Monthly Archives: April 2012

Solutions sought to manage trafficking of Rohingya


Source from The Nation, 29 Aprl 2012

Thai officials were involved in human trafficking and took advantage of stateless Rohingya, an ethnic group from Myanmar, a recent seminar revealed, amid calls for reforms of the immigration act and justice procedures.

The Lawyers Council Of Thailand and other groups joined a seminar on Thursday titled "Rohingya: the uncertain fate, empty future and the Thai government’s handling of them" at the Thai Journalists Association.

Surapong Kongchantuk, vice-chair of the council’s Human Rights Subcommittee on Ethnic Minorities, the Stateless, Migrant Workers and Displaced Persons, said the government was not tackling the Rohingya immigration issue seriously, despite greater awareness and immigration strategies. Thailand saw itself as a passageway for the minority to go to Malaysia, so officials only pushed the Rohingya back (to sea) and did not proceed with any legal processing.

Middlemen were paid about Bt60,000 to get the Rohingya on a boat and when it ran out of gas in Thai waters, officials – reportedly involved in all steps – rounded them up and pushed them back without any legal processing. This occurred amid claims the country has no place to detain them.

Surapong said if the Rohingya underwent a national identification process they could get Bangladeshi or Myanmar nationality. He urged the government to give the Rohingya, who are currently refugees here, a chance to prove their nationality and apply for visas. He urged the government to deal with Rohingya set to illegally enter Thailand according to the legal process, to seriously tackle the problem.

Another subcommittee member, Nassir Artwarin, said the Rohingya were taken advantage of, especially sexually. Some 100,000 kyat (Bt3,700) could buy a girl, while Thai officials also "sucked them dry". He urged Thailand to provide protection to the Rohingya to let the truth come out because these people were ready to testify about officials involved in human trafficking.

Department of Special Investigation (DSI) human-trafficking investigator Jatuporn Arunreukthawil said the Rohingya wanted to go to Malaysia but had to pass through Thai waters so Thai officials should provide fuel for their boats, if needed, so they could get to their destination. Because, if they were stranded in Thailand, it could cause problems with issues such as document forgery, drugs, terrorism and human-trafficking.

He cited a report from Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 that more Rohingya were sneaking in every year until 2009, when the number dropped from thousands to just 93 people, partly because middlemen in Bangladesh and Myanmar were arrested. He said the number of Rohingya being trafficked had risen again with more women and children. He said their journey should be supported, because if they were rounded up and pushed back, the middlemen would take them at the border and auction them as if they were cars.

He said the government should have a policy to ensure that arrests do not violate human rights. He called for amendment of section 55 of the Thai Immigration Act in regard to the arrest procedure so officials were not in a dilemma on whether to arrest or to help the Rohingya.

Dr Sriprapa Petcharamesree of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights agreed the law should be amended so that officials would not push the Rohingya back into danger or expose them to victimisation by human-traffickers. She thought the issue should be discussed officially by Asean.

A Rohingya representative, Abdul Kalam, urged all to view his brethren as humans and solve the problem legally. "These days, we, the Rohingya, just want a piece of paper [nationality] so we can survive … now our children were born in Thailand, we cannot leave them, so we have to live here and we want to stay legalised," he said.

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The Death of two Burmese migrants in the custody of the Thai authorities must be probed


Mekong Migration Network (MMN), Press Release: April 22nd , 2012

On 17 April, while the people of Thailand were enjoying the long holidays for the New Year and Songkran water festival, two Burmese migrants were found dead in the back of a deportation vehicle. Mr Maungg Soe (25), and Ms Ma Mi Lar (36) were two of 62 migrants being deported from the Sadao Immigration office, in Songkhla Province, southern Thailand to Burma via the Mae Sot border crossing. While the breaking news reports suggested that the migrants died as a result of having been crammed into an overcroweded truck during hot weather, the exact causes of death have yet to be verified.[i]

Subsequent enquiries by the Mekong Migration Network (MMN)* with the Mae Sot immigration as well as police departements confirmed that the deportation vehicle left Sadao on 16 April and arrived at Mae Sot the following day. The immigration officer responsible for overseeing the operation has at the time of writing yet to be interviewed in relation to the incident. A Mae Sot police source also said that the bodies of the two dead migrants and the other deportees, including the relatives of the deceased, had already been deported from Thailand.

