Schools reopen for Rakhine children even as Rohingya flee

YANGON • Myanmar has reopened schools for ethnic Rakhine children in townships hit hard by recent communal violence, declaring "stability" has returned, state-backed media said yesterday, but thousands of Rohingya Muslims remain on the move from the same areas.

Rakhine state has been torn apart after unrest erupted in late August, when raids by Rohingya militants sparked a massive army crackdown which the United Nations says is tantamount to "ethnic cleansing".

Half of Rakhine's roughly one million Rohinyga Muslim population has fled to Bangladesh, creating the world's largest refugee crisis, alleging their villages were torched by the army and Rakhine mobs.

The violence has also displaced the state's nearly 30,000 ethnic Rakhine, who are Buddhists, and Hindus.

Education officials said schools had reopened in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships "as stability returns" in the epicentre of the violence, according to the Global New Light of Myanmar yesterday.

"Schools in ethnic villages were safe and secure", it said in an apparent reference to areas populated by the Buddhist Rakhine who are recognised as one of Myanmar's official ethnic minorities.

"But we need to think about schools in Bengali villages" amid ongoing security fears, the education authorities were quoted as saying.

The Rohingya are not recognised as an ethnic group and are instead labelled by the state as "Bengalis", stripping them of legal status in Myanmar.

More than 2,000 Rohingya - many from Buthidaung - have massed on the coast over the last week hoping to make the dangerous transit to Bangladesh as basic supplies dry up and they receive threats from their Rakhine neighbours. The government has said officials have tried to talk them out of leaving, but they are determined to make the perilous journey.

Meanwhile, Thailand's Foreign Ministry, in a rare statement on the ongoing crisis, said on Saturday that it was following the situation and would provide aid to the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments.

"Thailand is closely following the situation in the Rakhine state with concern," it said. "The royal Thai government has always placed great importance on providing care and protection to Myanmar displaced persons," it added, pointing to some 100,000 refugees from Myanmar who live in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border.

But many of those in the camps are long-term residents who fled conflict decades ago. None are Rohingya, according to non-governmental organisations working there.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2017, with the headline 'Schools reopen for Rakhine children even as Rohingya flee'. Print Edition | Subscribe