More than 10,000 Rohingya have massed near a crossing point with Bangladesh, Myanmar media said on Tuesday, as an exodus continues to swell with food supplies low and hostility towards them surging.
The ongoing flight, that has already seen over 500,000 Rohingya enter Bangladesh since last month, casts doubt on the practicality of a Myanmar proposal aired on Monday to begin repatriation of the Muslim minority.
Rakhine state has been emptied of half of its Rohingya population in weeks, and more are on the move as insecurity presses them to leave villages which have so far been spared the worst of the communal violence to rip through the state.
Over “10,000 Muslims are arriving at the western grove between Letphwekya and Kwunthpin village to emigrate to the neighbouring country,” the state-backed Global new Light of Myanmar reported on Tuesday.
Myanmar’s government refuses to recognise the Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group, instead calling them “Muslims” or “Bengalis”—code for illegal migrants.
Authorities have tried to reassure fleeing Rohingya that they are now safe in Rakhine, the report added, but they want to leave “of their own accord.”
Villagers are running short on food, while fear in ethnic Rakhine-majority areas has been kindled by the violence and reports of death threats by their Buddhist neighbours.
“In some villages they are scared to pass by Rakhine villages,” said Chris Lewa, from Rohingya advocacy group the Arakan project, told AFP.
On occasions when the Rohingya village chief decides to leave, the whole hamlet will follow, emptying a village “in just a few hours.”
On Monday, Myanmar’s Minister of the Office of State Counselor, Kyaw Tint Swe, told Bangladesh his country was ready to return refugees subject to a verification process agreed in the early 1990s by the neighbours.
Under that agreement nearly a quarter of a million Rohingya were repatriated from Bangladesh to Myanmar between the early 1990s and 2005, he explained.
But refugees and rights groups say the verification process relies on documents most Rohingya do not have.
The refugees also are also deeply fearful of what awaits back in Myanmar, with many recounting stories of rape, murder and arson.
Inside Rakhine, conditions are deteriorating for those left behind.
UN officials toured a conflict-hit portion of the state on Monday, noting the “unimaginable” scale of suffering.
An EU delegation accompanying them on the government-steered day trip urged for an end to the violence after seeing “villages burned to the ground and emptied of inhabitants.”