In February, a Reuters investigation revealed how Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist villagers had shot and hacked 10 Rohingya men to death. The families of the men made the painful choice to flee Myanmar without knowing their fate, crossing rivers and seas to reach safety in Bangladesh. There, in teeming refugee camps, they finally learned what happened on that rain-swept September day in their village of Inn Din.
The Reuters story and the photographs that accompanied it were the first confirmation for many of the families that their men were dead. Two photos show the men kneeling, one with their hands tied behind their backs, the other with their hands behind their necks. Another shows their bodies in a shallow grave.
On Tuesday, the Myanmar military said it had sentenced seven soldiers to long prison terms for their role in the Inn Din massacre. Two Reuters reporters who exposed the killings have been imprisoned in Yangon and face possible charges of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act.
Seven months after the murders, Reuters tracked down the victims’ families in different corners of the Bangladeshi camps to hear their stories of loss, love and survival. They agreed to gather for a picture.
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Explore the journey the families took as they fled Inn Din and learn what has become of them. Their story is told in two chapters.
A haunting choice
“If we stay here, they’ll kill us all.”
Hasina Khatun, 35
Wife of Dil Mohammed
“All the villages along the way were burning,” says Hasina Khatun of her five-day trek from Myanmar with her six children. “When we saw the fires, we started to run.”
Her husband, Dil Mohammed, was a fish merchant in Inn Din. Now in Balukhali camp, she fights back tears when recalling the “very difficult” decision to leave Myanmar without him.
At Na Khaung To, the Myanmar beach where Rohingya boarded boats for Bangladesh, she gave the boatman two earrings. It was enough to pay for her five younger children, said the boatman, but not for her oldest boy, Sultan Ahmed.
“Please! He is my everything,” she begged, and the boatman relented.
Amina Khatun, 40
Wife of Abdul Majid
Amina Khatun remembers the last glance she exchanged with her husband, Abdul Majid, near Inn Din before the soldiers marched him away. “He looked very scared and tired,” she said. “I don’t know why he was chosen.”
She and their eight children joined the great Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh. “We didn’t know where to go. We just followed the others. I thought my husband would follow.”
His death was confirmed in gruesome fashion when relatives in Thaingkhali camp showed her a photo Reuters obtained of the grave he shared with nine other men. “I saw his throat had been cut,” she said. “There’s no way I can get justice or take revenge. It all depends on Allah.”
Shuna Khatu, 30
Wife of Habizu
When soldiers took Habizu away that afternoon, his wife Shuna Khatu waited near the beach with fading hopes. “At first, I thought he’d come,” she said. “Then it got dark and I knew he never would.” She had two children with Habizu and a third was on the way.
They fled north. They saw smoke rising from Rohingya villages and soldiers in the distance. After three days, she reached a Myanmar beach where thousands of Rohingya scrambled aboard boats for Bangladesh. Once, she said, some soldiers passed nearby and the giant crowd quivered with panic.
Shuna Khatu gave a boatman her earrings, necklace and some cash. He ferried her family to Bangladesh, where she gave birth to a son, Mohammed Sadek, who will never know his father.
Love and Loss
" I believed he would come"
Abdu Shakur, 55
Father of Rashid Ahmed
Abdu Shakur argued with his wife about leaving their son Rashid Ahmed behind. She wanted to wait for the soldiers to release him. But Abdu Shakur insisted they bring their three younger children to safety in Bangladesh, and trust that Rashid would follow.
“I believed he would come,” he said.
Five days later, the family reached a beach where thousands of scared and hungry Rohingya waited for fishing boats bound for Bangladesh. Only then did Abdu Shakur grasp the enormity of the exodus. “It felt like everyone was leaving,” he said.
Five months later, in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, he learned that Rashid had been killed. “Praise be to Allah, my son has gone to heaven,” he said.After the Massacre: Survivors of Myanmar killings tell their story
Mother of Abulu
After her son Abulu was taken by the soldiers, Nurjan sought refuge in a nearby forest with other Rohingya residents of Inn Din. She wanted to return to the village to negotiate Abulu’s release, but the others said it was too dangerous and stopped her.
