In horrifying scenes, I saw first hand how the Rohingyas face starvation

Alex Crawford
Refugee: A Rohingya ethnic minority from Myanmar carries an elderly woman: AP

They looked little more than children themselves, teenage mothers cradling little bundles of wriggling life. But these were no ordinary mothers.

They know they are bringing into the world a fresh generation of Rohingyas — with nothing to suggest their offspring won’t face the same horrifying persecution their mothers have all their lives.

We met rows and rows of these new mums on the most miserable beach in the world: Dang Khali Saur, home now to what’s thought to be the largest number of stranded Rohingyas in Rakhine State.

This is where the bulk of the atrocities have been committed.

Violence: Rohingya child kisses his mother after they fled from conflict-ridden Burma (AP)

Behind them, the Myanmar army has planted landmines to prevent them returning inland to their villages. In front of them is the expanse of water separating Myanmar from Bangladesh.

The beach has become their prison. Nearby, but out of sight, there are soldiers monitoring their movements. To wander too far provokes brutal beatings.

These people who have fled arson, execution and rape are now being left to die a slow death on a beach, while the rest of the world looks on, tut-tuts but does little else.

The Sky crew of cameraman Martin Smith, producer Neville Lazarus and myself hitched a lift on a fishing boat leaving Bangladesh in the middle of the night to rescue stranded people.

When we got closer we could pick out the groups of people waiting for us on sandbanks. One very frail old woman was at the head of the group, wobbling on stick-thin legs.

Her eyes said it all. She was pleading for help. Our boatman swept her up in his arms and carried her to the boat.

As we ventured inland, we were mobbed with desperate people hanging onto our arms, crying, wailing, imploring. “How many of you are here,” I asked.

Ten thousand, came back the reply. And that’s just this beach. There are 100,000 waiting to be rescued all along here, they said.

Our boatman had insisted he could only carry 15 aboard his craft for fear of becoming too heavy. More than double that crammed aboard. There were at least four newborn babies, one born on the beach the day before.

They were disgorged from the boat into Bangladesh and a new start. But they join tens and thousands of their countrymen and women, equally desperate and equally helpless, now camping in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

The scenes we witnessed are horrifying and they are shockingly man-made. The stranded people are on those beaches because they’ve been driven there, hounded out of their homes by a brutal military under the guise of maintaining security.

Now, they know they risk dying on these beaches — through starvation and disease — because the help they so need just isn’t arriving.