ONE NIGHT IN 1992, ten army buses came to Lawadong, a village about 20 kilometres from Maungdaw—the last city in west Myanmar before you reach the Teknaf River, which separates the country from Bangladesh. Soldiers told all the village’s Rohingya residents to pack up immediately and leave, because they wanted to build a camp there. When the residents asked where they could go, a 48-year-old Rohingya woman who was there recalled, the soldiers said, “This is not your place. Your fathers are from Bangladesh. Go there, or go to the sky.”
Many Rohingya, accustomed to abuse as members of a Muslim minority in largely Buddhist Myanmar, left. A few days later, the woman said, the soldiers returned. They had a list of the names of all the Rohingya in the village, and warned the few non-Rohingya residents not to help their Rohingya neighbours. Rohingya men who had remained were taken away or tortured. Women, particularly those without men in their homes, were harassed. Some, including the woman, were taken away and forced to work at a temporary camp the soldiers had set up nearby—tidying, doing laundry, cooking. They had to look for their own food. The woman recalled regularly hearing the screams of other Rohingya women being raped.
One morning, she woke up early and escaped to Maungdaw—a staging post for Rohingya looking to cross into Bangladesh. A few weeks later, she managed to get on a boat. It was intercepted, as such boats often are, by Burmese soldiers. The woman, travelling with her three children—two boys and a girl—was forced to give up two necklaces her grandmother had given her. She had no money or valuables when she stepped onto Bangladeshi soil.