In a village across the Bangladeshi border in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, gunshots were heard and a huge fire was reported on Tuesday.
An unnamed Bangladeshi border guard said a “big fire” was seen raging late Monday in an abandoned village from Tombru, a frontier post in Cox’s Bazar district.
It is believed the homes ablaze overnight belonged to Rohingya Muslims, he added. The border region is controlled by Myanmar’s forces.
Rohingya refugees living near the border described seeing “flames and clouds of smoke.”
“They are trying to send us a message, they are trying to scare us so that we never go back,” Abul Naser, a 42-year-old refugee said, referring to Myanmar’s forces.
Bangladesh will repatriate the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar but the Muslims fear that they will not be safe back home.
Footage of the blaze quickly spread among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh through social media.
Rafique bin Habib, an activist from the persecuted Muslim minority, said, “The fire is designed to destroy the last remaining traces of Rohingya homes so that none of us can return to our villages.”
Without homes, those Rohingya repatriated under a controversial agreement between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh would be denied access to their ancestral land and forced to live in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. The agreement would facilitate the repatriation of the refugees over the next two years.
Another border official said he heard several gunshots before flames were seen leaping from the village. The fire occurred the evening before Bangladesh was due to start repatriating thousands of the refugees to Rakhine.
Bangladesh has already postponed the gradual repatriation, which was slated to begin Tuesday, amid concerns that the refugees could be coerced into leaving.
In the meantime, tensions have mounted at refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh, where authorities have been trying to draw up a list of Rohingya Muslims who could be sent back.
The refugees refuse to return unless their safety is guaranteed and Myanmar heeds their demands for citizenship and inclusion in a list of recognized ethnic minorities.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has said issues surrounding Rohingya citizenship and safety need to be addressed before their repatriation.
The UN refugee chief says issues surrounding Rohingya citizenship and safety need to be addressed before their repatriation.
The UN says nearly 690,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine for Bangladesh since violence intensified on August 25, 2017.
Myanmar’s troops have been committing killings and rapes, making arbitrary arrests, and carrying out mass arson attacks to destroy houses in Rakhine.
Only in its first month, the military clampdown killed some 6,700 Rohingya Muslims, including more than 700 children, according to the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders.
By Africafrique and agencies