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BALUKHALI, Bangladesh – When their nine children fled to Bangladesh to escape recent violence and persecution in Myanmar, a Rohingya Muslim couple made the tough decision to stay behind. They did not want to leave their land or the grocery store they ran in their village.
Sultan Mehmood, 62, also faced another obstacle in fleeing — he had lost the lower half of one of his legs two years earlier when a Myanmar soldier shot him, he says.
Their decision to stay behind when soldiers invaded their village in late August left them open to further attack.
Mehmood, now in Bangladesh, says his wife was raped by three of the soldiers and he was badly beaten.
"The soldiers did a nasty thing with my wife. They did a wrong thing with her," he said, sighing deeply as his 45-year-old wife, Haseena Begum, sat silently nearby on the floor of a makeshift hut in the Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Nearly a week later, one of their sons returned to Myanmar to help guide them over the border to Balukhali, where the rest of the family had found shelter in one of the many refugee settlements that have been pushed beyond capacity as Bangladesh struggles to absorb the influx of Rohingya.
Nearly half a million Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar have poured into Bangladesh in a little over a month, joining hundreds of thousands who fled earlier convulsions of violence and persecution in the Buddhist-majority country. Myanmar's military launched what they called clearance operations after Rohingya insurgents targeted security forces in attacks Aug. 25.
The refugees say Buddhist mobs and Myanmar soldiers set entire villages on fire, shot at villagers indiscriminately and raped women. The U.N. human rights chief has called the attacks "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing."