In a village across the Bangladeshi border in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, gunshots were heard and a huge fire was reported on Tuesday.
An unnamed Bangladeshi border guard said a “big fire” was seen raging late Monday in an abandoned village from Tombru, a frontier post in Cox’s Bazar district.
It is believed the homes set ablaze overnight belonged to Rohingya Muslims, he added. The border region is controlled by Myanmar’s forces.
Rohingya refugees living near the border described seeing “flames and clouds of smoke.”
“They are trying to send us a message, they are trying to scare us so that we never go back,” Abul Naser, a 42-year-old refugee said, referring to Myanmar’s forces.
Bangladesh is preparing to repatriate the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, but many fear that they will not be safe back home.
Footage of the blaze quickly spread among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh through social media.
Rafique bin Habib, an activist from the persecuted Muslim minority, said, “The fire is designed to destroy the last remaining traces of Rohingya homes so that none of us can return to our villages.”
Without homes, those Rohingya repatriated under a controversial agreement between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh would be denied access to their ancestral land and forced to live in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. The agreement would facilitate the repatriation of the refugees over the next two years.
Another border official said he heard several gunshots before flames were seen leaping from the village. The fire occurred the evening before Bangladesh was due to start repatriating thousands of the refugees to Rakhine.
Bangladesh has already postponed the gradual repatriation, which was slated to begin Tuesday, amid concerns that the refugees could be coerced into leaving.