Fearful and desperate: Future for Rohingyas in Myanmar Remains Uncertain

Children from Taung Bazar Rohingya village look on as a border guard stands in the background. (Photo: May Wong)

She stood silently in a crowd of more than 20 people, as she cradled her two-year-old child on her hip.

But as Sarbeda heard others relay their stories to foreign journalists of how their husbands or sons have been arrested, she started to weep.

That is when I asked why she was crying. Her experience of how her 14-year-old son was arrested brought a flood of tears.

Sarbeda said the boy was working in the fields when security personnel arrested him, suspecting him of being involved in alleged terrorist activities.

An accusation she vehemently denies, saying “they took him without any question. My son is so young.”

Buthidaung and Maungdaw are home to a majority of some one million Rohingyas, deemed as illegal immigrants by Myanmar. (Photo: May Wong)

This mother was just one of many who came forward with fear, helplessness and anxiety written all over her face.

She has no idea how he is doing now or when he might be released.Sarbeda’s 14-year-old son is one of at least 10 juveniles arrested alongside more than 400 Rohingyas accused of being involved in violent attacks since Oct 9 last year.

One after another, women, many carrying children in their arms, rushed up to the foreign journalists who entered their villages as part of a government-led visit to showcase the latest development on the ground.

The five-day arranged visit to several villages in northern Rakhine state was the third such trip organised by the government.

But it is the first allowing international journalists into the area after the initial attacks.

The aim – to show how the government has nothing to hide and that allegation of abuse and atrocities against the Rohingyas are, according to the authorities, exaggerated.

Rohingya calling on journalists to visit their village. (Photo: May Wong)

Rakhine Chief Minister Nyi Pu defended the security forces’ actions saying “when we are working on security issues, there are terrorist attacks and conflicts happening so there can be some casualties.

"We are not performing genocide. It is very wrong to exaggerate the small casualties.”

To a certain extent, it must be said that the Information Ministry official leading the visit accommodated the journalists’ requests of wanting to visit villages off the prescribed list and to speak to any villager without the presence of the authorities.

Without the watchful eye of officials, another villager called Lalmuti stood by her father’s grave and told journalists that “my mother said my father was burned to death by the military. They put my father in the house and burned the house and him.”

The 23-year-old said “after three months, they took her (mother) for questioning and threw her into jail.”

When asked if she’s worried she might get into trouble for sharing her story, Lalmuti simply replied “Why would I be afraid? I am telling the truth.”

There were others, however, who didn’t want to be seen speaking to journalists, for fear they may be hauled up for questioning. One pulled me away from earshot of others and related to me how he was beaten and threatened by security forces.

Yet another kept looking over his shoulders while describing how insufferable their lives have become, only to quickly disappear into the crowd, waving me away, believing he was