The MMN is deeply concerned over these tragic deaths and the subsequent actions of the Thai authorities. The deaths raise serious questions about the safety and treatment of migrants held in Thailand’s deportation process. Between 2005 and 2008, MMN conducted collaborative research on the use of Arrest, Detention and Deportation (ADD) in the six Mekong countries.[ii] In this study we found that migrants are commonly held for unacceptably long periods aboard vehicles used in the deportation process and that they generally have very limited access to medical care.

Thailand is party to a number of international treaties pertinent to the treatment of persons in detention. They include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Furthermore, in accordance with the UN’s Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment: “All persons under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be treated in a humane manner and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person".

In July 2010, MMN made urgent representations to the office of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants to draw attention to four separate incidents in which 23 vulnerable migrants lost their lives in immigration detention or during enforcement action carried out by the Thai authorities. MMN is not aware that any steps have been taken to prosecute the officers responsible for these tragic incidents.

In response to the latest tragedy, MMN urges the Royal Thai Government to:

1. Immediately conduct a full and impartial investigation of this tragic event including the situation of detention of the migrants prior to deportation, the health care and treatment received by the migrants who subsequently died and the conditions of transportation;

2. Urgently support autopsies of the two migrants who died to establish the cause of death;

3. Facilitate access to justice for the families of the victims including compensation;

4. Provide medical checks, treatment and care including voluntary access to counselling for all the migrants who were in the vehicle and who may also be sick and/or traumatised;

5. Ensure that all those whose actions or negligence caused or contributed to the deaths of the two migrants are punished according to the law;

6. Review the arrest, detention and deportation procedures to ensure that they protect the rights of migrants and respect their dignity. Take immediate steps to ensure that the deportation of migrants is governed by laws that are in compliance with international standards.

For further information please contact:

Ms. Omsin Boonlert (Plaii): +66 (0)869238313 or plaii

Ms. Pranom Somwong (Bee): +60 192371300 or p_somwong

Ms. Reiko Harima: +852 93692244 or reiko

* The Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of 39 non-governmental organisations working on migration issues in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

MMN website: www.mekongmigration.org
Follow MMN on Twitter: @mekongmigration

Thai Authorities Survey Refugees Over Repatriation


Source from Irrawaddy news, today

Asylum seekers find no solution in East Timor


Source from smh, 23 April 2012

east timor asylum

THREE weeks ago some of the world’s unluckiest people were given one more reason to curse their fate.

Fleeing persecution in their home country, and after years of living in Malaysia as non-citizens, 26 Arakanese Muslims from Burma set out on a boat bound for Australia.

Instead, on March 27, they washed up in one of the poorest countries in Asia – East Timor. Their boat ran out of fuel off the country’s southern coast and their captain swam to shore.

East Timor, once the target of Julia Gillard’s ill-fated ”Timor Solution” is not a favoured destination for refugees. The poverty-stricken nation has signed the UN convention on refugees, but only a handful have ever come here.

Three weeks later, all 26 men, ranging in age from 14 to 46, are sleeping on mats on the floor of a large conference room of the Directorate of Civil Security in Dili. They survive on $5 a day from the International Organisation for Migration.

In East Timor, the authorities are stumped. Noor Muhammad, 36, speaking for the group when The Age visited them this week, said the police had charged them with illegal entry and handed them letters telling them to leave within 10 days or they would be deported, detained, or face ”other coercive measures”.

If they failed to comply, they could be imprisoned for two years. The 10 days expired on Friday. East Timor’s chief investigation officer for migration, Alfredo Abel, told The Age: ”Now [we are] waiting for another solution”.

With no money and no documents, it was clear the refugees could not leave the country voluntarily. If they were to be imprisoned, it would be ”not tomorrow, not next week, a long time”, Mr Abel said.

If they apply for asylum in East Timor, the country has a responsibility under the UN convention. But they do not want to apply.

Another option, however, was for East Timor to fly them back to Malaysia, or even Burma, at its own expense, Mr Abel said.

