Monthly Archives: May 2012

Migrant Workers Speak of Suu Kyi Joy

Source from Irrawaddy news, 30 May 2012


Delhi plays reluctant host to Myanmar’s nowhere people

Source from The Time of India, 26 May 2012

NEW DELHI: Hands clasped behind his back, Nazeer Ahmad stands stiff. He’s in a lungi, kurta and skullcap at the edge of a huddle of men speaking to a reporter in the shade of a barely-there tin sheet propped up on bamboo stilts. Listless as he stands on a dusty, barren plot at southeast Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar, he doesn’t join the group. Only when the reporter moves away, he steps up.

"The UN has wronged us," he says. "The UN has given refugee status to all other Burmese refugees but for us. It says India doesn’t allow it. Why?" His eyes redden in frustration and shoulders droop as he pulls an 8- or 9-year-old girl to stand in front of him. "Why can’t I send her to school? Are my children different from others?" Ahmad is a Rohingya Muslim, one of an estimated 4,000 now in India’s cities. The Rohingyas are from Myanmar’s Arakan region, a strip of land the size of Kerala. It has India (Manipur) to its north, Bangladesh to its northwest across the river Naf, a range of difficult hills cut it off from the rest of Myanmar on the west and the Bay of Bengal to its south.

Activists say Rohingya Muslims are among the world’s most persecuted people. Bias against this ethnic Muslim group is racial and religious, say Rohingya scholars, and is rooted in history. Their ‘Indian’ – read non-Burmese – looks and their religion have been held against them ever since the 18th century when Buddhists conquered the Muslim-ruled Arakan. The hill tracts separating them from the rest of Myanmar added to their woes. They remained "outsiders". The attempt to depopulate the area and push Arakanese Muslims out has been a sustained campaign, says Tun Khin, London-based leader-activist of the UK’s Burmese Rohingya Organization.

Things turned ugly when the military junta came to power in 1972 and in two years, Rohingya Muslims were stripped of their nationality. Killings, confiscation of property, destruction of mosques and sexual attacks forced more than 200,000 out of the country. In 1982, a citizenship law declared the Rohingyas as "non-national" or "foreign residents". The Burmese authorities call them "naikanzha" (non-resident without right to land, law or rights) and the region’s Buddhists "thairansa" (residents), says Ahmad, flashing his non-resident Burmese ID card. Arakan’s people are Buddhist and Muslim, and the region was renamed Rakhine in 1989 when Burma was renamed Myanmar.

Their madrassas are padlocked, they have to pay heavy fines if they want to marry, which means most cannot, says 26-year-old Omer Hamza. They can’t send their children to school and they can’t stay over in other villages. The last is the reason most of them make the transit to India via Bangladesh, not directly through Manipur. Reaching the Indian border requires them to pass through villages in Myanmar, which is disallowed so the risk of being jailed is high.

Chased out, they live in the largest numbers in Bangladesh. About 600,000 live in camps in Saudi Arabia, 200,000 in Pakistan. Arakan has about 1.2 million Muslims, says Khin and the 900,000 who remain in Arakan form Myanmar’s largest minority group.

Ahmad fled with his children, wife and mother. The 50-year-old registered himself and his family at the UN’s human rights office in 2009. They issued him a letter recording his registration and a UNHCR card was issued to him in 2011.

Ahmad’s story repeats itself, with changes in details, in each of the approximately 50 tents under the banner of Darul Hijrat of Zakat Foundation, which are now home to about 300 Rohingya Muslims. They were sheltered here by the charity after they were chased out of their Vasant Kunj camp earlier in May.

Inside a tent, Rashida carelessly cradles a weeping three-year-old boy. Both she and the child are running fever; Rashida’s eyes are drawn and she sits tight. The 37-year-old finds it difficult to hold a full bladder all day.

Ever since they were brought here on May 15, the empty plot became ‘home’, but since the bathroom is an adjoining empty plot, the women wait till night to relieve themselves and bathe. "Where to go in these barren fields? It’s all in the open. It’s scary," says the mother of two daughters and five sons, hastily adding that she is not complaining. It’s not a matter they can discuss with the men, so Fatima simply sits tight.

She rushes to say she is grateful to the NGO for giving them ground under their feet, a cover over their heads, firewood for cooking and rice. The local MLA has promised to provide a water tanker every day.

Toilet inconveniences and health issues that the women face are, after all, no issue at all, they say, compared with the grave matter of their place in the world. Rashida says she simply can’t figure out why they aren’t granted refugee status, which would ensure "a taleem" (education) for her children – five boys and two girls.

But nations are cagey about Rashida and her fellow Rohingyas, uncertain where to fit them in a terror-wary and energy-hungry world.

Who is their leader? Are they a security risk?

