The Rohingya are fleeing for their lives.
Sept. 9, 2017 | Rohingya refugees walk across fields at dusk after crossing the border from Myanmar in Gundum, Bangladesh. | (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Since Aug. 25, nearly 400,000 members of the country's Muslim minority have fled brutal attacks on their villages in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine, according to the United Nations. What's more, the majority of those refugees are children, many traveling alone.
Sept. 12, 2017 | A Rohingya girl holds her brother as she arrives in Tuangiri, Teknaf, Bangladesh. | (EPA-EFE/ABIR ABDULLAH)
Aug. 31, 2017 | Rohingya refugees are held by Bangladesh border guards after crossing the border in Teknaf, Bangladesh. | (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
Carrying what little they have on their backs, the men, women, children, and elderly traipse barefoot through the jungle and mountains for several days, or risk the rough seas of the Bay of Bengal. They are headed for neighboring Bangladesh, which already hosts tens of thousands of Rohingya who fled earlier waves of persecution.
Arriving exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated, these displaced find the safe space and resources they seek to be desperately scarce. The population of the two refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh has doubled in just a few weeks. But the reality is, they have nowhere else to go.
Sept. 8, 2017 | Rohingya refugees walk on a muddy path after crossing the border in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. | (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui)
Rakhine has been home to the Rohingya since the 8th century, when the region was known as the kingdom of Arakan. "Rohingya" means "inhabitant of Rohang," the early Muslim name for Arakan. The kingdom was conquered by the Burmese in the 18th century.
Myanmar has denounced this heritage and considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants. After the country gained independence from the British in 1948, Myanmar's military-ruled governments dissolved the Rohingya's social and political organizations and denied the Rohingya ethnic recognition. Today, the approximately one million Rohingya do not enjoy Myanmar citizenship, making them stateless, and largely resented by the Rakhine Buddhists.
Under Burmese military rule, the Rohingya suffered several vicious periods of brutality — most notably in the late 1970s, early 1990s, and again in 2012, after Myanmar shifted to a civilian government — forcing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh.
Sept. 12, 2017 | A young Rohingya man carries an elderly woman, after the wooden boat they were traveling on from Myanmar crashed. | (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
But this recent persecution may be the worst. In August, Rohingya militants staged attacks on government forces. At least 12 soldiers and more than 350 militants were killed in the ensuing fighting.
The army retaliated. Helicopters fired on Rohingya villages, and soldiers burned these villages to the ground. Civilians running for safety were slaughtered indiscriminately.
Multiple reports claim Myanmar's military has placed land mines along the border with Bangladesh. Meanwhile, Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators and journalists, so accounts of the violence have been corroborated by satellite data and testimonials. The United Nations says the crisis has left at least 1,000 people dead.
"Person after person along the trail into Bangladesh told of how the security forces cordoned off Rohingya villages as the fire rained down, and then shot and stabbed civilians," Hannah Beech reports in The New York Times. "Children were not exempt."
"The situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing," Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Sept. 11. Myanmar's response to the militant attacks was "clearly disproportionate" and without regard for basic principles of international law," he said.
Below, see the Rohingya's harrowing plight and desperate search for a safe refuge.
Sept. 8, 2017| Rohingya refugees walk through a paddy field after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. | (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui)
Sept. 7, 2017 | Rohingya refugees carry their child through water after crossing the border by boat through the Naf River in Teknaf, Bangladesh. | (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
Sept. 7, 2017 | A Rohingya woman cries after crossing the border. | (Ponir Hossain/File Photo)
Sept. 11, 2017 | Rohingya refugees wait to receive relief goods in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. | (EPA-EFE/ABIR ABDULLAH)
Sept. 11, 2017 | One of the refugee camps in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. | (EPA-EFE/ABIR ABDULLAH)
Sept. 13, 2017 | Rohingya refugee girls carry metal pitchers with water at Balukhali makeshift refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. | (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui)
Sept. 13, 2017 | Rohingya refugee children carry an old woman in a sling near Balukhali makeshift refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. | (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui)
Sept. 9, 2017 | Newly arrived Rohingya stretch out their hands to receive puffed rice food rations donated by local volunteers in Kutupalong, Bangladesh. | (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Sept. 9, 2017 | Rohingya Muslim refugees wait after crossing the border in Gundum, Bangladesh. | (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)