Burmese soldiers have been accused of systematically raping Rohingya women and girls.
Dozens of Rohingya girls, including one as young as nine, are receiving medical and psychological support in Bangladesh’s refugee camps after being raped, the humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) — also known as Doctors Without Borders — says.
MSF has been caring for rape survivors at its specialist clinic for sexual assault in Kutupalong refugee camp, now home to more than a million refugees according to Channel 4 News.
But those who come to the clinic are likely just a fraction of those who have been sexually assaulted and raped by the Burmese military and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist civilians who have joined the army in their attacks, MSF told the Guardian.
“Women and girls often don’t seek medical care for sexual violence due to the stigma, shame and fear of being blamed for what’s happened to them,” Aerlyn Pfeil, a midwife with MSF, said. And that is assuming survivors know these medical services are available in the camp. Pfeil said she found that many recently arrived women and girls who were unaware of the clinic and its services and were still untreated.
“When I’ve been speaking to survivors of sexual violence, one of the more heartbreaking and common requests I’ve had is for new cloth skirts, because [weeks] later, they’re still wearing the same clothes they were raped or assaulted in,” Pfeil told the Guardian.
“About 50% [of the girls and women seeking treatment] are aged 18 or under, including one girl who was nine-years-old,” an MSF spokesperson said.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled violent conflict in Myanmar over the last eight weeks, seeking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Close to 60% of these refugees are children, UNICEF says.
And as more Rohingya refugees continue to arrive in Bangladesh daily, they have brought with them a steady streams of shocking stories of indiscriminate violence and systematic rape at the hands of the Burmese military.
“The Burmese military has clearly used rape as one of a range of horrific methods of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” a researcher for Human Rights Watch, who has been documenting Rohingya rape survivors’ stories, said.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Myanmar since Aug. 25, when Rohingya insurgents attacked Burmese border police posts and Myanmar’s military began a “counter terrorism” operation that the UN has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Many of the refugees are now living in Kutupalong camp, where they join thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled previous bouts of violence and have lived in the camp for decades.
Over the last two months, the international community and world leaders have criticized the Myanmar government’s response to the Rohingya insurgent attack, as well as that of its de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but to no avail. In the meantime, the government of Bangladesh and humanitarian organizations on the ground have struggled to support overcrowded camps and meet the needs of the refugees as more arrive en masse every day.
But on Monday, the UN raised $344 million to fund humanitarian relief programs, and the Trump administration said it is considering sanctioning Myanmar in hopes of stemming the flow of refugees and stopping the violence. The following day, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh met to discuss the situation and possible repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, Reuters reported.
At the UN pledging conference on Monday, Bangladesh’s interior minister stressed that the Rohingya must be able to safely return home and said that the “blatant denial of the ethnic identity of Rohingyas remains a stumbling block.” He added that in order for the Rohingya to be able to return to Myanmar, there needs to be “a solution to the question of citizenship, or rather lack thereof for the Rohingya community.”
The Rohingya have been denied citizenship and rights in Myanmar for decades and are widely discriminated against. On Sunday, hundreds of Burmese people in Rakhine protested against the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, according to Reuters.
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