Heartbreaking stories of atrocity are coming out of Myanmar -- here's what Rohingya refugees say is happening on the ground

  • Thousands of Rohingya have fled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar to Bangladesh.
  • Many of the stories are horrifying and heartbreaking.
  • The persecution of Rohingya Muslims dates back to the end of World War II.

Stories of rape, murder, and scorched earth have emerged from Rakhine state in Myanmar this week as the Burmese military continues clashing with the Rohingya people.

While the Myanmar army has officially launched an internal investigation into what the UN has labeled "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing," the suffering of the minority Muslim group is showing no signs of abating.

Although Myanmar has at times cracked down on journalists covering the Rohingya crisis, accounts of the brutality taking places have steadily trickled out of northern Rakhine state. Here are the victims' stories.

29 PHOTOS
Children impacted by Rohingya crisis in Myanmar
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Children impacted by Rohingya crisis in Myanmar
Rohingya refugees, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days earlier, walk after they received permission from the Bangladesh army to continue their way to the Kutupalong refugee camp, in Balukhali near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 19, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
Rohingya refugee sits with her baby while waiting to receive humanitarian aid after arriving at Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Rohingya refugee baby, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days earlier, sleeps on his mother's shoulder while waiting to receive humanitarian aid after arriving at Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Rohingya refugees, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days earlier, queue to receive humanitarian aid while arriving at Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A Rohingya refugee girl, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days earlier, waits to receive humanitarian aid at Kutupalong refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 19, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
A Rohingya refugee girl who crossed the border from Myanmar two days before, crawls under a barbed wire during her walk to the Kotupalang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Rohingya refugees, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days earlier, rest while they wait to receive humanitarian aids at Kutupalong refugees camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Rohingya refugees, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days earlier, rest while they wait to receive humanitarian aids at Kutupalong refugees camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 19, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
A Rohingya refugee boy sits on the ground at Tang Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A Rohingya refugee girl poses with a chicken at Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh October 17, 2017. Picture taken October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Mohamed Hares, an 8-month-old Rohingya refugee, receives treatment for a lung infection at the Red Cross emergency hospital near Kotupalang refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A still unnamed four-days-old Rohingya refugee baby who crossed the border from Myanmar a day before, waits with his mother to receive permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue their way to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Rohingya refugee baby who crossed the border from Myanmar a day before, sleeps with his mother on a field as they wait to receive permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue their way to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Rohingya refugees who crossed the border from Myanmar a day before, sleep on a field as they wait to receive permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue their way to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Rohingya refugees arrive to the Bangladeshi side of the Naf river after crossing the border from Myanmar, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar wait to be let through after they were forced to walk back by Bangladesh border guards, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 16, 2017. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
A 7 months old, malnourished Rohingya child cries as she lies on the floor at her family shelter in Kutupalong, refugees camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Hamida, 65, a Rohingya refugee, who fled from Myanmar a day before, reacts after she along with other newly arrived refugees, spent a night waiting to be allowed to walk to a relief centre in Teknaf, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A Rohingya refugee girl queues to receive food at a camp near Teknaf, Bangladesh October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Rohingya refugees who crossed the border last night ride on the back of the truck that takes them to a camp near Teknaf, Bangladesh October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A Rohingya refugee child lines up to receive an oral cholera vaccine, distributed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) with the help of volunteers and local NGO's, in a refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A Rohingya refugee child gets an oral cholera vaccine, distributed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) with the help of volunteers and local NGO's, in a refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A Rohingya refugee child gets an oral cholera vaccine, distributed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) with the help of volunteers and local NGO's, in a refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A daughter of Ansar Ullah, a Rohingya refugee who fled with his family from Myanmar a day before, is carried in a basket by her father after thousands of newly arrived refugees spent a night by the road between refugee camps near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 10, 2017. Ansar Ullah, who said his village in Buthidaung region was attacked by Myanmar military, carried his two daughters in baskets for eight days as he and other refugees were making their way to Bangladesh. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Nd Rashid, a 28-year-old Rohingya refugee who fled with his family from Myanmar a day before, waits for medical attention after spending the night by the road between refugee camps near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Rohingya refugees walk in a rice field after crossing the border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A Rohingya refugee man hols his child as he swims to cross Myanmar-Bangladesh border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh, October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Crimes against humanity

Rajuma is a 20-year-old refugee who, like many of her fellow Rohingya, fled from northern Rakhine state in Mynanmar to Bangladesh after her village of Tula Toli was destroyed and liquidated by Burmese forces. She told The New York Times her story.

On August 30, according to Times reporter Jeffery Gettleman, soldiers stormed into Tula Toli, set homes on fire, and led villagers down to a river where they separated women from men. The men begged the soldiers to spare their lives, but were all executed. It was then that the soldiers turned their attention to Rajuma, who had brought her infant boy with her.

"These men grabbed her baby out of her arms and she said that she fought as hard as she could but she … was quickly overpowered," Gettleman said on an episode of the Times' podcast The Daily. "She said she watched these soldiers throw her baby son into a fire, and he burned to death."

Rajuma was then hit in the face with a club, and the soldiers gang-raped her in her home along with her two sisters, Gettleman said. She said all of her relatives were murdered.

