Monthly Archives: October 2010

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) wants govt to review detention of immigration officers under ISA


source: http://www.mmail.com.my/content/53534-suhakam-wants-govt-review-detention-immigration-officers-under-isa
Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 21:46:00

KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) today urged the government to review the detention of seven immigration officers and two foreigners under the Internal Security Act (ISA), for suspicion of human trafficking.

Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam said in a statement today that their detention clearly violated their human rights and was not relevant since it can be handled under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007.

Their detention without trial was in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UHDR) which states that all detainees must be tried in court to ensure their rights are upheld, he said in the statement.

Suhakam is concerned and views the matter very seriously.

On Oct 14, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the detained officers had been monitored for some time by the police due to their involvement with heads of syndicates which was dangerous and detrimental to the security of the nation.

The officers were detained at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang.

Special teams to work on improving detention depot security


Source: http://www.mmail.com.my/content/53524-special-teams-work-improving-detention-depot-security
Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 15:59:00

KUALA LUMPUR:

The Home Ministry will send five special teams to several countries to undergo training on the management of detention depots.

Its minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said, among the countries identified to help the ministry improve management of Malaysia’s detention depots are Australia, Holland, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Thailand.

"Besides that, the ministry has also set up the Depot Management Department which consists of RELA members, the Prisons Department and the Immigration Department, whereby their skills will be integrated to manage and administer the depots," he said in response to a question from Kuala Krau Member of Parliament, Datuk Ismail Mohamed, at the Dewan Rakyat today on the number of foreign detainees nationwide and the security measures taken to ensure cases of foreign detainees escaping from depots did not recur.

Hishammuddin said the ministry has also taken the appropriate corrective and safety measures to tighten security in detention depots.

Earlier this month, the Finance Ministry approved a RM100 million allocation for the Home Ministry to increase security of detention depots nationwide.

Cyclone Death Toll and Destruction Rises in Arakan State


Irrawaddy news, 25 Oct 2010,

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Storm victims walk on a road blocked by a fallen telephone poll after Cyclone Giri swept through the area of Kyaukphyu Township in Rakhine state in western Burma on Friday. (Photo: AP)

The death toll and destruction in Arakan State following Cyclone Giri increases while the Burmese state-controlled media remains virtually silent on the disaster, while the UN offers relief help and the regime fails to reply.

So far, 26 bodies have been found in seven villages in Myebon Township, which was almost entirely flattened by the cyclone which slashed through Burma’s western state near Kyaukpyu Township with winds of up to 120 miles per hour on Friday night, according to local residents.

The villages in Myebon Township where the bodies were found were Pyisaung Chaung, Myaing Thar, Pyonelay,Tawseik, Kyarintaung, Kyahin and Amyint Chaung.

“Myebon apparently was almost entirely destroyed. Only a few buildings are left,†said Thierry Delbreuve, the head of United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Rangoon, adding that the most affected areas were Kyaukpyu, Myebon and Pauktaw townships.

“We heard from the Myanmar [Burma] Red Cross this morning that 16 people were killed and 40 injured. This is just the preliminary report,†he said. “There’s been a lot of destruction, a lot of damage to infrastructure on the trajectory of the cyclone, but in terms of causalities we will need to wait for the assessment teams who are going to the areas.â€

In its latest preliminary report, UNOCHA said that 4,500 people in five villages in Kyaukpyu were affected and one person was killed while 700 people in Munaung Township were affected by the cyclone.

The five villages in Kyaukpyu were almost completely washed away and the houses were heavily damaged, according to Chang Hun Choe, the program coordinator of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society in Rangoon, who spoke with The Irrawaddy on Monday.

“As the assessment is going on, the number of the dead is on the rise.†he said. “All roads and telephone lines have been cut off. It’s a bit hard to assess the affected areas.â€

A local resident in Kyaukpyu said that 80 percent of the crops in Sittwe, Myebon, Ann and Kyaukpyu townships Arakan State were destroyed by the cyclone.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Thein Sein made no response when the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Rangoon, Bishow Parajuli, told him that the international community was ready and willing to help the cyclone victims, during a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the UN, according to UN sources.

