World News

They fled for their lives. He didn't survive

Posted September 14

A young mother in a mustard-colored veil cradles the infant's lifeless body as though she is rocking him to sleep.

The haunting photograph captures the heart-wrenching story of the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims fleeing the ethnic violence in Myanmar.

Her name is Hanida Begum. Her people are often described as the most persecuted minority in the world.

This is the moment she discovers the death of her infant son.

One-month-old Abdul Masood died after the wooden boat delivering his family to Bangladesh capsized Thursday in the waist-deep water of the Bay of Bengal on Shah Porir Dwip island, close to shore.

Begum presses her lips against Abdul's. She cups his head. Rohingya Muslims around are unable to comfort the grieving mother.

Begum and her family are among the staggering 370,000 people who have made the perilous journey to Bangladesh since August 25, according to the UN refugee agency. The sad end to their voyage was captured by an Associated Press photographer.

They are men, women and children -- including the newborn, pregnant and elderly -- escaping violent clashes in Rakhine State as the Myanmar military conducts "clearance operations" which intensified after Rohingya militants attacked police border posts in late August.

There have been reports of violent attacks on Rohingya by the military, as well as rape, murder and arson, according to Human Rights Watch and other groups. The UN says the crisis has left at least 1,000 people dead.

Nobel laureates urge UN to act

Myanmar considers them illegal immigrants because their heritage is rooted in East Bengal, now called Bangladesh.

But Bangladesh denies them civil and political rights, saying they're Burmese.

Almost 90% of Myanmar's population are Buddhists, according to government figures. The Rohingya have long been marginalized for their faith.

Now they're fleeing for their lives -- an average of almost 20,000 a day.

Abdul's parents were trying to save their children -- and themselves -- from what the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has called a "textbook case of ethnic cleansing."

Many Rohingya escape on overloaded boats ill-equipped for the rough waters. Dozens have drowned. Rarely are bodies collected, according to a senior Bangladeshi border guard

A striking image from the ill-fated journey undertaken by Abdul's family shows his bearded father holding the baby's body. Abdul's little arm rests on his abdomen. He appears asleep.

Begum wails as she holds another child over her shoulder. Her hand supports the father's hands as if to keep the infant from falling.

The Rohingya crisis: How to help

Comments

Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all