In Rohingya’s “no man’s land” in Burma, rice fields are rotting
Aerial view on November 12, 2017 of abandoned rice fields near Maungdaw in Burma, after the departure of Rohingyas who cultivated rice to Bangladesh
Thousands of acres of paddy fields are rotting in western Burma, with no one there to harvest since the mass exodus to Bangladesh of the Rohingya Muslim minority living there.
Even before this crisis, described by the UN as ethnic cleansing, the Rohingyas were already deprived of all rights in Burma, where they are considered illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Most of them lived, very sparingly, on agriculture, hired as black laborers, or by cultivating their plot.
Rohingya children in a refugee camp in Rakhine State (Burma), November 12, 2017, waiting to be evacuated to Bangladesh
“We were working in agriculture or fishing, but we have no work,” the Rohingyas who used to have fled to Bangladesh, says Osoma, 25, met by AFP on a beach in Rakhine State , near the village of Ale Than Kyaw, during a press trip organized by the Burmese army this weekend.
This mother of three, including a baby of a few weeks, has been waiting for nearly a week to cross, among hundreds of other candidates at the start unable to pay the smugglers at a high price.
“We can not find anything here going from village to village,” says one from a small village in northern Rakhine State.
Traditionally, this region, one of the poorest in Burma, lived on rice farming.
But since the departure in exile of more than 600,000 Rohingyas following violence between Rohingya rebels and Burmese police at the end of August, the workforce to harvest the precious seed is running out, at the beginning of the harvest season .
Before the crisis, the Rohingya population living in Rakhine State was estimated at nearly one million people.
In the north of this region of western Burma, the most affected by the violence, whole villages are transformed into “no man’s land” especially around Maungdaw. Only about 150,000 Rohingyas are still living there, according to estimates by international aid workers.
Rebels rohingyas and army reject the responsibility for this policy of the scorched earth that is worth to Burma to be under pressure from the international community. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travels to Burma on Wednesday to meet Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and Army Chief General Min Aung Hlaing.
On the beach near Ale Than Kyaw, some Rohingyas built an impressive raft, bamboo alloy and yellow plastic cans used as floats.
“We will put children on it to cross, we are not afraid to die,” said Ro Shi Armad, father of five at just 18 years old. “We leave because we can not live here,” says the former farm worker.
– Rice fields abandoned –
AFP journalists have found that the rice fields were largely abandoned.
Some reapers were parked near the road, but in the fields were working only a few Buddhists (majority in the country but minority in this area of northern Rakhine State, cradle of Rohingya).
Rohingyas at a refugee camp in Rakhine State, Burma, on November 12, 2017, before being evacuated to Bangladesh
The authorities themselves admit to having a problem with nearly 8,000 hectares of abandoned land around Maungdaw, epicenter of the violence.
“I had a shop and some farms before, I can not do anything for lack of manpower here,” laments Kyaw Zeyar Oo, a 47-year-old Rohingya Muslim living in the village of Ale Than Kyaw.
He does not want to go to Bangladesh.
“Most people are fleeing because of the terrorist threat,” he says, citing the authorities’ argument that exile candidates are fleeing the violence of the Rohingya rebellion. The interviews conducted by AFP were done in the presence of representatives of the army.
Statistics on the Rohingya Leak
In Bangladesh, the exiles denounce the exactions of the Burmese army, the fires of villages and cultures.
The Burmese Ministry of Agriculture is trying to organize the rice harvest by sending agricultural workers from other regions, but the official newspaper The Global New Light of Myanmar last week acknowledged the difficulties in attracting vocations.