“I really wish I’d gone,” she said. “I don’t care if they’d killed me.” Abulu was hacked to death by Buddhist villagers, according to testimony gathered by Reuters and a photo of the grave showing his mutilated body.
But in Nurjan’s dreams, he is alive and unhurt. “I dreamed about him only a few nights ago,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “He told me, ‘Mother, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.’”
Mother of Nur Mohammed
Nurjan tried not to panic when she watched the military lead away her son Nur Mohammed and the nine other Rohingya men. “The soldiers told us not to worry,” she said.
Nurjan waited and prayed for three nights in a nearby forest, where hundreds of other Rohingya were sheltering. But Nur Mohammed never reappeared.
By then, with their homes on fire and soldiers patrolling the area, most Rohingya were heading north to Bangladesh. Nurjan reluctantly followed. “I was in shock,” she said. “I didn’t want to leave my son but I had no choice. There was no way I could have stayed there.”
Nurjan told her story in a shack in Thaingkhali camp in Bangladesh. Then she collapsed with grief.
Picking up the pieces
“They ask me, ‘When will father come?’”After the Massacre: Survivors of Myanmar killings tell their story
Wife of Abdul Malik
Marjan lives with her five children on a treeless ridge in Thaingkhali refugee camp. “Even after I got here, I always thought he would come,” she says of her husband, Abdul Malik, a religious teacher at Inn Din.
Malik was the first to be detained by soldiers at Inn Din in September. His twin girls - Muqarrama and Muqaddasa, aged 7 - saw their father beaten until he bled, said Marjan. Now, when they see Bangladeshi soldiers patrolling the camp, the twins run away in terror.
Marjan soothes her troubled children with all she has left: false hope. “They ask me, ’When will father come?’ I tell them, ‘Pray to Allah. Then he will come.’”
Rahama Khatun, 35
Wife of Shaker Ahmed
Rahama Khatun escaped Myanmar while seven months pregnant and pining for the husband she had left behind. Her first days in Bangladesh were equally grueling.
The family begged at the roadside, relying on food and clothes handed out by charitable Bangladeshis. Then they moved to Kutupalong camp which, along with neighboring Balukhali, makes up the world’s largest refugee settlement. There, on a mud-floored shack, Rahama gave birth to her ninth child.
The family survives on U.N. rations of rice and lentils. It’s a dreary diet, but Rahama has no cash to buy the fish that was so abundant in Inn Din. “If my husband was here, he could work and earn money for us,” she said.
Wife of Shoket Ullah
“He was a good man,” said Settara of her slain husband, Shoket Ullah, who sold fish in Inn Din. “He never quarreled with anyone. He prayed five times a day. He worked hard.”
Settara now lives in Kutupalong camp with their 18-month-old daughter and longs for justice of the harshest kind. “The perpetrators should be killed like my husband was,” she said.
But justice feels like a luxury while Settara struggles to collect firewood and eke out her U.N. rations of rice, lentils and cooking oil. “It’s not enough,” she said. “But what choice do I have?”
Hasina Khatun, 25
Wife of Abul Hashim, Sister of Abulu
Hasina Khatun lost two loved ones at Inn Din: her husband, Abul Hashim, and her brother, Abulu. From her shack in Thaingkhali camp, she can’t imagine ever returning to Myanmar. “If I go back, what will I do? I have no husband, no brother. Who will look after us?”
Hasina was eight months pregnant when she fled Myanmar. “Please, Allah, let me give birth in Bangladesh,” she prayed as she struggled along muddy paths in heavy rain. Her prayer was answered: Her boy was born in Thaingkhali.
Hasina doesn’t believe Myanmar will ever be safe enough for Rohingya to return. “For a few days they’ll be good to us,” she said of the military and her former Rakhine neighbors. “Then they’ll start killing us again.”