Sunday, June 10, 2018

'They chopped him with a machete and burned him alive' - Rohingya refugees reveal horrors of Myanmar violence

Haunting images of traumatised Rohingya refugees who fled horrific violence in Myanmar will go on display in Glasgow next week before the exhibition tours Scotland.
Among those photographed are refugees who saw family members burned alive and hacked to death by machete-wielding militants.
The pictures, taken at a refugee camp in Bangladesh, will be unveiled at St Andrew’s Cathedral on June 20, World Refugee Day.
The exhibition is aimed at raising funds for the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF), a charity which is working to ease the suffering of refugees.

Director Alistair Dutton said conditions in the camp are poor and he fears they will worsen when Bangladesh’s monsoon season begins this month.
“The camp is really overcrowded, there is open sewage flowing between the huts,” he said. “There really is a big job to be done here to make this place habitable. The huts are on very steep hillsides and when it rains here this place is going to become treacherous.”
Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia said: “No human being can remain indifferent to the appalling level of suffering seen in these images…this exhibition will drive home that message loud and clear.”
Around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled their homes in Rakhine last year, amid what the Myanmar government said was a military crackdown on militant groups. Villages were burned to the ground, thousands were killed, and women and girls were raped. The United Nations said the actions of soldiers in Myanmar amounted to ethnic cleansing.
SCIAF has handed out food, cooking equipment and bedding to 40,000 of the most vulnerable families who fled the violence.
SCIAF’S Alistair Dutton visited the refugee camp in to Bangladesh in December last year with photographer Simon Murphy, whose pictures will go on display next week.
Murphy said: “What I saw and heard in the camp will stay with me forever. I think back to the fear in the eyes of the refugees as they arrived off the boats on the beach. At that moment I saw a mixture of fear of the unknown but also relief that they had made it out alive, and a sense of hope for the future.
“If my pictures can draw more attention to the plight of the Rohingya people that can only be good and hopefully it might move all who see it to do what they can to help.”
Dutton added: “These pictures powerfully reflect the men, women and children who saw unimaginable horrors as they fled their homes to escape the brutality of the army in the Myanmar’s Rakhine state.”
The exhibition, a joint project between SCIAF and Catholic organisation Justice and Peace Scotland, will be at St Andrew’s Cathedral until July 17, before going on tour.
Frances Gallagher, of Justice and Peace Scotland, said: “We hope that by taking these images to every diocese in Scotland, they will help us work towards the welcome, protection, promotion and integration that Pope Francis calls for us to offer the 65 million refugees worldwide.”
     RAZIA’S STORY
Razia and her two children escaped with her sister Majioa and her two sons.
We were very scared when we saw the military burning the houses and the people. My uncle was burned alive six weeks ago. I saw people being burned alive.
When I saw my uncle burning we all jumped in the pond and hid for a day. After the military went we came out. The village was totally messed up. The houses were burning. They took our livestock.
We felt we were about to die so we fled. I was hungry – I didn’t eat for five to ten days. We had a little rice and vegetables for the children.
We walked for two days and stayed with a family. The day before yesterday we got money. When we crossed on the boat it was almost sinking.
Now we feel safe. We have some relatives here in one of the camps, but we don’t know where. We hope to meet them.
The children are hungry. They ate yesterday morning. A soldier gave them 30 taka.
If I am sitting here in the mud I feel peace and safe. In my country there is no peace. I am hungry here, but I am safe.
We don’t have anyone who can share our news – you are the ones – we are depending on you.
If we had to go back, I don’t know where we would go – there is nothing left. We would have to start from scratch. We fear they will do it again.
Now everything is in God’s hands. He got us here. He’ll save us. We were almost dead, but He gave us strength to come here.
MUHAMED’S STORY
Muhamed lives with his wife Jahida and his sister Sabunahoor, next door to his cousin and his family. They all fled their village at the same time.
My father gave his life to save me. My father went out of the house first to tackle the soldiers. They asked who else was in the house. He just argued with them and said, “Kill me but not my family members”. Then they chopped him into pieces. I just saw his dead body but I didn’t touch it as I had to move quickly.
I heard they took all the dead bodies and burned them. We would normally follow Islamic process and bury our dead, but we had to flee.
In Myanmar life was good. We had full stomachs. We had meat and milk. I had a farm with vegetables, rice, chicken and we ate fish. Now we have nothing. We couldn’t take a single thing. They took everything.
Everything we got from charities [at the refugee camp] is very useful. Before we used to just have to cook in one house, but some would get more food while others did not get any. Having our own cooking pots and plates gives us some independence.
We usually eat fried rice for breakfast maybe with lentils. We eat three times a day. We have no money but sometimes we can get some money from exchanging our belongings. We can exchange lentils for vegetables – that’s how we get vegetables.
If Myanmar gives us proper citizenship, rights and a state of Rohingya then we would go back. The whole world should pressure Myanmar to agree these terms. If the Bangladesh government sends us back without any proper settlement, I would say that they should just kill us right here. We would be happier to die here than back in Myanmar.
SHAWKAT’S STORY
Shawkat is five months pregnant and lives with her husband, who is the imam in a mosque set up in the camp.
The military attacked us in the night. We saw what they did with our own eyes. Our village was burning. They killed our neighbours who were young people. They asked boys who were around 10 and 11-years-old to stand in a line. Then they chased them with machetes and chopped them in two.
One old neighbour of ours was shot. Then they chopped him with a machete and then they burned him alive. He was just an old man.
Everybody just ran when they were shooting. The children were most affected as they can’t run. It was raining and we were always wet. I was shivering all the time. It made me sick. My hand was broken when I crawled in the jungle. We were hungry for many days when we first escaped. We hid in the bush for 15 days. We were robbed of our gold necklaces and bracelets on the Myanmar border.
We got some help when escaping. There are some good people in Burma [Myanmar]. Some Muslims gave us food, shelter and helped us.
In Bangladesh, they have helped us a lot. I’ve been here three and a half months. I brought nothing from home. When I first came here I had to sell my nose stud to buy food. Then the community here helped us. I have received food and cooking utensils.
These things are very useful - more than the money. These things are helping us more than anything. My parents died on the journey here when they crossed the river from Myanmar. So now I always try to help the old people around us in the camp by giving them food.
I don’t want to go back. They will [try to] kill us again. We don’t want to go but if the Bangladesh Government sends us with a proper agreement we would go. We are afraid.
I am pregnant. I have no money for treatment. I can’t go to collect water or pick up food. Sometimes the neighbours help but everyone here has their own problems so who will help us?

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