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>> Myanmar's leaders have promised to bring home the hundreds of thousands Rohingya Muslims who fled a brutal military crackdown last year. However, Reuters has found that the government of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is taking steps that threaten to make the Rohingya exodus permanent. There are dramatic changes in areas where they once lived.
Satellite photos of the village of Inn Din taken in March 2017 show brown houses of the Rohingya residents, and how they once lived alongside their Buddhist neighbors. An image from September that year shows that their houses were burned to the ground. Now, Red Roof security forces buildings stand where the Muslim houses once stood and there are dozens of new homes now, but not for Rhingya.
The newcomers are Buddhists, moving in from other parts of the western state of Rakhine. Hussein Ahmed fled Inn Din and now lives in a massive refugee camp in Bangladesh, along with nearly a million others. Looking at the satellite photos, he told Reuters, if he can’t get his land back, there’s no point returning.
> We’ve already left our country four times. It’s not fair as we wanna get back our rights as Myanmar citizens. We don’t wanna stay in this country.>> Reuters Simon Lewis is part of the team investigating how Myanmar’s policies are impacting the Rohingya.>> Myanmar's government sent in heavy machinery to clear many of the burned villages.
Bulldozers came in and swept away everything including even palm trees leaving no remnant of Rohingya life. In their place had been built roads, new security bases, and new homes. But it's Buddhists the government is helping to move in. The result is, it's making it a lot harder for the people here in the refugee camps in Bangladesh to return home.
That means this humanitarian crisis is likely to drive on.>> In reply to Reuters, Myanmar's Ministry of Social Welfare said, the country has been ready to take the refugees back since January. The government was investing quote, all physical efforts and wisdom to overcome the challenges that we faced in Rakhine State.
But plans for the repatriation of a group of around 2,000 Rohingya collapsed in November. They refused to go back unless they were granted citizenship, and allowed back to their homes. Norris Lam used to run a string of pharmacies in Rakhine. Now he lives with 20 members of his family in a shack in Kutupalong refugee camp, selling medicine through a bamboo screen.
He showed Reuters receipts of tax he paid on two acres of land in a village in Tung Bazar. He says his family lost everything.>> We now know from people that they have taken all our houses and land, but who took them? We don't know.>> An Agriculture Ministry official told Reuters, Islam's receipts looked genuine, but that official also said, since Rohingya aren't citizens, they'd have to negotiate with local authorities to get their land back.
Or get compensation. Aung San Suu Kyi spoke about Myanmar's efforts to take back the Rohingya, saying the country is pursuing quote, the voluntary safe and dignified return of the refugees.>> Two countries working together.>> A clear picture of the changes on the ground has been hard to track, however, because of travel restrictions to the area.
Besides analyzing satellite photos, Reuters also interviewed officials in charge of resettlement, aid workers and Rohingya both in the camps, and those still living in Rakhine. Local officials and new settlers say, the government is helping the Buddhist resettlement push in the area. The campaign is being led by Buddhist nationalists who want to ensure there's a Buddhist majority in the area.
The United Nation Special Rapport Tour On Human Rights in Myanmar said the Reuters findings showed the actions of Myanmar authorities were making the purge of the Rohingya irreversible. The UN says the Rohinja's wipe was a result of ethnic cleansing with genocidal intent. It produced the world largest refugee camp.
The UN also says the army crackdown including mass killings and gang rapes. Myanmar rejects these accusations, calling the offensive a legitimate response to terrorism.