Mr Muhammad said the 26 had spent their money – $US3500 ($A3370) each – paying Indonesian people smugglers to get to Australia, and that was still where they wanted to go.

With the help of refugee activist Mark Goudkamp, who was holidaying in Dili last week, they have the forms to apply for an Australian offshore humanitarian visa, but the 32-page form has so far proved too difficult for them to fill out.

The Australian embassy in Dili referred queries to the Australian Immigration Department, which said they were welcome to apply for humanitarian visas. The International Organisation for Migration could help them, a spokeswoman said.

Mr Muhammad said he had been in Malaysia since 1994. The UN recognised him as a refugee from the Burmese regime, which denies his people the basics of citizenship such as identification documents and free movement.

In Malaysia, he lived for 17 years as a non-citizen in the refugee ”queue”, applying repeatedly for asylum in Australia. Others in his group had been there even longer.

Mr Muhammad said they wanted to come to a country where they would be welcomed, and be able to work, marry, travel, and enjoy full legal rights.

Rohingya ‘camping out’ at UNHCR office in India


Source from mizzima news, 20 April 2012

(Mizzima) – Hundreds Rohingya men, women and children from Burma are living virtually on the doorstep of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at Vasant Vihar, India, seeking refugee status.
A Rohingya child lives in harsh conditions at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp, Teknaf, Cox’s bazar. Photo: Mizzima

A Rohingya child lives in harsh conditions at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp, Teknaf, Cox’s bazar. Photo: Mizzima

Residents in the area complain that the U.N. should provide some sort of temporary solution to alleviate the congestion in the area, according to an article in The Times of India on Friday.

“We do sympathize with the poor people seeking refugee status, as it is hard for people to live in the country without support,” A. K. Seth, head of the homeopathy department at Ganga Ram Hospital, told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, Rohingya leaders are calling on international countries to find a solution to the Rohingyas’ plight before sanctions are lifted against Burma. The Rohingya refugee community, a predominantly Muslim group, claim they are persecuted in Burma, do not enjoy rights of citizenship and are abused by government authorities.

“Many of our people are either begging for money in India or working as rag-pickers. If we do not get refugee status, we want the government to send us to another country where we can live as refugees,” said one homeless Rohingya.

Dr. Wakar Uddin, chairman of the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America, has urged the U.S. State Department, the Senate foreign relations committee and the House of Representatives human rights commission to coordinate efforts to address the Rohingya refugees situation in Burma, India and Bangladesh, according to a story in International Business Times (IBT) on Friday.

“If somehow the Burmese government [manages] to get sanctions lifted and the Rohingya issue is not resolved, we are finished,” Uddin was quoted by the BBC. "There is no hope because they will not revisit this. Whatever needs to be done about the Rohingya, it has to be done before the sanctions are lifted.”

In December 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly discussed the Rohingyas’ status during her meeting with Burmese President Thein Sein in Rangoon.

According to the Burmese government, Rohingya are migrants from India who are not eligible for citizenship. Western nations, the United Nations and India assert the Rohingya are indigenous to Burma. In Burma’s northern Rakhine State, some 800,000 stateless Muslims, mostly Rohingya, account for 90 percent of the region’s population.

Uddin told the newspaper that the Rohingyas’ situation “has gotten worse since the [Burmese] election.”

“The government is trying to show the West that they are dealing with the Karen [another aggrieved ethnic group] and other groups by giving rights and making a truce. But they are showing the carrot in one hand and the stick for us [the Rohingya] in the other. It’s a distraction and a diversionary tactic,” he was quoted as saying.

Recently, the IRIN news agency reported that Nurul Islam, president of the London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organization, said, “There is no change of attitude of the new civilian government of… Thein Sein towards Rohingya people; there is no sign of change in the human rights situation of Rohingya people. Persecution against them is actually greater than before.”

Bowen: Boat arrivals will be processed not for refugee claims, but for removal from Australia to a third country


source from abc news 7:30 report, 16 April 2012

Chris Bowen discusses latest boat arrival

To see via Youtube:

Reporter: Leigh Sales SALES, PRESENTER: A short time ago I was joined in our Sydney studio by the Immigrationr Chris Bowen.

