The Rohingya families, mostly women and children, hungry, tired and some with injuries are desperately trying to flee the ruthless onslaught of the Myanmar Army and other security forces. Even yesterday afternoon, thick black smoke could be seen from Damdomia in Teknaf billowing in the sky across the border.
“Every night we are turning back up to 15 to 18 boats carrying mostly women and children trying to sneak into Bangladesh,” said Lt Col Abuzar Al Zahid, commanding officer of BGB 2 Battalion. The BGB personnel are now mounting 24-hour vigilance at six points of the border.
Suspecting involvement of the Rohingyas, the Myanmar military launched an operation following an attack on three of its Border Guard Police camps on October 9. The attack left nine policemen dead. The attackers also got away with more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition. Since then, horrendous stories of systematic arson, rape, killing and looting by the security forces started to emerge.
Panic among the 1.5 million Rohingya Muslims spread like wild fire. Some took the painstaking trekking through the dense forests to reach Thailand but most chose to cross the Naf River to Bangladesh, which is already officially accommodating 35,000 Rohingyas. An estimated quarter million Rohingyas are living in Bangladesh illegally, officials say.
But the fear of torture and death defies all barriers. Several hundred Rohingya families have already crossed into Bangladesh and melted with their relatives already settled here. At the Kutupalong camp, located some 50km from Teknaf, 35-year-old Mohammad Hashem said that he had crossed the river early yesterday with 11 members of his family.
“We had a home at Mangdu Kearipara, which the military has burned to ashes. For several weeks, we were in the jungle and then we walked for several kilometres and hired a boat to cross into Bangladesh.”
Asked if there were other people to help his family in exchange for cash, Hashem kept mum.
Human traffickers have started to cash in on the situation.
While the BGB has kept vigil at one point, these traffickers are at business elsewhere. “They know exactly where the border is unprotected,” said Shah Sheikh at the Kutupalong camp.
Meanwhile, sources in the BGB said that for the last one year they could not convince Myanmar to sit at a flag meeting to resolve bilateral differences.
According to Lt Col Abuzar, they might sit for a courtesy meeting with a top Myanmar army officer today.
While Bangladesh denies entry, the Rohingyas remain one of the most persecuted communities in the world. Myanmar does not officially recognise them as its citizens, who had been brought to Myanmar by the British to work as farm labourers more than one hundred years ago.
Morshed Ali Khan is a veteran conflict zone reporter who is operating as a freelancer for this series of stories.