As she crossed the border, a woman crumbled with exhaustion into the mud. A seemingly endless line of people continued to trudge past, in single file.

Nearly 125,000 Rohingya people have now fled Burma to seek safety in Bangladesh, often walking for more than a week, and the exodus shows no sign of abating.

Behind them, they report unimaginable horrors. Ahead, they face an uncertain future in over-crowded refugee camps already short of food and medical supplies.

A new mother held her 1-month-old baby, its mouth crinkled with hunger pangs. Others carried the wounded and the elderly. On a blanket strung between two bamboo poles lay 14-year-old Mohammad Haras, who was shivering with a fever, his eyes glazed. He was outside playing with his friends when his village was attacked and he was shot in the groin.


"He was unconscious and losing so much blood," Diedar Begum, his mother, said. "They shot us with rocket launchers and guns. I saw with my own eyes five people die. We only had time to collect the wounded. We had to leave the dead behind."

During the 11-day journey to Bangladesh, Mohammad's bullet wound became infected. A group of passers-by placed cash donations into his mother's shaking hands and flagged down a tuk-tuk, who took the boy for free to a nearby medical clinic run by Médecins Sans Frontières.

Acts of generosity like this are commonplace through the Chittagong province of Bangladesh, where the huge influx of people has led to crowded streets in an already impoverished host community.

It is estimated that more than one million Rohingya people live in Burma, where they are denied citizenship due to an ongoing dispute as to whether the mostly Muslim population are Bengali or Burmese.

In October last year, a Rohingya insurgent group carried out attacks on security forces in Burma's Rakhine state, triggering violent clashes. The feud has since been growing in intensity. With large swathes of Burma, also known as Myanmar, now out of bounds to foreigners, aid workers and the media, garnering an accurate account of events in the unstable Rakhine state is unclear.

Burmese officials have blamed Rohingya militants for the burning of homes and civilian deaths, but rights monitors and Rohingya say the army is trying to force them out with a campaign of arson and killings. Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's leader, has been criticised for not condemning the violence.

Nipin Gangadharan, county director for Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh, said: "The numbers of people fleeing continue to rise. With people taking risky routes and always on the move, we can never get to the true human cost of this crisis."

He added: "The issue on the other side of the border is ongoing. Villages are still being burnt, you can see the smoke from here."


Khatiza Sanggana, a mother of seven, said her 15-year-old son, Kalim, was trapped inside their house in Toung Bazar village when it was set on fire by armed men. He managed to escape but his skin was scorched, leaving his arms mottled with fresh scars.

"We don't know where we are going. We just had to leave, there was no choice. Our whole village was burned to the ground," she said, as her youngest child suckled on her breast.

A Rohingya child is carried on a sling while his family walk through rice fields after crossing the border into Bangladesh. Photo / AP
A Rohingya child is carried on a sling while his family walk through rice fields after crossing the border into Bangladesh. Photo / AP

As the family sat eating rice donated from a local community group, Kalim described their 12-day journey to cross the border. "Some days we just had to starve. We tried to rest under trees at night, but often would not be able to sleep. We are exhausted."

Zokir Ahamed has been carrying his mother Alom Bahar, aged 70, for most of their 12-day journey. Behind him, his 19-year-old daughter Yasmin sobbed. She carried a white plastic sack containing all the belongings the family managed to grab from their home before they fled. She clutched it close like a comforter as she wept.

Zokir said: "They used rocket launchers to attack us. They killed people, slitting their throats and burning them. Everything is destroyed."

Silently staring straight ahead, Janaida tried to calm her fractious 10-month-old daughter, Rujina. She said her husband was shot dead six days ago.

"I have been walking six days, I had to beg for food along the way," she said. "My baby is hungry, she cries all the time. But I not scared now I am here, there is nothing to fear.

"We just want our right to live, to a life," she said. "We just want our country to be at peace."