Minister, today another boat, this one carrying 55 people’s been intercepted en route to Australia in addition to the boatload of 32 people picked up on the weekend. Can you tell us yet where they’ll be going for processing?

CHRIS BOWEN, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: No, what I’ve said is that these people, like the boat intercepted on Saturday, will be processed not for refugee claims, but for removal from Australia under our laws to a third country. It’s well-known Leigh that we’ve entered into the arrangement with Malaysian, that we’re in discussions with other countries across the region. It’s very important we send that message, as the Prime Minister and I sent two Saturdays ago: do not come to Australia by boat thinking that you’ll be processed and resettled in Australia, because that is not any longer the position in Australia.

LEIGH SALES: And why can’t you tell us yet where they’ll be going?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, as I say, it’s well-known that we’re in discussions across the region and not only with Malaysia but other countries. It’s appropriate we let those discussions reach their final stages.

LEIGH SALES: So what’s delaying the transfer then to a third country? What’s the hold-up in the negotiations?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well there’s no hold-up in particular, but these negotiations do take some time. Other governments have processes to go through, cabinets need to consider matters, etc. In relation to other countries, there’ve been discussions, well-known, with Papua New Guinea for example, about various arrangements to break the people smugglers’ business model.

LEIGH SALES: So is it going to be – sorry to interrupt. Is it going to be a case of whichever of those deals is finalised first will be where these people are going?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, look, we’ll make further announcements at an appropriate time in relation to our discussions with other countries, but I did want to send the very clear message to people in Indonesia and Malaysia: you can’t get around this system, you can’t race to Australia. You will be dealt with under the new arrangements the Prime Minister and I have outlined and announced, which is that you will be processed in another country.

LEIGH SALES: OK, we’ve established that point about sending the message, so let’s put that aside. Why not process those people here? Aren’t they in limbo then if you’re still negotiating these deals before can you transfer them?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, their position we’ve outlined to them, which is that they’ll be transferred to another country. They won’t be processed in Australia.

LEIGH SALES: But what happens in the meantime? They’re just sitting there, aren’t they?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well they’ll be detained pending removal. They’ll have their very basic identity checks and their biometric checks and then they’ll be processed for removal from Australia.

LEIGH SALES: So how far away do you think you are from being able to tell us where they’ll be going and under what conditions?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, look, we’ll make further announcements when we’re in a position to.

LEIGH SALES: And do you know how far away?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, look, I’m not gonna put a timeframe on it, Leigh.

LEIGH SALES: Days? Weeks?

CHRIS BOWEN: The discussions we’ve had with other countries have been very productive, they’ve been very professional, as you would expect between Australia and our regional neighbours and there’s a spirit of goodwill because Australia’s not the only country that wants to break the people smugglers business model. There are other countries in the region that wanna do that do, who want to help Australia to do that, and they’ve been discussions that are advanced, but we’ll be making further announcements when we’re in a position to. It would be not appropriate for me to pre-empt those before those governments have finalised their consideration.

LEIGH SALES: You’ve not really been able to answer in detail any of the questions that I’ve put to you so far about these people, where or when they’ll be transferred. Why did the Gillard Government announce this Malaysia deal before the details are pinned down?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well Australia and Malaysia agreed that we’d reached the level of commitment that it was appropriate to make that public, that it was appropriate for both governments to announce that to our nations and to announce that more broadly and that would send a message about the seriousness with Australia and Malaysia are dealing with this. Of course there are always final details and operational matters to be worked through, but those discussions are very advanced and we took the joint decision between the governments that we were ready to make that public statement.

LEIGH SALES: But how do we the public trust that it’s not going to be another East Timor where something’s been announced and then it falls over later on?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well you’ve got a firm commitment from two prime ministers, the firm commitment with some principles outlined that 800 people will be transferred, that Australia will in turn resettle more people from Malaysia, 4,000 over four years, that people will not be returned to a country in which they’re in genuine fear of persecution from. So, this has been something built up over many months.

LEIGH SALES: So you’re absolutely certain it can’t fall over at this point?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well we have a commitment, we have a commitment from a sovereign government, a partner of Australia to enter into this agreement, yes.

LEIGH SALES: Given that East Timor was announced before details were locked down, we’re seeing the same thing with Malaysia and Papua New Guinea before the deals are completely finalised. Labor in opposition didn’t support offshore processing; now you have. Is this government developing a habit of crafting its policy in this area on the run?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well as I say, Leigh, take Malaysia for example. A long consideration, lots of discussions with Malaysia, lots of discussions while we’re being criticised for not engaging across the region when in fact we were engaging with Malaysia. But it’s appropriate that we let those discussions play out, that we talk to Malaysia about our concerns and what we’d like to do and that Malaysia consider it. And then, of course, when we’re in a position to announce it we did, but I completely reject the assertion that somehow this is being done in a speedy fashion, when as I say, first discussed with Malaysia last year, a range of discussions with them and then announced at an appropriate time; and a lot of consideration and thought from both Australia and Malaysia.

LEIGH SALES: Thailand has expressed interest in a Malaysia-style deal with Australia. Have we begun discussions with them on that?

CHRIS BOWEN: Not formally. Of course, Kevin Rudd’s in Thailand at the moment. I’ve been focused on the arrangements with Malaysia. I have said previously that I thought Malaysia provided a template for other nations, and nations interested in breaking the people smugglers’ business model. Thailand is a good friend of Australia and co-operates very closely with us on people smuggling issues and we do assist them.

LEIGH SALES: So you’d be interested in talking to them?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well certainly we’ll be discussing a range of matters with them, including matters that can break the people smugglers’ business model and they’ve expressed in doing the same, and that’s something very welcome. But we’re doing that across the region, Leigh, arising out of Bali process meeting – and I know people said at the time of the Bali process it wasn’t enough progress. I said it was because it provided that framework to allow further discussions as we’ve seen come to fruition with Malaysia already.

LEIGH SALES: Is the reason that countries like Thailand are interested in a similar deal because Australia looks to be in a weak position because we’re doing this five-for-one swap?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, not at all. And I completely reject the Opposition’s criticism of this, for example. We are taking 800 people who’ve not been processed, not been checked, may or may not be refugees, taking them to Malaysia in return for taking people who’ve been processed as refugees, mandated as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, had their health, identity and security checks, taking a very different group of people. And yes, we are assisting Malaysia with the 92,000 people they have on their books as asylum seekers. That’s perfectly appropriate. I think that’s a good thing and it should be welcomed. Remembering, Mr Abbott said he’d double the refugee intake in return for one vote on the House of Representatives floor. So he’s hardly in a position to be criticising us about that.

LEIGH SALES: Is all of this an acknowledgement that the option of a regional processing centre in East Timor is off the table?

CHRIS BOWEN: We’ve said that we don’t see that happening at any time in the foreseeable future. It’s been controversial in East Timor and has been so controversial that they won’t be proceeding with it. We’ve said that. We’ve also said that we had other arrangements that we’ve been pursuing and you’ve seen the results of that in the announcement with Malaysia.

LEIGH SALES: If I interview you on this program in a year’s time and the same number of boats are coming, or more boats, will that be an indication that these new policies are a failure?

CHRIS BOWEN: Oh, look, I certainly think that these policies will have a big impact on the people smugglers’ business model. I think they will have an impact on boat arrivals. It takes time, of course it does, for that message to get through to people in Indonesia and Malaysia, but I do think it will have an impact and that we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think it would.

LEIGH SALES: So does that mean that you’re answering my question that, yes, they will be a failure if there’s not a change?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well clearly, they’re designed to impact on the number of boat arrivals. We don’t want people getting on boats. It’s a dangerous thing to do. I don’t want to see any more Christmas Island tragedies. That was a terrible time for the nation, a terrible time of course for everybody involved. Nobody wants to see that happen again. I want to stop people getting on the boats and coming to Australia. I don’t apologise for that, because it’s not in their best interests. And yes, I think these policies are designed and will have an impact on that business model.

LEIGH SALES: Chris Bowen, thankyou very much.

CHRIS BOWEN: Nice talking to you, Leigh.

