By Sorwar Alam
ANKARA (AA) – Rohingya refugees in makeshift camps in southeastern Bangladesh are recalling their plight on the first anniversary of Myanmar’s brutal crackdown on the Muslim minority group in the Rakhine state.
More than 750,000 refugees, mostly children and women, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after military forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community on Aug. 25, 2017.
Amena Khatun, 45, told Anadolu Agency of the horrific attack on her family.
"They killed my elder son in front of my eyes while they burnt my house and took away our cows," Khatun said.
She lost everything but keeps hope for returning home in Myanmar.
"This is not my country. They give us shelter, food but we want to live on our own land," she said but acknowledged she does not know when repatriations would begin and how the process would continue.
She said she did not want to go to refugee camps or concentration camps in Rakhine state under the strict control of Myanmar.
Similar fears have gripped hundreds of thousands Rohingya in Bangladesh as the crackdown on Rohingya was underway in Myanmar one year since the horrific attacks begun.
The crackdown on Rohingya civilians was launched following a series of attacks allegedly carried out by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 24 police stations and outpost in Muangdaw district in northern Rakhine state.
ARSA claimed the attacks were in response to raids, murders and looting by soldiers who were deployed to the area following the deaths of seven villagers in early August.
The government continued its brutality despite growing concern and condemnation from across the world.
The military operation saw civilians burned alive, murders — including women and children – and open fire on civilians who tried to flee to border areas.
Turkey was amongst the first countries to condemn the attack on civilians and it demanded the UN, the UNSC and international community take action against the “genocide-reminiscent massacres”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first head of state to condemn the massacres.
He accused that the world of being “blind and deaf” to the situation in Rakhine state.
A day later, then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called on Bangladesh to open the border.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Myanmar to grant access to humanitarian agencies following reports of mass civilian casualties following raids by security forces against Rohingya.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu vowed to support Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue in humanitarian aid aspects and in the international arena.
Shortly after Cavusoglu’s declaration, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered his border open to Rohingya and deployed the military for ensuring safety and order in the Cox’s Bazar area, where Rohingya were placed.
Turkish first lady Emine Erdogan visited Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh, drawing global attention to the state persecution in Rakhine state and the suffering of refugees in the camps.
On the same day, Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) managed to get permission from Myanmar to distribute 1,000 tons of aid to Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.
TIKA was also the first aid agency to distribute aid among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.
However, Myanmar’s military did not stop its brutality but increased attacks by burning hundreds of villages.
Human Rights Watch conducted an analysis of satellite imagery, counting at least 200 villages burned in the offensive, with the United Nations calling it “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The local and international community extended helping hands to the refugees as stories of brutality against the Rohingya had been revealing by the newly arriving people from Myanmar.
Turkey was in the forefront of Rohingya issue on the ground with its state-sponsored humanitarian aid institutions and nongovernmental charity organization as well as on international level by organizing emergency meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and advocating for Rohingya at the UN General Assembly.
Former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim visited Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar, launching a 50-bed field hospital last December.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a deal last November to facilitate the safe return of Rohingya to Rakhine state despite concern about their safety and basic freedom under current conditions.
Although Rohingya repatriation process is not on the horizon, the November 2017 deal was an agreement documenting Myanmar government willing to take its citizen back.
More than 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
In its recent report, Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience, the OIDA increased the estimated number of murdered Rohingya to 23,962 (±881) from an earlier Doctors Without Borders figure of 9,400.
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, the OIDA report said, adding that 17,718 (±780) Rohingya women and girls were raped by the Myanmar army and police. More than 115,000 Rohingya houses were burned and 113,000 others were vandalized, it added.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children and women, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community.
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings — including of infants and young children — brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In its report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.
* Mutasim Billah from Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh contributed to story.