MYANMAR is conducting a “land-grab by the military” on sites where Rohingya villages formerly stood, a new report, Remaking Rakhine State, by Amnesty International, suggests. Images from satellites are used as evidence.
Almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar in 2017, mostly to Bangladesh, after violent repression by the country’s security forces, which the UN and United States said amounted to ethnic cleansing (6 October 2017).
The government of Myanmar has not responded to the report, published on Monday, but has previously asked for “clear evidence” of its wrongdoing from the UN.
Amnesty International alleges that the bulldozing of Rohingya villages has increased since January, and that new roads and structures are being built over them, decreasing the chances of the population being allowed to return to their homes. Besides building infrastructure in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State, the report says, the government was building at least three new security facilities
Amnesty’s crisis response director, Tirana Hassan, said: “What we are seeing in Rakhine State is a land-grab by the military on a dramatic scale. New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya.”
She said that this made “the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of Rohingya refugees an even more distant prospect”, as “not only are their homes gone, but the new construction is entrenching the already dehumanising discrimination they have faced in Myanmar.”
Amnesty states that four mosques that had previously not been damaged in the violence have been destroyed or had building materials removed since late December. Ms Hassan said: “The authorities cannot be allowed to continue their campaign of ethnic cleansing in the name of ‘development’.”
The UN has said that $1 billion is needed to help care for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, most of whom are currently in Bangladesh. A deal was reached in November between Bangladesh and Myanmar to repatriate the refugees, but the process has yet to start.
Tens of thousands of these refugees face danger from the upcoming monsoon season, especially those living near the city of Cox’s Bazar, in south-east Bangladesh, CAFOD has said.
CAFOD’s emergency response officer, Zoë Corden, said that “the refugees are living in precarious conditions. Their shelters are on hillsides which will turn to mud when the heavy rains arrive. If the rains are heavy, people will be killed from flooding, landslides, and from contaminated water sources. A cyclone would be devastating.
“Many Rohingya are not from cyclone-affected areas and therefore have no experience of this type of weather event, and how to cope. With such large numbers of people, it is not feasible to evacuate them elsewhere or build cyclone shelters.”
CAFOD is working alongside its partner Caritas Bangladesh to prepare communities for the monsoon season, using 3500 local aid workers.