Refugee women of Myanmar reveal the terrifying and bloody campaign of ethnic cleansing suffered by their people.
(Image: Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)
Whispered testimony from a traumatised Rohingya mother has revealed a gruesome new level of violence against the most defenceless of refugees.
Fatima Begum’s husband was shot then had his throat cut as merciless soldiers torched a village in Myanmar.
But that is just the beginning of her horrifying story. She then reveals how babies and children were slaughtered in state- sponsored war crimes so awful they are difficult to comprehend.
In hushed tones, wary Fatima, 25, tells me: “They threw babies in the air and then slashed them with long knives and machetes.
“I saw a dead baby cut into four and then they threw the body parts on to a fire. I saw this happen right in front of me. I was struck dumb, totally speechless. I could not believe what I was seeing.
“I know a lot of women from my village whose children were killed this way. They burned some children whole too.
Lad on food run in cramped camp (Image: Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)
“The youngest women, the beautiful and unmarried women, about 20 of them, they killed them when they tried to get away. They were put in a line in a clearing and shot.”
I meet Fatima at a refugee camp in Kutupalong, near Cox’s Bazar, on Bangladesh’s southern tip.
In stifling heat she waits patiently in the rice queue – solely responsible for giving her children food and shelter following her husband’s death at the hands of government troops last month.
Fatima is one of 700,000 persecuted Rohingya to cross into Bangladesh since last summer.
And she is prepared to speak out in a bid to prompt Britain and the UN to take action against generals who sanctioned the genocide.
She wants politicians to stop looking the other away.
Cradling her 14-month-old daughter Hasina, Fatima tells of being forced to run for her life, leaving everything behind as flames engulfed her straw-roofed home.
Kids in refugee camp (Image: Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)
She says: “While I hid in the forest, my husband ran back to our home to get food for the journey ahead. But soldiers were waiting.
“First they shot him and then they cut his throat with a machete. They killed at least 30 other men by covering them in petrol and setting them on fire. It was so awful we just kept running for four days across the mountains, without any food.”
Every person I meet in sprawling camps on a strip of land near the river that separates Bangladesh and Myanmar – previously called Burma – has fled unimaginable horrors to seek sanctuary. Every word of every testimony is equally grotesque.
They paint a vivid picture of a co-ordinated campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s forces.
Young boys take on their missing fathers' role collecting food in the camps (Image: Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)
Mass murder, rape and torture have been used in what has been described as the worst act of genocide this century.
The intense bloodshed has provoked the fastest movement of people since more than half a million fled Rwanda in 1994.
On the banks of the river we meet four Rohingya families who arrived by raft the day before.
The mountains they crossed on the side opposite are tantalisingly close. Nazima, 27, and her three children lie sprawled on the mud floor, exhausted and dehydrated.
The mother says her husband is still in Myanmar after being pistol-whipped by lurking troops as he clambered on a raft.
Snipers pick off those trying to get out, she tells me.
Nazima fled with her kids after her husband was attacked (Image: Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)
There are only women in the food queue. Thousands of husbands have died in the mountains beyond.
With foreign observers prevented from entering its killing fields, aid agencies can only estimate the death toll.
I meet 20-year-old Amina sitting on a child’s plastic chair with her son Mohammed, eight months, and daughter Mahia, 18 months.
Their canvas shelter, reinforced with the help of British aid agency CAFOD, is one of nearly 800 squeezed into a patch of uneven ground the size of a football pitch. Amina’s tale is remarkable, given she was more than eight months pregnant when she made her escape.
“They were stabbing our children with knives, slashing them wildly,” Amina mutters nervously.
“They tortured my husband but he managed to get away. I couldn’t run fast because I was heavily pregnant.
“Everyone was panicking... we became separated. I carried on by myself. When I was still in jungle, somewhere near the river, I had contractions and I gave birth, on the ground, alone. I was crying. Girls from a village nearby heard me and came to help. They cut the umbilical cord.
Collecting bamboo to strengthen the refugee's shelters before the monsoon and cyclones hit (Image: Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)
“I had been walking for 12 days. I was exhausted, so they helped me and Mohammed get on a canoe.”
Unsurprisingly, little Mohammed has been struck by continual health problems, having spent his life in the camp. A severe skin condition affects his entire body and he has a fever. It was many weeks after getting into Bangladesh that Amina was, miraculously, reunited with daughter Mahia.
The camp is filled with widows also grieving the loss of their children.
Tearful Nur Begum, 30, tells me how her 12-year-old son was shot dead. Nur, who managed to escape with her other children, says: “While we were all sleeping, they poured oil on the straw roofs of our houses and set them on fire.
Refugee camps on the border of Myanmar in Bangladesh (Image: Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)
“We all ran out, terrified, and then they started shooting. My son fell down in front of me. He was dead. We all just had to keep running though. I had to leave his body there.”
Despite mounting evidence, Britain has been accused of not standing up to the Myanmar government as it presses for post-Brexit global trade deals. International trade Secretary Liam Fox addressed a forum in London last October aimed at boosting relationships with countries including Myanmar – just two months after the military onslaught against the Rohingya started.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell travelled to Myanmar on a trade mission last year.
And Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met the country’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, but failed to convince her of the full scale of the atrocities committed.
Boris Johnson meeting Aung San Suu Ky (Image: EPA)
Oxford-educated Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was kept under house arrest for 15 years by the Myanmar regime, has yet to acknowledge massacres have taken place.
Pressure is growing on the world to act. Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, says: “The UK and others should stop wringing their hands and put forward a resolution referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.”
Labour’s Stephen Twigg, chair of the International Development Committee, urged a “dramatic change in UK policy” towards Myanmar.
For now, however, state troops continue to target the Rohingya, who are not recognised as one of Myanmar’s “national indigenous races”.
As the land journey to safety gets ever more risky, hundreds of Rohingya head out to sea to escape rather than risk being shot by taking the shorter route across the river.
This holds different risks. And every day they keep coming with new tales of heartache, an overwhelming tide of suffering that their neighbours in Bangladesh cannot hold back.
Military chiefs blamed
Ten generals including military commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing have been named over the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people.
A harrowing Amnesty International report also accused three officials in the Border Guard Police (BGP) for their roles in the bloodshed.
Based on interviews, satellite imagery, verified photographs and expert forensic and weapons analysis, the report details a pattern of violations against the Rohingya – mainly Muslim people persecuted in Buddhist Myanmar.
Canada and the EU have announced sanctions on seven senior officers in the Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s state forces.
Matthew Wells, of Amnesty, said: “Those with blood on their hands must be held to account.
“Failure to act now in light of overwhelming evidence begs the question: what will it take for the international community to take justice seriously?”
(c) 2018 The Mirror