SHAH PORIR DWIP, BANGLADESH - Tens of thousands more people have crossed by boat and on foot into Bangladesh in the last 24 hours as they flee violence in western Myanmar, the UNHCR said Saturday.
Both Myanmar’s security officials and insurgents from the Rohingya ethnic minority are accusing each other of burning down villages and committing atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The military has said nearly 400 people, most of them insurgents, have died in armed clashes.
The violence has triggered a flood of refugees crossing mostly on foot into Bangladesh, though some were fleeing in wooden boats.
“Roughly 60,000 have arrived in Bangladesh since the violence erupted on Aug. 25,” said U.N. Refugee Agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan. That is about 20,000 more than the number local officials had estimated on Friday.
Refugees who had arrived at the Bangladeshi fishing village of Shah Porir Dwip described bombs exploding and Rohingyas being burned alive.
“We fled to Bangladesh to save our lives,” said a man who only gave his first name, Karim. “The military and extremist Rakhine are burning us, burning us, killing us, setting our village on fire.”
He said he paid 12,000 Bangladeshi taka, or about $150, for his family to be smuggled on a wooden boat to Bangladesh after soldiers killed 110 Rohingya in their village of Kunnapara, near the coastal town of Maungdaw.
“The military destroyed everything. After killing some Rohingya, the military burned their houses and shops,” he said. “We have a baby who is 8 days only, and an old woman who is 105.
Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch shows hundreds of buildings had been destroyed in at least 17 sites across Rakhine state since Aug. 25, including some 700 structures that appeared to have been burned down in just the village of Chein Khar Li, the international rights watchdog said in a statement Saturday.
Ali Hossain, a deputy commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, said Bangladesh was struggling to cope as “the flow of Rohingya refugees is continuing by boat and the land route.”
The Red Cross has sent teams to refugee camps, in coordination with the local Red Crescent Society, to “assess the refugees’ requirements. The influx is scattered at different places. The task is challenging for us,” said spokeswoman Misada Saif.
“We hope to start supplying water and food soon,” Saif said.
The violence erupted on Aug. 25, when insurgents attacked Myanmar police and paramilitary posts in what they said was an effort to protect minority Rohingya. In response, the military unleashed what it called “clearance operations” to root out the insurgents.
Advocates for the Rohingya, an oppressed Muslim minority in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar, say security forces and vigilantes both have attacked and burned villages, shooting civilians and causing others to flee.
The government blames the insurgents for burning their own homes and killing Buddhists in Rakhine. Longstanding tension between the Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists erupted in bloody rioting in 2012, forcing more than 100,000 Rohingya into displacement camps, where many still live.
Bangladeshi police said Thursday that three boats carrying refugees had capsized in the Naf River, killing at least 26, including women and children.
On Saturday, people in the Shah Porir Dwip fishing village gathered to bury the body of one woman found floating near the river bank.