Rajuma told Gettleman that she fled her village naked and bloodied in order to join other Rohingya who were making their way to safety in Bangladesh.

"This was organized," Gettleman said on The Daily. "There was no effort to disguise it or keep it secret; these soldiers had come into her village to wipe everybody out."

Another woman in the refugee camp told Al Jazeera that 12 soldiers raped her in early September, and they kicked her baby "like a football."

"I felt like they would kill me," Ayesha told reporter Annette Akin. "I was afraid my child was dead." He survived, and she brought him with her to the refugee camp.

In the nearby district of Cox's Bazaar, Rohingya women were almost too exhausted from their abuse to speak.

"I don't remember how many of them raped me, but at one stage I had lost consciousness from my fading screams,” Yasmin of Hpaung Taw Pyin village told reporter Naimal Haq for The Wire.

17 PHOTOS
Fleeing violence in Myanmar
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Fleeing violence in Myanmar
Rohingya refugees carry their child as they walk through water after crossing border by boat through the Naf River in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A local man carries an old Rohingya refugee woman as she is unable to walk after crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh September 1, 2017. Picture taken September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Rohingya refugee girl sits next to her mother who rests after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugees walk to the shore with his belongings after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Rohingya refugee carries a child through a paddy field after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugees wash mud from their clothes while crossing a canal in Teknaf, Bangladesh September 1, 2017. Picture taken September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
A Rohingya refugee woman cries after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugee children walk on a muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A group of Rohingya refugees cross a canal after travelling over the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
A member of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) tells a Rohingya girl not to come on Bangladesh side, in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugees sit as they are temporarily held by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) in an open area after crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Rohingya boy carries a child while walking in the mud after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugee people take part in Eid al-Adha prayer near the Kutupalang makeshift refugee camp, in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Shoes are seen left in a road near Maungdaw, Myanmar August 30, 2017. Picture taken August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
New Rohingya refugees sit near the Kutupalang makeshift refugee camp, in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
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Another refugee in Balukhali, Muhamedul Hassan, told Gettleman that he witnessed executions in his village of Monu Para, where 400 men and boys were gathered next to a river. Dozens of people had their heads sawed off, and others were shot. Hassan said he survived because none of the three bullets shot at him punctured vital organs.

Gettleman, Akin, and Haq spoke to Rohingya refugees who witnessed babies getting stabbed, girls getting raped, boys being beheaded, men getting executed, people getting sliced up with long knives, and soldiers killing entire families by burning their homes with them inside.

Dozens of villages were targeted this way after a group of Rohingya militants staged an attack on police and military stations in the area in August. The UN Human Rights Commission put out a report October 11 outlining similar atrocities from interviews with more than 65 people.

An estimated 500,000 of the 1.2 million Rohingya have now relocated to Bangladesh, where they have been fleeing since 2012. It's the fastest mass exodus the International Rescue Committee has seen since Rwanda.

"When I was in Bangladesh, there were boats washing up with hundreds of people escaping," Gettleman said. "And then there were bodies washing up of people who had drowned in these tropical storms trying to cross a 2-mile body of water."

A history of dispossession

The latest assaults against Rohingya communities in Mynamar are the most recent in a long line of persecution by the Burmese state dating back to the end of the World War II, when the country gained independence from the British Empire after ousting Japanese invaders.

Because the Rohingya are Muslim, they had hoped to be included in Muslim-majority Bangladesh rather than Myanmar, and tensions steadily rose between them and Burmese officials.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, the Rohingya faced increasing restrictions on public life in Myanmar, and today are neither recognized as an ethnic group, nor as citizens, but as "resident foreigners." Because they are stateless, the Rohingya do not have freedom of movement, access to higher education, or the ability to hold public office.

In response, the Rohingya insurgency group ARSA has been active in the country for decades, but at a low level until recently. They staged attacks in 2016 and in August 2017, which the military has used as justification for the violence.

Myanmar's tepid response

Rohingya refugees walk to the shore with his belongings after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Teknaf, Bangladesh. 

REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir HossainThomson Reuters

Myanmar's response to accusations that it is conducting ethnic cleansing in Rakhine have been mixed. Initially, the country's ambassador to Japan denied that ethnic cleansing or persecution was occurring, and Myanmar's top general said the media's claims were exaggerated.

But after increased international pressure, the military announced on Friday that it would conduct an internal probe into its soldiers' conduct.

Though she stayed quiet at first, Myanmar's "unofficial" elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi said she is "appalled" at the violence in Rakhine against the Rohingya, and appears to be committed to a plan to reduce the violence. Since she has limited power over the military, Kyi can only do so much in the nascent democracy.

What happens next for the Rohingya is unclear.

"They're not recognized as citizens in their own country, and they're not even recognized as refugees when they flee this brutality. So it's hard to think of a more abandoned people in the world," Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. "It's their very identity which is being destroyed."

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See Also:

SEE ALSO: Rohingya exodus continues in Burma amid accounts of 'beheadings'

SEE ALSO: 'The most persecuted minority in the world': Here's what you need to know about the Rohingya crisis

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