As the violent crackdown against the Rohingya enters its second month, there is no sign of Myanmar slowing its operations to drive the Muslim minority out of the Buddhist-majority country.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday urged Myanmar to end its military operations against the Rohinyga and allow aid agencies into the country, reported the Agence France-Presse. Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration tweeted that a boat carrying 120 Rohingya had capsized in the Bay of Bengal on Thursday morning. Al Jazeera reports that seventeen survivors had been found, leaving fears that the rest have drowned. The bodies of fifteen people, including eight children, have already been found on the shores as thousands try to escape fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine state every day.
Authorities in Myanmar postponed a visit to the United Nations due to “bad weather,” reports the BBC on Thursday — the same day that the U.N. Security Council is also due to meet to discuss the ongoing crisis.
The Rohingya, who have no citizenship rights in Myanmar, have been targeted by government forces as well as vigilante groups after Rohingya insurgents launched deadly attacks on police posts in August. The government has responded with what the United Nations has deemed a campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” driving almost half a million to refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh and burning several villages to the ground.
On Wednesday, Myanmar authorities said that they will take over the destroyed villages, claiming it as “government land,” Reuters reported. Satellite images show that nearly half of the 400 or so Rohingya villages have been burned, and now it remains unclear whether those who fled will ever be allowed to return.
Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday rejected the “ethnic cleansing” label used by many in the international community to describe the situation. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly, Ambassador U Hau Do Suan said, “It is deeply regrettable that unsubstantiated allegations have been repeated in those chambers likening the situation in Rakhine State to ‘ethnic cleansing.'” He qualified the state response to the Rohingya as a counter-terrorism operation.
There have been several flashpoints in the tense relationship between the Rohingya and authorities in Myanmar, reaching new levels of violence in 2012 and again, in 2016, when a similar deadly attack on police posts led to bloody crackdowns. This latest round, however, has forced almost half of the Rohinyga population — an estimated 1.1. million of a population of 53 million in Myanmar — out of the country, triggering a refugee crisis in Bangladesh, where there have been reports of fights breaking out over aid delivery as food shortages become more pronounced.
This story has been updated to include recent casualty figures from Thursday’s incident as well as the statement by U.N. Chief António Guterres.