COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh/ANKARA: At times, it resembles a flash flood — not of water, but of humanity. On the banks of the River Naf that separates Myanmar from Bangladesh, the Rohingya refugees pour in by the thousand, day and night, hungry, dehydrated and exhausted.
No one even knows how many there are. The UN refugee agency estimates nearly 150,000. Local officials in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar believe it is nearer 200,000. All have fled bloodshed and persecution in Rakhine state in Myanmar, and many possess only the clothes they stand up in.
“It reminds me of the time of independence in 1971, when we fled to India to save our lives from the Pakistani military,” says Abdur Rahman, 70, a local farmer.
“The Rohingya refugees are compelled to rush to the Bangladesh border with the minimum amount of luggage and kitchen utensils. Sometimes, they arrive completely empty handed.”
Mohammad Nurul Amin, 32, a grocery shop owner in the village of Miajong in Rakhine, walked for five days with 14 members of his family, just to reach safety. The journey has already cost him the equivalent of $73, a large sum of money in rural Myanmar
“This amount was taken by the boatmen, since the family had to cross two rivers and a canal,” he says.
The situation in Rakhine, Amin said, is desperate. “There is not a single house in my locality which was not set ablaze by the Myanmar army. Young men were slaughtered brutally and piles of dead bodies were torched by petrol bombs. It had become hell.”
Turkey extends a helping hand
Turkey, meanwhile, extended a helping hand to the Muslim minority on humanitarian and diplomatic platforms.
Following the telephone discussion of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Su Kyi on Monday, Myanmar allowed Turkish aid agency (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency/TIKA) to distribute 1,000 tons of aid to Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin announced.
Kalin also said that Turkey plans to deliver aid initially to 100,000 families in coordination with the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
TIKA will be the first foreign agency to distribute aid to the Rohingya Muslims despite Myanmar government’s doubts about the international aid organizations that were accused by Kyi of helping terrorism in the country.
On the diplomatic front, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkey’s First Lady Emine Erdogan are expected to visit Cox’s Bazar district to observe the on-site situation of thousands of Rohingya who have taken shelter there.