Other Rangoon sources said that the UN’s international staff and international NGO staff are not allowed to enter the cyclone-affected areas and are restricted to Sittwe, the state’s capital.

“Only the local [Burmese] staff are allowed to go to all the affected areas. International staff need special traveling permits,†said the source.

The state-controlled media has been virtually silent on the death toll and destruction of the cyclone.

On Sunday, the regime’s media reported about a donation of US $10,000 ($100) and 1,000 bags of rice for cyclone victims.

On Monday, the front pages of state-run newspapers were filled with the news of junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s tour of a seaport in Rangoon owned by Asia World Company, which has been on the US sanctions list since 2008. A small, two-column article on an inside page reported that two junior ministers in the transport and relief and resettlement ministries were sent to the area.

During the first week of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which left more than 130,000 dead in the Irrawaddy delta, Than Shwe did not visit the victims. The regime only reluctantly accepted international aid.

‘In an age of intolerance, solidarity inspires’


23 Oct 2010, source from dvb:
by Benedict Rogers,

When I visited the makeshift camps for Rohingya refugees on the Bangladesh-Burma border, I made up my mind there and then that I would not rest until their plight received the attention it needs and deserves.

‘In an age of intolerance, solidarity inspires’ thumbnailIn all my travels to places of poverty, conflict and oppression, I don’t think I have seen human misery on such a scale. It was wet season and the rain seeped through the ground and dripped through the roof of every shack. Children were malnourished, some chronically, and the sick were dying with no access to medical care. Teenagers were teaching younger kids, because there was no schooling available. They told me that they themselves should still be in education, but there were no opportunities for them and so they shared their limited knowledge with those younger than them.

Fear and despair haunted the eyes of most people I met, as they told me that they were a people “at the brink of extinction”. Despite having lived in northern Arakan state, Burma, for generations, they said that Burma’s regime does not regard them as citizens. “The Burmese tell us ‘you are Bengali, go back to Bangladesh’. The Bangladeshis tell us, ‘you are Burmese, go back to Burma’. We are trapped between a crocodile and a snake.”

For pure humanitarian reasons, I believe it is not only morally right, but imperative, to speak up for the beleaguered Rohingya. Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) ranks them among the ten people groups around the world most at risk of extinction. They are in urgent need of humanitarian help and advocacy.

However, I believe it is also in our interests to help the Rohingya. It is in the interests of all the people of Burma to include and involve and welcome the Rohingya as full and equal citizens and as allies in the democracy movement. Burma cannot be a true democracy, respectful of human rights, if when the time comes for freedom, the Rohingya continue to be denied citizenship, marginalised, oppressed and alienated. Freedom for Burma must mean freedom for all its people. Human rights are universal if they are to mean anything.

As a Christian, I believe first and foremost that my faith teaches me to speak out for the oppressed, of whatever religious or racial background. My compassion can never be restricted to helping fellow Christians. However, there are occasions when my fellow Christians, among the Chin, Kachin, Karen and Karenni for example, need help. I documented their plight in my report Carrying the Cross: The military regime’s campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma. When it was published, my Rohingya friends issued a statement endorsing the report, and spoke at the launch event. They, the Muslim Rohingyas, stood in solidarity with the Christian Chin, Kachin, Karen and Karenni. In an age of extremism, religious intolerance and religiously-motivated conflict around the world, that spirit of solidarity is a powerful inspiration. They were there when my fellow Christians needed a voice; it is right, therefore, that I should be there for them. Religious freedom is indivisible – if one group wants the right to practice their faith peacefully, they must champion that right for all.

I once asked a Rohingya friend whether there was a risk of the Rohingya Muslims being radicalised. With a book of Martin Luther King’s speeches in his hands, he nodded gravely. Yes, he said. “If our people continue to be persecuted by the regime, sidelined by the democracy movement and ignored by the rest of the world, and if radical Islamists come and offer help, there is a risk that our people will be influenced by that and turn to extremism.” That, surely, is reason enough to reach out to the Rohingya, for the last thing Burma needs right now, on top of all its other woes, is rising militant Islamism.

