Fleeing Rohingyas driven from
safety By Syed Tashfin
Chowdhury, with photographs by K M Asad
DHAKA - Baby Fatema was crying in the arms
of Mostofa Begum (50), around 11am on June 14,
when journalists went to see her at the house of
fisherman Kabir Ahmed of Gholapara village in
Teknaf, the southernmost point in mainland
Bangladesh and a stone's throw from the Naf river,
which separates it from Myanmar. The nearly
two-month old baby was rescued by members of the
Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) from inside an
empty fishing trawler that drifted towards Shah
Pori Island of Bangladesh on the Naf early on June
She was one of the lucky one among
thousands of Muslim Rohingyas fleeing this week's
ethnic violence in Myanmar's western Rakhine
State; the BGB says it has pushed back 1,500
refugees as of June 13. Locals in Teknaf claim the
number is as high as 2,000. Around 30,000 people
have been displaced in
Myanmar following the
violence, Agence France-Presse reported on
"We are patrolling the villages
almost 24 hours of the day," said Major Saiful
Wadud, commander of Shah Pori Island BGB camp. "We
are not going to let them [Rohingyas from Myanmar]
The BGB is acting on orders from the
Bangladesh government, whose Foreign Minister Dipu
Moni told parliament on June 14, "Considering our
national security interest, Bangladesh will not
allow any Myanmar refugees in its territory".
She added that Bangladesh is not bound by
any international law to open its border as there
was "no war-like situation" in Myanmar and that
its government is not forcing its citizens into
exile. Predominantly Muslim Bangladesh is already
home to an estimated 500,000 registered and
illegal Rohingyas who have fled Myanmar over the
past several decades, according to the Bangladesh
BGB suspects that baby Fatema was abandoned by her
parents after possibly being attacked by robbers
on the river while on their way to Bangladesh in
the dead of night, much like thousands of Rohingya
men, women and children since riots in Rakhine
State broke out on June 8.
the arms of Mostofa Begum.
have claimed the lives of at least 25 people, as
reported by Agence France-Presse on June 12, which
said the actual number is likely to be higher. The
number of dead excludes 10 Muslims killed on June
3 by a Buddhist mob to avenge the rape and murder
of a woman that initiated the violence in Rakhine.
After providing the famished baby primary
medical care, BGB handed her over to Kabir and his
family, requesting them to take care of her. Kabir
named the baby Fatema and her new mother, Mostofa
Begum, has been taking care of her since.
"We have eight children already," Mostofa
Begum told Asia Times Online. "Even then, we are
going to raise her as our own," she said.
Although Fatema was fortunate to find a
family that is ready to look after her, the fates
of three-year-old Omar Faruque and his three
cousins Yasmin (8), Easha (6) and Yassir (5) are
still uncertain. The four Rohingya children along
with their grandmother Nurjahan (49), her daughter
Momena Begum (19) and daughter-in-law (18) are
hiding in the villages of Teknaf.
seven had fled the violence from their village
near Akyab at Rakhine on June 9. Yunus, Nurjahan's
husband, Nurjahan's son and son-in-law were all
slaughtered that day before their very eyes.
"The [Buddhist] Rakhines and the Myanmar
military personnel attacked the villages
together," sobbed Momena Begum. "They initially
went after all the men while we managed to run
away with the children to the jungle. When we
returned, we found the men dead and our houses
burnt. Fearing the next wave, we got onto the
first trawler we found and sailed toward the Bay
The seven survived four nights
and three days on the trawler until June 12, when
they managed to set foot on Teknaf. Locals have
helped them to hide in their houses ever since.
A Rohingya man describes
the riots to BGB officials and journalists at the
Zohra Khatun (50), a Rohingya
muslim who has also fled to Bangladesh, has also
witnessed the murder of her husband Ahmed Hossain
during the riots. "Before the attacks, our village
near Akyab was shelled. I saw policemen aiding the
Rakhines in setting fire to the houses after
hacking the Rohingyas," she said.
A refugee hears that Bangladeshi border guards will drive
her and her family back to Myanmar.
Zohra with her two sons spent the night on
the Naf river shore on June 9. After braving three
days on the river - a journey that normally takes
a day - without adequate food or drinking water,
the three also landed in Teknaf on June 13.
They are now hiding in a village, hoping
to evade BGB officials who regularly arrest
Rohingya refugees from the houses of locals, to be
pushed back into Myanmar later.
Other refugees described
dismemberment of dead bodies while others were
thrown into the Naf. Some BGB personnel on duty at
Shah Pori Island claimed to have seen a helicopter
on the Myanmar side of the Naf shooting bullets
shore three days earlier. Foreign Minister
Moni said the Myanmarese government has
communicated its anxiety over the refugees to the
Bangladesh mission in Myanmar, alleging that
Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh, one of the parties
in the 18-party alliance that makes up the
opposition in Bangladesh, had been aiding Rohingya
groups in Bangladesh with arms to provoke a
sectarian clash in Myanmar.
Refugee families huddle in their boat, their
future in the hands of hostile Bangladeshi border
guards and bureaucrats.
that international organizations and other
non-governmental entities should go to Myanmar and
extend their support and aid to Rohingyas instead
of pressing Bangladesh. The United States, Canada,
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
and Human Rights Watch have requested Bangladesh
not to push back the refugees.
Rohingya refugees plead for shelter
at the Bangladesh side of the Naf river.
When asked whether there is a solution to
the crisis, Dr Amena Mohsin, at the Department of
International Relations of the Dhaka University,
told Asia Times Online, "There are three options.
One is assimilation, which is not possible given
Bangladesh's economic condition. Second is 'push
back', which does not seem humanitarian. The third
option of third-country settlement for the
Rohingyas is a feasible solution if the developed
Islamic countries come forward to help these
seek shelter from a storm.
Rohingya influx began after a military crackdown
during democracy protests around the country in
1988. Rohingyas were provided shelter in Teknaf
and Cox's Bazaar refugee camps in Bangladesh until
1992, when they were asked to return to their
country and they did, before returning the next
year. The influx occurs whenever there is a
conflict in Myanmar. The foreign ministry in Dhaka
said on Thursday that Rohingyas have been entering
Bangladesh illegally seeking jobs since 1978.
Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is the
Editor of Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age,
in Bangladesh. K M Asad is a freelance
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