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Rohingya people are victims of ‘crimes against humanity’, Sciaf director says

The charity has raised more than £160,000 to help the refugees.

The head of a UK aid charity has said the Rohingya people are victims of “crimes against humanity”.

The Muslim minority refugees fleeing violence in their home state of Rakhine in Burma describe soldiers and Buddhist leaders carrying out a systematic campaign of murder and burning villages, accusations which military leaders have denied.

Alistair Dutton, director of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (Sciaf) which has raised more than £160,000 to help the refugees, said: “I don’t know who’s guilty of what but what has happened are crimes against humanity.

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Sciaf director Alistair Dutton (Sciaf/PA)

“The chopping people up, shooting them, burning bodies, torching villages, stealing belongings and driving people out their country – these are crimes against humanity whoever perpetrated them.”

Speaking on a visit to the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, Mr Dutton said: “There are an overwhelming number of reports. Everyone spoken to has seen or knew of someone who had family killed. I think if these reports were verified they would quite clearly be crimes against humanity.”

Despite a recent agreement by the Bangladesh and Burmese government for repatriation, refugees continue to arrive, joining some 646,000 who have braved the dangerous border crossing since the surge in violence after Rohingya militants reportedly attacked border posts in August.

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Seven-year-old Noor Karima, who saw her mother and father killed in front of her, at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh (Sciaf/PA)

Mr Dutton warned the crisis could last for years, stressing that Sciaf and charity partner Caritas Bangladesh were planning for the long term as the average length of time a person spends as a refugee is 17 years.

He added: “We’re here to help the Rohingya. No one should be under any illusion that the recent Memorandum of Understanding between Myanmar and Bangladesh signals the end of this massive humanitarian disaster.

“The exile of the Rohingya refugees will almost certainly last for years and we will be here for as long as it takes.”

In early December around 30 refugees were arriving daily by boat from Burma to Shabrang Harbour at the Bangladesh border before being taken to the camp.

One mother who made the crossing earlier this month said she saw children burned to death by the military.

Razia Begum, 30, said: “I saw some little children who were killed by being burned by fire. I felt very horrible because I did not know how I could protect my children and so I left for another place.”

She said she had no food, money or way to survive in Bangladesh without help and aid donations but said she added “here I have shelter and I have peace”.

Another new arrival, seven-year-old Noor Karima, saw her mother and father killed in front of her and escaped to cross the border with her aunt.

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Razia Begum, left, said: "I saw some little children who were killed by being burned by fire" (Sciaf/PA)

Samara Besam, 25, who travelled with her three-year-old son, spent a month in hiding near the Burma border before the day-long crossing to arrive at Shabrang and said she would not return.

She said: “The military and Buddhist leaders tortured us. Why would we go back to Myanmar when there is no peace? They killed us and burned our houses. Why would we go back when there is no shelter?”

Senowara Begum, 18, now living at the Kutupalong camp, said Buddhists and the military burnt their homes, killed the young men and tortured women and girls but said she would return if the Bangladesh government “can ensure the peace”.

She said: “I want to have peace in Myanmar so we can go back. The Myanmar government has to give the Rohingya rights. They have to give us compensation – to return our cows, goats and chickens and give us back our livelihood.”

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said Buddhists and the military burnt their homes, killed the young men and tortured women and girls (Sciaf/PA)

But another resident of the camp, Muhamed Ali, told of his father sacrificing himself to save his family and being “chopped into pieces” by soldiers.

The 28-year-old said he would prefer to die in Bangladesh than be sent back to his homeland without the creation of Rohingya state with rights and citizenship.

He added: “The whole world should pressure Myanmar to agree these terms. If this doesn’t happen we will go anywhere where we can find peace. If the Bangladesh government sends us back without any proper settlement, I would say that they should just kill us right here. We would be happier to die here than back in Myanmar.”

:: Please donate to Sciaf’s Rohingya emergency appeal at www.sciaf.org.uk or call 0141 354 5555.

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