Yangon: Rohingyans Imprisoned for Traveling


By James,

Last week on about 10 April 2012, 14 Rohingyans from Akyab/Sittwe were arrested in various areas of Yangon during an operation conducted to check the guests. They were charged with illegally staying and absenting to report at Village Peace and Development Council-VPDC.

Despite they bear ’45 days official travelling permit’, authority arrested them.
They are currently detained in Insein Prison and had already appeared at the court. But the type of sentence is not yet known.

Again in the end of August last year, 9 Rohingyans were arrested in Tamu Township of Sagaing Region in northwest Burma near the border with the eastern Indian state of Manipur.
They coincidentally met with high-ranking authorities who were arrived there. After questioning, they were arrested and lifted to Monywa city for investigation.

They are identified as origin from Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Sittwe/Akyab of Rakhine/Arakan state. Four men from Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships have official ‘temporary registration cards’ and the rest have recommendation letters of VPDC.

However, they were brought to the Monywa Court separately four men and five men. Their documents were not proved and their explanation were not favoured in the court.
The court given the highest sentence of 5 years imprisonment for illegally trespassing into the country from foreign and bearing no official identity. Finally, they were sent to Monywa Jail.

Rohingya and Changes in Burma:

Despite current political reforms and sanctions lifting by developed countries are favour towards on going changes in Burma, the facts that continuous activating various restrictions and violations, denial of citizenship and ethnicity, remaining thousand of Rohingya prisoners, silences of opposition NLD and Thein Sein government in Rohingya issue, corroborate that there is nothing about Rohingya and nothing to do with Rohingya.

Rohingya Parties namely; National Democratic party for Development-NDPD and government backs National Development and Peace Party-NDPP and other politicians had submitted appeal letters to president Thein Sein on 21 Oct 2011, 28 Oct 2011 and 12 Feb 2012. For lawfully consideration and to remove the role of discrimination against Rohingya and attached a short account of the historical existence of Rohingya.

There is only one that Rohingyans have to trust much is upon Suu Kyi rather than NLD because NLD vice president U Tin Oo interviewed with RFA on 1st Oct 2011 and and immigration minister U Khin Yi interviewed with BBC on 2 Oct 2011, quoted the Rohingyans as illegal Bengali immigrants.

Anyhow, Burma’s first refugee Rohingyans do not find solution in home or exile therefore intl communities and world leaders must actively interfere to persuade to solve Rohingya problems.

The slang word ‘kala’ is still used to call Rohingyan and Hindu people in Arakan. Which was largely used against Indian community during Coolie strike in 1936-37 and Chinese community during nationalizing in 1963. But Rohingyans are treated much lower than the other kalas.

Looting and Arrest in Maungdaw:

A few days ago, a group of Rakhine people gang with weapons had looted properties and cashes from Rohingyan villagers.

The villagers identify this gang as armed members of Arakan Liberation Party-ALP who entered from Bangaladesh and have been newly relocated in Maungdaw after cease-fire agreement with the government.

Even though authority received accurate information about this gang, authority just arrested 11 Rohingyans and laid the charges upon them.

Three of them were released by 350,000 Kyats payments and the rest are still remaining in torture.

Members of ALP who were arrived for cease-fire talks, had been warmly welcomed by current Rakhine state minister and Rakhine people. While its head-office to place in Paletwa twonship of Chin state was rejected by people of Paletwa.

Communal Riot against Muslims in Pagu region:
A group of radical Burman people led by chairman of Union Solidarity and Development Association-USDA,had destroyed a mosque and 11 Muslim houses in Kamma township of Magway region on 13 April 2012.

Rohingya minority group presses US on Burmese sanctions


Source from BBC, 12 April 2012 A Rohingya refugee prays in Friday prayersLast year, Indonesia picked up 130 starving, dehydrated Rohingyas from a boat in its waters

A prominent member of Burma’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority has urged the US to limit any plan to lift sanctions against the country until the group’s human rights can be guaranteed.

This week Dr Wakar Uddin, chairman of the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America, met officials of the US state department, members of the Senate foreign relations committee and members of the House of Representatives human rights commission to urge caution.

His plea comes in the wake of the election to parliament of dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, and as the US reconsiders some of its two-decades-old suite of sanctions against the South-East Asian country.

