Rohingya Crisis: The ethnic cleansing is visible from space

As the debate over the fate of 40,000 Rohingyas Muslims in India fail to settle down anytime soon, another incident comes to light. In few months, more than 6,00,000 members of Myanmar’s ethnic Muslim minority have fled persecution into neighbouring Bangladesh. With that many masses of people move on the earth, the eyes from the space records it all.

The satellite imagery below comes from Planet, a satellite imaging company that photographs the entire landmass of earth daily. The satellite image shows Kutupalong refugee camp, which is spread over an area of approx 26 square kilometres. The first photo is Myanmar; the second is Bangladesh.

In just a few weeks between September 21 and November 10, one can easily see the “massive expansion of the camp over a short amount of time,” Micah Farfour, who analyzes imagery like this for Amnesty International, said in an email. “You can see there was once trees/vegetation where there are now structures (lighter colours).”

Farfour says that the rapid growth of camps also confirms the large scale of the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and suggests, “the situation in Myanmar for the people fleeing is likely desperate and widespread to cause so many people to leave so quickly.” Farfour also suggests that the exodus also suggests that migrants are getting through despite reports that the Bangladesh government tried to halt the mass movement.

Amnesty International has also sent teams of researchers to Bangladesh to interview the refugees to document a government-led crackdown on the Rohingya that began during summer. Soldiers, with the help of citizen militias, burned down the Rohingya towns, shot down refugees as they fled and raped Rohingya women. The United Nations top human rights’ official has called it ““a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Noting Planet’s frequent imaging of the same area is crucial, Farfour writes, “I am looking at areas of the world that the higher resolution satellites rarely document until it may be too late.” He also writes that “Many times, I am able to work with researchers that receive reports from the ground from locals and then I can attempt to confirm or deny things with satellite imagery”.

On Nov. 10, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Myanmar to allow the Rohingya to return to their homes and allow UN inspectors access to Rakhine state. “What has happened is an immense tragedy and the levels of violence and the atrocities committed are something that we cannot be silent about,” he said.

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