So for all these reasons, primarily the humanitarian need, I have been working for the Rohingya. I produced a report on my visit to the Bangladesh-Burma border, I have arranged briefings for Members of Parliament, and drafted parliamentary questions to raise the plight of the Rohingya in parliament. In November 2008, I took three Rohingya to Brussels, to brief members of the European Parliament, Commission and Council. And earlier this month, Maung Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), and I, travelled to Washington DC.

In Washington DC we spoke at a briefing in the US congress, met officials in the state department, and talked with staff of various senators and congressmen. We had half an hour with congressman Joseph Pitts, and – most significantly – an hour and a half with congressman Chris Smith. These two men are both committed Christians, and champions of human rights and religious freedom. Both were unaware of the plight of the Rohingyas, but when they heard about the grinding, dehumanising treatment they face at the hands of the regime – restrictions on movement, marriage, access to education, and freedom of religion – they were deeply moved.

Congressman Smith is tabling the first ever resolution focused on the Rohingya in the US congress as a result. The resolution urges the junta to restore the Rohingya citizenship status, calls for the US government to provide assistance, and recommends the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity, including in northern Arakan.

People have commented on the inter-faith collaboration shown by Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the Rohingya working together. Personally, I long for a day when such collaboration is unremarkable. In an era of religious extremism and intolerance, those of us who are motivated by our faith tradition to be voices of freedom, peace and human rights should work together. In Burma, that is particularly needed.

Division, whether on religious, ethnic or political lines, has hindered the struggle. Burmans, Arakanese and others need to recognise that their enemy is not the Rohingya, and that in fact with the Rohingya together they have a common enemy: the regime. One Rohingya leader told me that his vision is for Burma to be a beautiful garden, in which different flowers with different colours grow side by side in the same soil – individual, distinct, unique, but united. So I urge every Christian and every Buddhist to speak out for all the people of Burma, including the Rohingya, who desperately need a voice.

Benedict Rogers is the East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma’s Karen People (Monarch, 2004). His new book, Than Shwe: Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant, is published by Silkworm Books this month.

Cyclone Giri Hits Arakan State


Irrawaddy news, 22 Oct 2010,

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A US Navy meteorological map shows Cyclone Giri as it hits the Arakan coast on Friday morning. (PHOTO: US Navy)

A tropical cyclone has hit Burma’s Arakan State and has been upgraded to a “Category II” cyclone, Myanmar Climate Change Watch has said.

Cyclone Giri, which formed over the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean, has reached a “very destructive stage” with winds of up to 120 km per hour, and is due to hit Kyaukphyu, a major town in Arakan State, by 3 p.m. local time.

The water level in the region is expected to increase some five to six feet, according to the latest forecast from the local weather board.

According to the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center, the cyclone was located about 220 km southwest of Sittwe in Arakan State at 12:30 a.m. local time and was moving north-northeast at 7.4 kph.

The center’s latest warning states that the cyclone is headed in the direction of Mandalay Division and may make landfall with winds of 148 kph.

“The cyclone will become stronger around 2 p.m., but will not be as strong as 2008’s Cyclone Nargis,” said Tun Lwin, the former director-general of Burma’s Meteorology and Hydrology Department, who heads Myanmar Climate Change Watch.

He warned that locals should not go outdoors as heavy winds could lead to the collapse of trees and lampposts, and that the residents living near the sea should avoid going to the coastline.

Rohingya Party Prevented from Campaigning


Irrawaddy news, 22 Oct 2010,

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Tensions are high in Arakan State as the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) seeks to marginalize the ethnic Rohingya party, the National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD), which is competing in the Nov. 7 election in several constituencies with high Muslim populations in the state.