In the meetings, Dr Uddin also called for the release of Rohingya leaders imprisoned since the 2010 election that brought President Thein Sein to power.

"If somehow the Burmese government manage to get sanctions lifted and the Rohingya issue is not resolved, we are finished," Dr Uddin told the BBC.

"There is no hope because they will not revisit this. Whatever needs to be done about the Rohingya, it has to be done before the sanctions are lifted."

‘Some positive steps’

In response, the US state department says it is concerned about human rights violations in ethnic minority areas, including restrictions and discrimination imposed against the Rohingya.

Dr Wakar UddinDr Wakar Uddin is one of only a few hundred Rohingya refugees in the US

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the issue during her meeting with Mr Thein in December.

In a statement, the US state department called on the Burmese government to take "concrete steps" to formalise the Rohingyas’ legal status and to "immediately end human rights abuses" directed at them.

The United Nations describes the Rohingya as an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority from western Burma.

But the Burmese government says they are relatively recent migrants from the Indian sub-continent. As a result, the country’s constitution does not include them among indigenous groups qualifying for citizenship.

The UN and other advocacy groups say their lack of legal status has led to systematic human rights abuses including rape, torture, abduction, forced labour, land confiscation. They are also forbidden to marry and to travel outside their villages without official permission.

The BBC approached the Burmese embassy in Washington DC for comment, but has received no response.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 1978 and the early 1990s. Twenty-eight thousand are sheltered in UN refugee camps, but the majority live in informal camps where they suffer from malnutrition and have little access to healthcare and education.

The United Nations Refugee Agency describes their plight as one of the world’s most enduring refugee crises.

‘Carrot and stick’

Jennifer Quigley, of the US Campaign for Burma, an advocacy group, says: "The US and the international community need to make citizenship and the treatment of the Rohingya a benchmark for lifting sanctions.

"The US is giving too much too fast. It doesn’t give any incentive to keep the reform process going."

While evidence of abuse is anecdotal and hard to verify because of restricted access to the region, Dr Uddin, a biologist at Pennsylvania State University, says his sources tell him that the Burmese government has stepped up oppressive action.

"The Rohingya situation – the human rights situation – has gotten worse since the election," he says.

But the state department says it has no "substantive evidence" the Burmese government has launched a co-ordinated crackdown against the Rohingya. According to a spokesman, some aid groups say conditions have even eased, with Rohingyas being granted more freedom of movement inside townships.

However, Dr Uddin fears the West is being distracted by apparent reforms elsewhere in Burma and wants an independent team of international observers to monitor the situation in Arakan State where the Rohingya live.

In January the government signed a ceasefire deal with Karen rebels who had waged a battle for greater autonomy for more than six decades. Western governments demand an end to the conflict before they will lift sanctions.

"The government is trying to show the West that they are dealing with the Karen and other groups by giving rights and making a truce," he said.

"But they are showing the carrot in one hand and the stick for us [the Rohingya] in the other. It’s a distraction and a diversionary tactic."

I Saved Suu Kyi at Depayin Massacre: Ex-Spy Chief


Source from Irrawaddy news, 10 April 2012

Burmese ex-spy chief Khin Nyunt talks to reporters after voting at a polling station in Mayangone Township on April 1. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma’s ex-spy chief Khin Nyunt has said that he personally intervened to save the life of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi during an attack nine years ago.

The former prime minister told the Bangkok Post Sunday that he saved Suu Kyi’s convoy from a pro-junta mob on the outskirts of Depayin Township in Sagaing Division on May 30, 2003.

“I sent my men to snatch her from the mob that night and they brought her to safety to a nearby army cantonment,” Khin Nyunt was quoted by the Thailand-based newspaper.

Despite the lack of an official death toll for the Depayin Massacre, Burmese dissidents claim around 70 people perished in the attack. The slaughter took place in Kyee village, on the outskirts of Depayin Township in Sagaing Division, central Burma.

Ohn Kyaing, a leading member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, told The Irrawaddy that he once had a conversation with Kyaw Soe Lin—who served as Suu Kyi’s driver at that time—about the incident.

