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War Trauma Haunts Rohingya Children

Published: 27/05/2013 12:18:22 PM GMT
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CAIRO - Escaping death and ethnic violence in Burma, the children of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees have revealed high levels of war trauma after being forced to flee ethnic violence to face death in boats and refugee (more)

CAIRO - Escaping death and ethnic violence in Burma, the children of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees have revealed high levels of war trauma after being forced to flee ethnic violence to face death in boats and refugee camps.

“Our house was set on fire with a petrol. The paramilitary police shot at people escaping,” 15-year-old Shwe Tun Naing, from Narzi village, was quoted by the Independent newspaper.

“A Buddhist monk cut the arm off a Muslim who was escaping. Police fired guns, cut with swords, kicked, used catapults and bows and arrows to kill.  It was very hot.”

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Naing was one of the children who escaped death by Buddhist and military police to face death in the boats.

Living in scattered camps in Burma's Rakhine state near the city of Sittwe, up to 140,000 Rohingya Muslims fled last year sectarian clashes with the Buddhist majority; clashes that were encouraged by local nationalist politicians and members of the Buddhist clergy.

Trying to reach out to kids to reveal their pain, Nora Rowley, a human rights activist and former nurse who has worked with people from conflict zones who have suffered torture or trauma, asked children to tell their experiences through paintings.

In sessions in late February and early March, the experiences of 75 youngsters aged nine and older poured out in the most startling, graphic paintings to tell their own stories.

“I asked the kids to tell the world what is going on here and why they had to leave your homes,” said Rowley, speaking from Bangkok.

“I did not mention violence. I did not prompt them to say anything.”

One drawing shows houses on fire, the sky black with smoke. Another portrays gunmen firing their weapons.

All contain images of people fleeing, frantically clambering into boats and leaving their homes.

Traumatic Experience

Getting their feelings on a paper, some children found the experience itself traumatic as one little boy covered his paper with his hand so that others could not see.

“Sometimes the children blame themselves for what has happened,” Rowley told The Independent.

“They are kids. They have not adjusted their stories ... What I found was that most of them had not told their stories to anyone.”

One boy, 13-year-old Noor Alam, came from the coastal town of Kyuak Phuyu, which was attacked last October.

Noor drew a picture which showed how his house had been set on fire and that when his family had run outside they discovered men in green military uniforms.

The Rohingya tried to fight back and defend their mosque and a number were killed.

Over the course of two days, Buddhists set fire to the Muslim quarter of town, after which Muslims took to their fishing boats to save their lives.

Satellite imagery examined by Human Rights Watch suggested that at least 811 houses were destroyed.

After making their way to their boats, the vessels were intercepted by the navy and were not allowed ashore for three days, he said. There was no fresh water. The teenager said he saw several people die in the boats.

Another nine-year-old, Zaw Zaw Naing, who lived in a neighborhood in the north of Sittwe, said that the paramilitary police, or Hlun Htin, had set fire to their house.

“Rakhine [Buddhists] chased and killed people with swords as the people escaped to boats,” the boy said.

“People swam to boats. There were many dead bodies in the water.”

Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Burma's ethnic-Bengali Muslims, generally known as the Rohingya, are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee their homes after ethnic violence rocked the western state of Rakhine in July after the killing of ten Muslims in an attack by Buddhist vigilantes on their bus.

They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.

Adding to their suffering, the Rakhine state authorities revealed plans this weekend to introduce a two-child limit for Muslims, which would not apply to Buddhists.

Reproduced with permission from