“People from the USDP know that they are going to lose the election in our area so they are trying to bully us,” an NDPD member who asked to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy. “They obstruct our electioneering efforts and threaten us. They have warned us that Rohingya villages will be dismantled if we don’t do as they say.”

Local residents said the NDPD was forced to stop campaigning in Dunyaung Paungkyu Village in Maungdaw Township on Oct.15 due to USDP intimidation.

One local source said that a violent confrontation erupted between members of the USDP and the NPDP on Oct.16 near Khamaung Hseik Village in Maungdaw. The Irrawaddy, however, could not confirm the incident.

When asked about the alleged incident by The Irrawaddy, NDPD Vice-Chairman Hla Thein said,“We have had some minor problems with the USDP but it is yet to reach the stage of a fight. No matter what the USDP does, we will find out who is who once the competition begins. It is clear that our party has gained popular support in this area.”

Two ethnic Rohingya parties are listed to contest seats in the majority Muslim areas: the NDPD and the National Development and Peace Party (NDPP), which many observers say is acting as a proxy party for the USDP.

According to several locals, the NDPP, which was founded by construction company owner Aung Zaw Win, has the full support of the military regime.

“Around 8 o’clock this morning, Aung Zaw Win and other NDPP members drove around Maungdaw with more than 20 trucks calling on voters to support them. They were shouting very loudly, but no one opposed them,” said a resident in Maungdaw last week.

She said that Aung Zaw Win is electioneering in Maungdaw almost every day and drives around town in a high-profile convoy “as if he were a senior government official.”

Both Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships are 95 percent Muslim Rohingya. Only four parties—the NDPD, the NDPP, the USDP and the National Unity Party (NUP)—will contest the election in the two townships.

Residents in those towns said that only the NDPP and the USDP have the use of religious buildings, schools and state-owned buildings for their party campaign activities in the area.

On Wednesday, Thar Thar Aung, the chairman of the District Election Commission that covers Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships, allegedly summoned party leaders from the USDP and NDPD to his office.

Khaing Mrat Kyaw, the chief editor of Dhaka-based Narinjara News, said he believes the chairman attempted to mediate between the two parties concerning the recent spat of incidents.

Another source said the meeting was called following an incident in Maungdaw on Tuesday when USDP members blocked the road where the NDPD was attempting to campaign. The confrontation was resolved after local authorities intervened.

“We are watching the situation closely,” said Tin Soe, one of the editors at the Bangladesh-based Rohingya news agency Kaladan Press. “But we fear the tensions might ignite further violence.”

Related article: “USDP Faces Poll Challenge Despite one-horse Race” [October 8, 2010];

Former Political Prisoners Fear Repatriation


Irrawaddy news, 20 Oct 2010,

MAE SOT, Thailand—For six years, Thiha Yazar was isolated from the world in a prison cell in eastern Burma. The prison guards had been ordered not to communicate with him.

“The worst thing about that time was having no sense of the future or the past,” Thiha told The Irrawaddy. “I was completely alone and lost.”

The cell had one small window, and to keep himself from being too lonely, he would talk to birds. “I would ask them to go and say hello to my daughter for me.”

At night, he would talk to the moon and stars. “They kept me company; they were my only friends,” Thiha said.

Despite the isolation and depression he felt over the years, he doesn’t see that period of isolation as the worst part of the 18-years he spent in prison. The worst part was during the 25-day period when he was tortured following his role in a hunger strike over the lack of prison rights.

They stripped him and beat him till he couldn’t stand up any more. “The next day I woke up with bruises all over my body, but they propped me up and beat me again,” he said, still visibly shaken by the memory. “And the next day and the next, for 25 days—I thought I would die.”

Thiha’s story is one of thousands which have come out of Burmese prisons, where many political prisoners are tortured and denied basic prison rights. Their only crime, Thiha says, “is to fight for democracy, freedom and basic human rights in our country where the regime has denied the people everything.”

To raise awareness about the situation of political prisoners, Thiha has teamed up with Canadian journalist Paul Pickrem and written an account of his imprisonment. The book, “No Easy Road: A Burmese Political Prisoner’s Story,”
chronicles his life growing up as the child of an army colonel, his sentence to death for high treason at the age of 25, and up until the time he fled to the Thai-Burma border.

