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Since August 2017, nearly a million Rohingya Muslims have fled a brutal crackdown by the Burmese army. Today, they live in the world’s largest refugee camp in neighbouring Bangladesh, a stone’s throw from the land they have inhabited for generations. Across the barbed wire are their persecutors, who have always considered them illegal immigrants. Will the Rohingya ever be able to return home to Myanmar? FRANCE 24’s Clovis Casali reports.
The United Nations has described the Burmese army’s crackdown on the Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”. In little over a year, hundreds of thousands of civilians from this Muslim minority have fled Myanmar’s western Rakhine state to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
In the Bangladeshi town of Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp has emerged, with nearly one million Rohingya surviving on international aid. FRANCE 24’s reporter Clovis Casali met traumatised civilians there who told of Burmese soldiers systematically raping women and spreading terror in the Rohingya villages.
A few weeks after that initial outbreak of violence last year, FRANCE 24 had been allowed into Rakhine state, a rare visit closely supervised by the army. At the time, we managed to film Rohingya villages that had been burned down and met terrified civilians trying to flee to Bangladesh. Their chilling testimonies bore witness to the brutality of the army.
►► Watch our exclusive report: Burma in denial over Rohingya crisis
A year later, we again met up with Burmese soldiers accused of ethnic cleansing. Our reporter followed them for three days, travelling on roads damaged by the monsoon.
Vegetation was already growing over the ashes of the razed Rohingya villages. On the road, our reporter saw brand new housing developments that looked out of place in the agricultural state of Rakhine. These houses, built for Burmese Buddhists, appear to show that the authorities want to replace the Rohingya.
Police officers and officials refuse to acknowledge they have carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing. They insist that they only targeted members of the armed rebel group ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) and that the rest was collateral damage.
This report, filmed in both Bangladesh and Myanmar, shows that the two opposing versions of events are irreconcilable. Confronted with eyewitness accounts of Rohingya civilians, the Burmese authorities remain unyielding. Their denial of the facts is clear, making it impossible for Muslims to return to Rakhine, in spite of a few reassuring statements from officials.
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