Six months after the start of a brutal military campaign which forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya women, men and children from their homes and left hundreds of Rohingya villages burned the ground, Myanmar’s authorities are remaking northern Rakhine State in their absence.
Since October 2017, but in particular since the start of 2018, Myanmar’s authorities have embarked on a major operation to clear burned villages and to build new homes, security force bases and infrastructure in the region. According to the civilian-led government, much of the work is part of preparing for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, and also wider efforts to develop one of Myanmar’s poorest states and address decades of chronic under-development and investment there. However, the nature, speed and scale of the development raise serious concerns, not least because access to the region remains severely restricted, making it difficult to obtain a complete picture.
Based on in-depth analysis of satellite imagery; a review of recent photographs and videos showing destruction in specific Rohingya villages; and interviews with Rohingya in northern Rakhine State and across the border in Bangladesh, as well as with activists and other experts, this briefing sheds light on the ongoing efforts to rebuild and reshape northern Rakhine State. The evidence is alarming: burnt remains of Rohingya villages are being bulldozed, potentially destroying evidence of military crimes, while surviving buildings are being demolished and trees and other vegetation cleared. In many areas, the landscape has been rendered virtually unrecognizable.
In some areas, new construction has begun on or near cleared areas of former Rohingya villages, in the form of new security bases, infrastructure, and villages designated for populations other than the Rohingya. In at least one area, remaining Rohingya have been forced from their homes as Township authorities have confiscated land for a major new Border Guard Police (BGP) base. At the same time, there has been a hive of activity around a mine in Rathedaung Township, in addition to construction and expansion of ports in two locations, presumably part of government plans for new industry and investment in the region. The scale of the change is matched only by the speed with which it is taking place.
While the picture is only partial, the situation raises urgent concerns about its implications for the future of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya women, men and children forced to flee to Bangladesh, as well as the tens of thousands who continue to live in the region. Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the Myanmar authorities are reshaping the region so as to accommodate more security forces and more non-Rohingya villagers, at the expense of homes, agricultural lands and villages where Rohingya have lived and farmed for generations.
Without greater transparency, access and consultation with the Rohingya themselves – and indeed other communities living in the state – the prospect for safe, voluntary, and dignified return becomes increasingly unlikely.
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