“I want the international community to know about my life so people can better understand the situation for all political prisoners, and what our families go through,” he said.

When he went to prison, his daughter was three years old and on his release, she didn’t recognize him. “She said she knew I was her daddy but didn’t know who I was. Then she blamed me for her mother’s death.”

Her mother had a heart attack when his daughter was six years old. She had a bad heart, and Thiha believes the pressure of having her husband in prison was too much for her.

“It is not only my case, but all political prisoners. Our families are bullied and stigmatized by local pro-junta groups. It was too much for her.”

The book’s release has coincided with the upcoming 2010 election, to be held on on Nov. 7. Like many political prisoners who have sought refuge on the Thai-Burma border, Thiha sees no hope for any real change after the election.

“If we get the rotten food in prison, and then they change the plate from a red plate to white plate, the food will still taste the same. It means, if the regime changes their clothes, it will still be a bad situation for our country,” he said.

“We can see that the generals are doing everything the way they want. How can we expect change when there are still 2,200 political prisoners inside prisons on Election Day?”

Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), echoed the sentiment. “Now all the key political leaders are in prison, like Aung San Suu Kyi, Min Ko Naing and other ethnic leaders; as long as they are in prison there will be no national reconciliation process,” he said.

“People really trust those leaders. People really want them to lead the country so people will not want to vote. They will only vote because they are threatened by the USDP.

“If the regime really wanted a credible election, then they would release all political prisoners so they can be included in the national political process,” he said.

Bo Kyi said that he received messages from some of the student leaders inside prison, who have stated that they all reject the upcoming elections.

Although the regime offered them freedom if they publicly supported the election, they declared that they stood by the “Maubin Declaration,” an agreement between a group of student leaders that said they would not accept the elections unless all political prisoners are released.

There are currently nearly 2,200 political prisoners in Burmese prisons across the country. The AAPP says political prisoners are denied adequate medical treatment and placed in prisons far from their families as a form of psychological torture.

The AAPP has documented the torture of political prisoners in a report that was released on Tuesday titled “Torture, Political Prisoners and the Un-rule of Law: Challenges to Peace, Security and Human Rights in Burma.”

In the report, many political prisoners said the effects of torture remain with them for the rest of their life. Pa Htee Than Hla, a 63-year-old resident of Umpium refugee camp, said he still suffers from injuries sustained during torture.

An ethnic Karen, he worked with the Karen National Union and received a death sentence when he was captured, later changed to 23 years in prison.

Like many political prisoners who flee to Thailand, he said his life was at risk in Burma and he faced constant harassment by the authorities.

Recalling the days after his release, Thiha said members of the Union Solidarity Development Association would come to his house every day and try to force him to become an informer.

“I just wanted to live with my daughter, but it got worse and worse. Finally, they were physically attacking me in the street and shouting that I was a terrorist when I visited the market,” said Thiha.

Although many former political prisoners come to Thailand with high hopes of a better life and freedom in a new country, their dreams are often shattered. In this area, more than 120 former political prisoners are unrecognized by the United Nations as refugees, and they live in fear of arrest and repatriation by Thai authorities.

Aye Myin Soe, a spokesman for a campaign recently launched to try and bring attention to the plight of unrecognized political prisoners, said: “We asked the UN why we cannot be registered, and they said it is out of their hands, only Thailand decides that. So we are left in limbo, concerned about our future, and our families’ future.”

Many unrecognized political prisoners icing in Thailand say it sometime feels like prison here because they are always worried about being arrested.

With the election just weeks away and with little hope that it will change the political situation in Burma, many political former prisoners are concerned that Thai authorities will repatriate them, and they are preparing for the worst.
Thiha said he has already made up his mind about what he will do, should that happen.

“I will commit suicide before being sent back,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. If we are sent back, the regime will take away our lives. We will have no future.”

