Rohingya migrants sleep together at the confinement area. Photograph: AFP / Sutanta ADITYA, via Japan Times.

‘Myanmar army’s relief to the Rohingya is only propaganda’

The Myanmar Army has been providing relief to the Rohingya, only to snatch it away after taking photographs

By Tarek Mahmud

Myanmar army has been claiming to have been providing aid to the internally displaced Rohingya people. But camp denizens say otherwise. According to them, the relief is nothing but a prop for a photo shoot, snatched away from the clutches of the Rohingya after the photographs are taken.

The Myanmar army has always been criticised by the international community, and the revelation of their recent “humanitarian efforts to restore peace” in Rakhine further questions their motives and methods.

Global leaders and organisations have unequivocally called upon Myanmar to cease the aggression against the Rohingya. The army appears to have been trying to stage the relief to appease the international community.

The Dhaka Tribune spoke to Bashir Ahmad, a Rohingya man from Maungdaw who currently lives in a camp in Rakhine, over a phone call initiated by his brother Yasir Arafat.

Bashir said: “The army often comes to our villages and offer aid to the few who remained after the devastation. They announce the time and date in advance. When we lined up for the aid, we saw many troops and Mogh vigilantes. They took hundreds of pictures, of us with the sack of relief, of people standing in line, and so on.

“And once the pictures are taken, they snatch the sacks from our hands and shoo us off,” Bashir lamented. He has been trying to escape to Bangladesh for the past 10 days.

Bashir finds the staged relief nothing but a mockery of the plight of the Rohingya crisis; a mockery by the Myanmar army and the Mogh crusaders, who are also behind the expulsion of the Rohingya people from their homes.

“The Myanmar army is staging the photo  shoots to prove to the world that they are helping the Rohingyas so that the pressure on the Myanmar government eases.”

However, Bashir noted, the army sometimes relents to the Rohingya’s pleas. They have been noted to give between 1-1.5kg of rice.

Bashir helped Dhaka Tribune get in touch with Jakir Mia, another Rohingya man who lives in Buthidaung.

Jakir despises the Myanmar army and refused to accept any form of charity from them. He said his neighbours had no such compulsions, but they were ridiculed when the Moghs snatched the bags away from them.

To confirm the story, the Dhaka Tribune spoke to several people who arrived on Friday. They all narrated either experiencing or hearing of the same treatment.

Jafor Alam of Buthidaung, who crossed the border on Thursday, said that they were compelled to hide for months while the army scoured the villages and set them ablaze.

He starved with his family throughout their ordeal for days. Even when they heard the army announcing  aid, they were sceptical and refused to go. But some of their neighbours, believing or maybe even hoping, went and formed a line.

The neighbours later returned dejected with barely enough rice for just one meal for a family. They too said what Bashir had earlier described.

A Rohingya woman also added that often the same sack of rice was given to several Rohingya people for the photographs. After the photographs were taken, the contents were divided among them, with each receiving a sparse quantity.

The World Food Programme (WFP) on Friday said Myanmar authorities have agreed to allow the United Nations (UN) to resume distribution of food in northern Rakhine state which was suspended for two months.

The agreement, whose details are still being worked out, came as Unicef reported that Rohingya refugee children fleeing into Bangladesh were arriving “close to death” from malnutrition.

Rohingya insurgent attacks on police stations triggered an army crackdown, which the UN has called “ethnic cleansing,” and UN humanitarian agencies have not been able to access northern Rakhine to deliver aid since then.

The retaliatory attack by the Myanmar army and local Moghs forced about 605,000 Rohingya to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

The Rohingya are among the world’s largest stateless community and one of the most persecuted minorities. Myanmar does not recognise Rohingya Muslims as citizens and forces them to live in squalid camps under apartheid-like conditions.

Published by Dhaka Tribune

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