World News

At Least 6,700 Rohingya Died in First Month of Myanmar Crackdown, Aid Group Says

Posted December 14, 2017 10:06 p.m. EST
Updated December 14, 2017 10:19 p.m. EST

BANGKOK — Doctors Without Borders estimated Thursday that at least 6,700 members of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, including 730 children below age 5, had met violent deaths there in the month after a military crackdown on their villages.

The campaign against the Rohingya, which began in late August, has been called “ethnic cleansing” by the United States and the United Nations. Survivors who fled to neighboring Bangladesh gave consistent accounts of executions, gang rapes and burned homes.

But with Myanmar’s government blocking international access to the area of western Myanmar where the Rohingya once lived, estimates of the toll have been hard to ascertain.

Doctors Without Borders, the international medical charity also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, said that nearly 70 percent of the victims it had tallied died of gunshot and that 9 percent were burned to death in their homes.

The group said that its mortality figure was almost certainly an underestimate. The estimate was a summary of findings from six surveys carried out last month with refugees who had fled Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh.

Survey teams interviewed 2,434 households in settlements in Bangladesh and asked the head of each to provide the date, location and cause of death of family members who died from March to October 2017. Doctors Without Borders then performed a weighted analysis using the population estimates for each settlement where the surveys were conducted.

Satellite imagery collected by international human-rights groups shows how dozens of Rohingya villages were razed by fire in northern Rakhine state.

Ethnic Rakhine Buddhists have also been accused of participating in the bloodletting.

More than 645,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August, when deadly attacks on Myanmar security posts by Rohingya insurgents led to a brutal military response.

The governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar say they have agreed to a voluntary repatriation plan in which Rohingya who have proof of residency can return home in the coming weeks.

But even if they possess the right documentation, few Rohingya living in the crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh have expressed interest in returning to the epicenter of so much violence.

The Myanmar government denies citizenship to most Rohingya and instead considers them unauthorized immigrants from Bangladesh.

Fabrizio Carboni, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Myanmar, recently spent three days in northern Rakhine. It was a rare glimpse at what some international observers characterize as a huge crime scene.

“I didn’t meet a single person who wasn’t afraid,” he said, of his talks with both Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists. “There is a mix of fear and anxiety about what will come next.”