VICTORY! Rohingya Refugees Finally Offered Resettlement in the U.S.


By lauren Markham, 07 Sept 2010,
source: http://immigration.change.org/blog/view/victory_rohingya_refugees_finally_offered_resettlement_in_the_us

In April, I wrote about the plight of the Rohingya refugees from Burma. Change.org members signed a petition to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement demanding a resettlement option for this minority group. And it worked. The international community has finally committed to finding a durable solution for the Rohingya, starting with opportunities for a lucky few to resettle to the U.S.

The Rohingya have been (along with dozens of other ethnic groups) systematically persecuted and driven out from their native Burma. The largely Muslim minority has been referred to as "some of the most unloved people on earth," and they continue to inhabit the world’s most destitute and depressed camps in Thailand and Bangladesh. They persevere under life-threatening conditions in cities, too, where they look for work and a chance for a better future, and risk their lives trying to get there; in 2009, Thai officials were caught carting boatloads of Rohingya met out to sea to their deaths in order to keep them off of Thai soil.

No matter where they go, it seems, no one wants them, for despite the thousands of other Burmese minorities that have come to the U.S. in a massive wave since 2005, only now are the Rohingya offered a chance at a new life here.

The International Rescue Committee reports that the first of 800 Rohingyan refugees to resettle to the U.S. in the coming year have made it safely to their new homes in Atlanta. According to the IRC, the U.S. and UNHCR have finally made the Rohingya a priority. Let’s hope that, beginning with resettlement for some to the United States, the Rohingya’s luck is beginning to change.

Photo Credit: Chris Robinson

Lauren Markham lives in her native Bay Area where she is a writer, educator and immigrant rights advocate, working for Refugee Transitions and the Oakland Unified School district.

Illegals claim threatened with pistol to cross border


17 Oct 2010,

PADANG BESAR: A group of illegal immigrants who were arrested by the Anti-Smuggling Unit at a sugarcane farm in Chuping, near here claimed that syndicate members had threatened them with pistols if they refused to cross the border to Malaysia.

Perlis police chief Datuk Ghazali Md Amin said the group comprising 16 Bangladeshi men, eight Myanmar men, and a Myanmar woman, paid US$1,000 (RM3,100) each to a syndicate operating in Thailand to take them to Malaysia to find jobs.

“They were believed to have crossed the border at about 10pm on Friday and walked their way to the farm area where they were arrested by UPP personnel who were patrolling the vicinity at about 1am,” he told reporters at the Chuping UPP camp Sunday.

Ghazali said initial investigation showed that the Bangladeshi men, who were with valid passports, had arrived at the KL International Airport on Oct 13 but were unable to enter the country because they had no visa.

They later flew to Phuket, Thailand and from there, the Bangladeshi men were joined by the Myanmar nationals and were transported by pick-up trucks to the Thai-Malaysia border where they were told to walk across to Malaysia.

They claimed that when they refused to do so, syndicate members threatened them with pistols, Ghazali said.

He said the Myanmar nationals were victims of human trafficking syndicates operating from their country.

All the foreigners, aged between 17 and 37, had been handed over to the Immigration Department for further action. — Bernama

Burmese Refugees Arrested in Terengganu-Malaysia


by James,

21 Burmese refugees were arrested in Terenganu, Malaysia on Oct 11, 2010.

All of them are UNHCR recognized refugees and Rohingya ethnic of Burma. The raid started at 1:00am of mid-night, followed by local villagers.

Area based refugee representative, Mr Nezum said, they were lifted to Tenah Maerah detention camp which is the worst detention camp in Malaysia where UNHCR is not assessed. It was lucky that it numbered 21 Rohingyas only as many were escaped into the jungle.

Another raid joined by Municipal in Selayang-KL on 13 Oct 2010, swept about hundred migrants but unconfirmed how many refugees were involved.

Area based refugee representatives concern seriously for the primitive situation and urge concern quarter to play effective and fair role, including assistance of vulnerable refugee family and vulnerable over aged refugee.

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