetrators of these crimes.
Abusayed, 36, Kyar Gaung Taung (Maungdaw).
In some cases, there were accounts of sexual assault and torture by mutilation, where women’s body parts were also cut off during the rape:
Somira, 30, Kyaung Taung (Rathedaung). Reported by enumerator
Torture was also corroborated by other accounts:
Azida, 22, Maung Ni fara (Maungdaw).
Women and young girls were also subjected to “stripping” and sexual assault, in isolation or before they were raped:
Roshid, 52, Kyein Chaung (Maungdaw).
Shaju., 28 Doe Tan (Maungdaw)
It is worth noting that the actual incidence of sexual violence is likely much higher than reflected in this data set, as there is a culture of stigma and shame around sexual assault and rape could dissuade reporting, particularly by victims themselves.
An alarming, yet frequent category of incident was the targeted murder of children and infants.
Bitani, 48, Chein Khar Li (Rathedaung)
A total disregard for life and dehumanisation of the Rohingya is demonstrated by such reports:
Azara, 29, Kyar Gaung Taung (Maungdaw)
The use of fire was widespread in these attacks. The most common incident of this type reported by survivors involved babies being taken by the military and thrown into fires:
Dil, 31, Dar Gyi Zar (Maungdaw).
Rofiq, 47, Remmyá Dáung fara (Maungdaw)
In addition to being thrown into fires, other reports describe babies being thrown into rivers;
Shofika, 38, Kyun Gaung (Maungdaw).
These incidents paint a picture of extreme dehumanization, where infants and younger generations of Rohingya may have been actively targeted for eradication by the Myanmar military and Rakhine extremists.
Although the violations described in this report are representative of some of the most commonly heard and extreme forms of violence carried out against Rohingya populations, since August 25th, this list is by no means exhaustive. As noted above, the structure of the survey question on incidents was descriptive and open-ended, to allow the respondent to describe, in their own words, what they had witnessed or experienced first-hand. Other categories of violence included:
Robbery and Looting
Robbery and looting was commonly conducted against Rohingya homes and businesses. Testimony indicated that the military was responsible for entering villages, shops, and homes and either demanding payment, or taking possessions without permission. These items commonly included cash, valuables, and cattle.
Hair, 25, Kyar Gaung Taung (Maungdaw)
Anwar, 31, Ah Lel Than Kyaw (Maungdaw)
Kidnapping or arrest
Some testimonies report that the military and/or police arrested, kidnapped, or took away civilians without due cause or explanation. Some respondents reported the disappearance of their family members with some still unable to contact them, and others found dead.
Layru, 30, Khamangsi (Maungdaw).
Mohammed, 50, U Daung [Kone Tan] (Maungdaw).
Curfews and extreme restriction on mobility
Restrictions on Rohingya freedom of movement have been in place since at least 2001, but restrictions increased in severity following the 2012 violence. These restrictions have also been imposed on other Muslim minorities across Rakhine State. Respondents regularly described curfews or restricted movement from their villages imposed by security forces. Although such restrictions had been in place in northern Rakhine for a long time, the events of August 25th and the subsequent crackdown resulted in their intensification.
Respondents describe restrictions that amounted, in effect, to an existence under house arrest, enforced by a dense network of checkpoints and bureaucratic restrictions (such as permits) that limited their ability to move freely:
Faruk, 40, Min Gyi [Tu Lar Tu Li] (Maungdaw).
Abdumalek, 40, Thin Ga Net (Buthidaung).
As a result of the events of August 25th, a rapid mass migration of some 600,000 Rohingya occurred from Myanmar to Bangladesh. The Xchange team sought to understand the journeys they had taken in an attempt to reach safety, and to document the push factors that compelled them to leave. After conducting 1,360 surveys with Rohingya respondents between 15th September and 15th October, in seven different refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district, the team gained detailed insight into the types and extent of abuses the Rohingya were subject to that caused them to flee.
The respondents originated from 120 different villages across Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships in northern Rakhine. Their journeys took a range of between 1-17 days, depending on the distance between their village of origin and the Bangladeshi border. These journeys were primarily conducted on foot, although many needed to pay Bangladeshi smugglers to transport them across the Naf River or the sea crossing via the Bay of Bengal. The price of these journeys varied considerably.
An overwhelming number of respondents (92%) either personally witnessed or directly experienced violence on or after August 25th. While the specifics of each incident were different, there were distinct trends and patterns of violence observable in collected testimonies. As such, there is strong evidence to suggest that violence targeting Rohingya communities has been both well-coordinated and systematic. In addition to this, the acts were often committed by more than one group of perpetrators, almost always by the Myanmar military (96%), often in collaboration with civilian vigilante groups.
The most common type of incident reported was the destruction of property and mass-scale burning of villages (63%). By destroying Rohingya villages, perpetrators gave their erstwhile inhabitants no choice but to flee. These attacks were often accompanied by indiscriminate heavy shooting (40%), resulting in mass fatalities and serious injuries.
Other frequently recorded abuses were of a degrading and dehumanising nature, including sexual abuse committed against Rohingya women and girls (13%). Women and girls were subjected to rape and gang-rape by multiple perpetrators, often in public, in what appeared to be a coordinated campaign of sexual violence. These abuses acted to traumatise and create a culture of shame and stigma with an intent to break apart communities.
There were multiple reports of the targeted murder of children and infants (5%). These reports appeared to demonstrate a total disregard for human life, as the security forces and civilian perpetrators stand accused of murdering babies and children by burning or drowning. The frequency with which such incidents were reported may demonstrate an intent to eradicate younger generations.
The final question of the survey asked the respondents if they would consider returning to Myanmar in the future. Despite the atrocious incidents documented in this survey, 78% stated that they would willingly return if the situation improves; 16% had no desire to return; 6% would return unconditionally.
Though attitudes can change with time, these responses demonstrate that the Rohingya refugees would be open to returning to their homes if conditions in Myanmar were to improve. What constitutes an adequate improvement to conditions in Myanmar, however, is a question that lies outside the scope of this survey. The large number of respondents willing to return to Myanmar can, in part, be explained by the fact that there are very few opportunities for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Generations of Rohingya refugees living in the camps following previous expulsions from Myanmar continue to live in poverty without access to adequate services, and have limited mobility rights or opportunities for advancement.
Project funded by moas.eu
As an information and research initiative, we are eager to work with a wide spectrum of stakeholders to exchange information and knowledge on the Rohingya issue.
We are looking for partners and funding organizations to support us in conducting a new round of surveys. Please, feel free to send us your proposals.