An Amnesty International report issued Wednesday said the pattern of burning “is deliberate, organized, widespread, consistent over time and across northern Rakhine State, and targeted at Rohingya homes and other structures.”
The report, which is based on interviews with 120 refugees, said witnesses “indicate that in some instances burnings were clearly orchestrated and planned in advance by the military and local government authorities.”
Refugees continue to surge into Bangladesh one month after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, said the government was prepared to welcome back those who had fled.
But refugee accounts and surveys of village destruction indicate the military and aligned vigilante groups are still trying to force the Rohingya from the country.
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that analysis of satellite photos of 288 burned villages shows that at least 66 and possibly as many as 100 were attacked after Sept. 5, which Aung San Suu Kyi said was the end of the security clearance campaign in Rakhine state.
“We don’t believe those operations did stop,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “The narrative pushed by the military and Aung San Suu Kyi on the clearance operations is patently false.”
Refugees told U.N. refugee agency workers at the border this week that they had initially tried to stay, but fled after their villages were burned. They walked for about a week to reach the border.
About 1 million Rohingya lived in Rakhine State in western Myanmar before the latest exodus. The latest estimates of arrivals to Bangladesh means more than half have fled their homes. Among those who remain in northern Rakhine are Rohingya who are trapped in isolated villages and cannot escape without passing by hostile communities of ethnic Rakhine.
The Rohingya are members of a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that have long faced discrimination and loss of basic rights in Myanmar, a majority Buddhist nation.
Rohingya who live near Sittwe, the provincial capital in central Rakhine, are largely interned in camps, with far less ability to flee. Ethnic Rakhine groups have blocked the shipment of aid to the internment camps in central Rakhine, adding to the misery there.
While those who have made it to Bangladesh are able to escape the violence of Rakhine, they face other dangers. Refugees are crowded into muddy camps where they face a risk of disease in the unsanitary conditions. The World Health Organization said on Oct. 10 that more than 10,000 cases of diarrhea had been reported among refugees in Bangladesh over the previous week, raising concerns about the threat of a deadly cholera outbreak.
Bangladesh’s Ministry of Health has begun a campaign to deliver 900,000 doses of cholera vaccine in the camps, one of the largest ever such efforts.