“I curiously asked [Kyaw Soe Lin] about the attack,” said Ohn Kyaing on Tuesday. “He told me that he barely managed to drive out of the area and reach nearby Ye-U Town. When he reached the village, he met a group of soldiers who then detained them.”

In a book titled The Lady and the Peacock: the Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham, Kyaw Soe Lin said that as they entered Ye-U, armed guards forced them to stop, demanded to know who was in the car and made them wait.
Half-an-hour later a large contingent of soldiers turned up, he explained.

“One officer, apparently a battalion commander, arrived and put a gun to my temple and ordered us to go with them,” Kyaw Soe Lin was quoted as saying. “Daw Daw [Suu Kyi] nodded at me, so I did as they said. We were taken to Ye-U Jail,” he added.

The Depayin Massacre was launched by a pro-junta group consisting of members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association and the Swan Ah Shin militia, who blocked the road to prevent vehicles from escaping the ambush. They also shone floodlights from trees lining the route, which was partially covered with barbed wire.

There was speculation that Soe Win, who served as Secretary-2 of the former military junta at that time, masterminded the Depayin Massacre. It is believed that he ordered the attack without the knowledge of Khin Nyunt who served as Secretary-1. Three months after the attack, Khin Nyunt became the prime minister of Burma.

Khin Nyunt also told the Bangkok Post Sunday that he regarded Suu Kyi as his younger sister and had “brotherly admiration” for her resoluteness.

In the parliamentary by-elections of April 1, although no explicit confirmation was made by Khin Nyunt, many journalists in Rangoon believe that the ex-spy chief cast his vote for Suu Kyi’s NLD party.

Khin Nyunt told reporters after casting his ballot in Mayangone Township in Rangoon that he voted for a political party that he believed served the interests of civilians as well as in accordance with the will of the majority.

His son, Zaw Naing Oo, publicly went on record that he voted for May Win Myint, a candidate representing the main opposition NLD.

Khin Nyunt was also infamous for punishing political dissidents while in power. He was a key figure during the violently crushed 1988 pro-democracy uprising who ordered the oppression of political activists and sentenced many to years in prison.

After being freed from house arrest on Jan. 13, Khin Nyunt, in his 70s, told journalists that he would not get involved in politics but focus on social work.

He founded his own social charity group called the “Shwe Hmaw Won Foundation.” It provides financial support to education, health and social community initiatives. He also accepted the role as patron of Mya Yeik Nyo—a charitable foundation run by Khin Shwe, one of Burma’s richest men who is on the US sanction list.

26 Burmese ‘Shipwrecked’ on Timor Leste


Source from Irrawaddy news, 9 April 2012

DILI, Timor Lestw– An investigation is underway into the case of 26 Burmese asylum seekers who were on a boat that ran out of fuel en route to Australia, landing near East Timor.

The boat, with 26 Burmese asylum seekers and an Indonesian captain, left Indonesia on March 21 but ran out of fuel on March 27 near Wetali, on the south coast of East Timor, according to the East Timorese Prosecutor-General’s dispatch document on the case.

The document states the 26 asylum seekers, ranging from 14 to 46 years old, left Indonesia "without identity documents or passport" with the intention of looking for work in Australia.

The Indonesian captain reportedly swam to shore but the 26 asylum seekers, who could not swim, stayed on the boat until an East Timorese fisherman helped them get to dry land.

"This Timorese fisherman took them to report to the Uhakae village head Mr. Augusto da Costa Soares, then took them immediately to the Viqueque police station," the document said.

The East Timorese procurator-general said that immigration police officials could "promote or execute the expulsion of the 27 citizens that have entered and stay illegally in the national territory of Timor Leste."

Timor Leste’s Department of Immigration Chief Investigator Alfredo Abel said that since the incident the asylum seekers had been staying in hotels or apartments in Dili, organized by the Immigration Department.

"Now there is an investigation going on to find a solution for the 26 people," Abel said.

The International Migration Organization is assisting the East Timorese government to provide humanitarian assistance to the asylum seekers.

Abel said a decision was pending on whether to expel the asylum seekers.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship said the 26 asylum seekers had lodged no applications with the department.

So far in 2012, 18 asylum-seeker boats have entered Australian waters, while last years total was 69, the spokeswoman said.

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