Thousands of Rohingya Muslims 'Killed in Myanmar' in One Month Says MSF

At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims have been killed in Myanmar in a month, a report has claimed. The figure is in stark contrast with the official number of deaths given by Myanmar authorities, which said 400 people were killed, most of whom were alleged terrorists.

The organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) conducted surveys in refugee camps across neighboring Bangladesh, which is hosting some 646,000 Rohingya refugees who fled their homes after violence erupted in Myanmar in late August.

MSF estimated that at least 9,000 Rohingya died in Rakhine between 25 August and 24 September.

"As 71.7 percent of the reported deaths were caused by violence, at least 6,700 Rohingya, in the most conservative estimations, are estimated to have been killed, including at least 730 children below the age of five years," it said.

The estimates suggest that an average 223 people were killed every day, but the organization said that the survey results are likely to underestimate the number of deaths that occurred in the month.

The Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic minority group that lives in segregated conditions in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma, mainly in Rakhine state. They are stateless people regarded as unwelcome migrants from Muslim-majority Bangladesh, and they have become one of the world's most persecuted ethnic minorities.

The Rohingya routinely flee persecution at the hands of authorities. The recent exodus was sparked following attacks by Rohingya insurgents that killed at least 11 people in Rakhine. The military retaliated with what was described as "clearance operations" to identify and root out militants. However, the the U.N. described it a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

Rohingya Muslims
Rohingya refugees wait for relief aid at Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 29, 2017. At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims have been killed in Myanmar in a month, according to research conducted by Medicines Sans Frontières (MSF). REUTERS/Susana Vera

"The peak in deaths coincides with the launch of the latest 'clearance operations' by Myanmar security forces in the last week of August," said Dr. Sidney Wong, MSF Medical Director.

"What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured."

At least 69 percent of the violence-related deaths were caused by gunshots, followed by people being burnt alive in their houses (9 percent) and beaten to death (5 percent ), MSF said.

Among the victims aged below five, more than 59 percent were reportedly shot, 15 percent burnt to death in their home, 7 percent beaten to death and 2 percent died due to landmine blasts.

Myanmar violence
Myanmar border guard police force patrol near the Myanmar-Bangladeshi border outside Maungdaw, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, November 12, 2017. At least 646,000 Rohingya refugees have fled into neighboring Bangladesh since violence erupted in Myanmar in late August. REUTERS/Wa Lone

Myanmar's de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced scathing criticism for her prolonged silence and perceived inaction to resolve the ongoing crisis.

In her first address on the situation in September, she condemned human rights abuses, but failed to address U.N. claims of ethnic cleansing.

Suu Kyi did not use the word "Rohingya", explaining that it was too "emotive" and "highly charged" for an already affected population.

Burmese authorities refuse to refer to them as "Rohingya", a term that would denote their ethnicity.

The word is so contentious that even Pope Francis was urged not to use it during his official visit in Myanmar in November.

In November, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a deal to return thousands of displaced Rohingya. It is not clear when the refugees are going to be repatriated and whether they are willing to return home. MSF said Rohingya are still fleeing to Bangladesh.

"With very few independent aid groups able to access Maungdaw district in Rakhine, we fear for the fate of Rohingya people who are still there," Wong said.