Further complicating things, analysts said, was Myanmar stalling the efforts to help the Rohingya, hardly surprising considering how this crisis started. Witnesses have described, in disturbing detail, how Myanmar’s army burned down Rohingya village after Rohingya village, terrorizing and massacring civilians — of any age, including infants — with one apparent purpose: to erase the Rohingya from the landscape.
The violence is not even over. One Rohingya advocacy group said this week that Rohingya homes were still being burned to the ground.
Each night here on the border, hundreds of Rohingya keep arriving in fleets of wooden boats that float silently across the mouth of the Naf River, the brackish waterway that separates the two countries.
A group of New York Times journalists waited in the darkness alongside worried family members as a searchlight on the Myanmar side swung back and forth, back and forth, an eerie metronome moving across the gloom.
“How can we talk about repatriation?” asked Tun Khin, one of the few Western-educated Rohingya representatives who have been able to reach out to the international news media. “People are still fleeing.”
Bangladesh now finds itself in an impossible situation. One of Asia’s poorest countries, it is home to 160 million people — half the population of the United States — squeezed into a space the size of Iowa. The Rohingya refugees have taken over hillsides, chopped down countless trees to build their shelters and put such a stress on the economy of Bangladeshi border villages that prices have shot up threefold, angering longstanding residents.
Facing international pressure to host the refugees and some domestic pressure to push them out, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has said that her country would continue to help the refugees on humanitarian grounds but that Myanmar must “take their nationals back.”
She has ordered the army to seal off roads around the camps to make sure Rohingya do not start migrating to towns. Her government has also decreed that Rohingya were not allowed to work or register for local cellphone service.
With no way to support themselves, the Rohingya refugees are completely dependent on aid. United Nations agencies such as the World Food Program have been feeding them, while international and Bangladeshi charities have provided medical care, plastic tarps, cooking pots and other basics.
Many Bangladeshis worry that the Rohingya are perfect candidates to be radicalized — victims of anti-Muslim persecution who are now idle and dispossessed. Retaliation is a theme for the Islamic State and countless other Islamist militant groups, including the Rohingya group that attacked the security forces in Myanmar on Aug. 25, the Arakhan Rohingya Salvation Army.