The aid organization Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) has reported the deaths of 11,393 Rohingya people in the first 31 days of fighting against the ethnic minority; 1,713 were children under the age of five. “Of these, 8,170 deaths were due to violence … including 1,247 children under five years of age.” The survey admits for a range of possibilities due to the nature of surveys, but any way you look at it, the numbers are staggeringly high.
Anyone who has lived and worked in a rural war zones know that, after the initial violent surges subside and the years start to go by, it is not usually the violence that kills most people, it’s that the war cuts off all access to basic needs, healthcare and otherwise. What might be a simple trip to the doctor in the U.S. could easily kill a person in Rakhine State now — diarrhea, for example, is a major killer. That is not to dismiss the violent deaths by any means, and the numbers reported by Doctors Without Borders is significant.
503,698 Rohingya refugees were interviewed in addition to another 104,410 who were already in Bangladesh, which is a significant majority of the Rohingya population that has fled from Burma. There are approximately 626,000 refugees in Bangladesh that have recently come across the border.
This is the section of the Doctors Without Borders report describing the percentages of Rohingya deaths following the attacks by the Burmese military:
|Total Population||Children Under 5|
|Violence (% of all deaths)||71.7 %||72.8 %|
|Type of violent death|
|Beaten||5.0 %||6.9 %|
|Following sexual violence||2.6 %||0.0 %|
|Burned at home||8.8 %||14.8 %|
|Landmine||1.0 %||2.3 %|
|Detained/kidnapped||0.3 %||0.0 %|
|Throat cut||0.2 %||0.0 %|
|Unknown||0.4 %||2.3 %|
|Other||12.31 %||14.8 %|
When I went to a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Burma, I came across and orphanage — one of many. This was a refugee camp for the Karen, years before the current conflict against the Rohingya and on the opposite side of the country. They are generally Christian, animist or Buddhist there, not Muslim, a distinction that often needs to be made when people believe the narrative coming out of the state-run Burmese media about Islamic extremists.
I met a boy there and the Burmese military had attacked his village and started killing civilians, though he did not describe their methods to me. He was with his uncle at the time, and the uncle grabbed him and they hid under a raised house — his house. His parents were shot and killed right above him. The Burmese Army made camp there and the two of them hid under that house for days, not making a sound.
Eventually they left, and the pair started to walk toward where the uncle knew the refugee camps were. Eventually he fell sick, and knew he wasn’t going to make it. He pointed down a path and told the boy to walk down it until he came to a village, and they would take him to the camps. The uncle died and the boy did as he was told. He walked for two days by himself before reaching the village. When I met him, he could have been no older than 14 or 15 — most likely he was younger when the event happened.
His was just one such story that I encountered that day at the orphanage. This is the same type of violence being committed against the Rohingya, by the same government with the same tactics — overwhelming amounts and documented reports of rape, murder and destruction of property.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.