About 620 Rohingya families hit the headlines in Delhi in April when they landed up unannounced in tony Vasant Vihar’s UNHCR office to demand refugee status. They first camped in Vasant Vihar, were evicted, squatted in Vasant Kunj, were thrown out, and then many dispersed while 50 families were given shelter by the charity which took pity on them. "It’s a humanitarian effort. We don’t know how long we can keep them. Let’s see," says the NGO.

As far as organizing protests go, it was a puny affair, their fight reduced to being a "nuisance factor" in new-age Delhi, the city that’s known to make space for refugees. Yet, the coming together of a poor people, rudderless and on the face of it leaderless, raised an alarm. Who is behind them?

The Rohingya leadership is elusive. Some of the more articulate are being pushed to speak up, following the media coverage of their protest outside the UNHCR office. A file of their papers includes appeals filed by a group named Myanmar Rohingya Refugee Committee, led apparently by Delhi-based Shomshul Alam, who lives in Khajuri Khas, Jammu-based Abul Hossin and a Mohammed Salim, who is also from Delhi, says Hamza.

In their Madanpur Khadar group, Nazeer Ahmad and Zia-ur-Rahman are engaging with outsiders. A couple of ‘leaders’ are studying in Deoband too. These are faceless people. It looks more like a desperate poor community cobbling together a representation of sorts.

Tun Khin says he doesn’t know of any organized group of the Rohingya Muslims in India. "The poorer ones with very little provisions are in India."

But many suspect a "hand" behind them. Their synchronized appearance, apparently out of thin air from across the country, led to a question in the Rajya Sabha with BJP’s Balbir Punj objecting to their remaining in the country and demanding a probe to identify the "organizer". After a monthlong standoff from April between the Indian government, UNHCR and the protesters, they were given permission to stay in the country till 2015 pending a series of verifications by sundry agencies.

Alongside, a strident letter to the PM and all-who-matter from VHP leader Praveen Togadia has demanded the Rohingyas be thrown out as they were a "security risk". Togadia, whose letter and a series of attachments are available online refers to a 2005 paper by security analyst B Raman. The paper says the Bangladesh wing of HUJI recruited a "number of Rohingya Muslims" and took them "to Afghanistan to fight Soviet and Afghan troops" in the 1980s. The VHP’s note on Raman’s paper names "24 Bangladeshi/ Rohingya mujahideen" who died during the Afghanistan jihad.

Raman also mentions that a Rohingya group is "projecting itself as HUJI Myanmar".
The Burmese regimes accuse them of being Bangladeshi infiltrators. One of the main attacks is to red-flag the bogey of Islamization of Myanmar via these ‘Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators’. In Bangladesh, where lakhs have taken shelter, they are called Burmese. "Where do I go?" asks Khin.

In India, the call to throw out the Rohingyas is also based on reports of a number of such Muslims joining terror outfits. How much is the security risk from shelterless people mired in misery? B Raman says, "We don’t know their background. We don’t know who they were in contact with. One has to be cautious." One of the reasons, says Raman, that Aung San Suu Kyi is not supporting the Rohingyas is because of certain Rohingya groups’ actions against the Burmese army. "While she is talking about some ethnic groupings, she has stayed quiet on the Rohingya," says Raman, adding that they should simply be repatriated.

One-way ticket out of Myanmar

They look hunted at the idea of a return to Myanmar. Hamza says the very thought of repatriation terrifies; refugee is the only status they can aspire to. "Whatever happens, we can’t return. They’ve taken our houses, our land."

"We can’t return to Myanmar and we aren’t allowed to be refugees. Where do we go?" says a shaking Ahmad, father of four sons and three daughters. "It will be double ‘zulum’. It’s not an option," chorus the refugees.

The trip from Arakan to Delhi took him just a week, says Hamza, now the maulana among the Madanpur Khadar group. He had a tiny farm in Arakan. Hamza escaped to India in 2009 in ‘jamadil awal’ or winter. The last straw was when the Burmese army picked him up in an extortion bid. Hamza’s brother, a petty shopkeeper, paid a hefty sum for his release. "We knew that now that they had got the money, they would target me again," he says.

The exit plan didn’t take long. "The route and arrangements are in place because people have been leaving for a long time now," says Hamza. From his Arakan village, it was a kishti (canoe) to Chittagong. He bussed it from Chittagong to Dhaka, which ferried "only Burmese", then a private vehicle from Dhaka to Kolkata and by train to Delhi. It took a week and cash changed hands at every checkpost from his village onwards, ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 3,000 at each point. "When a group moves, many get caught and are dumped in prisons. I was lucky," he says.

Being cautious over security reasons is one thing, hawkish another. The UN’s denying them refugee status and being satisfied with the Indian government’s extension of their stay is a big dampener for them. "We came to India because it is the land of ‘raham-karam’ (mercy and fate/ providence)," says Hamza.

The UNHCR card that they flash will "only ensure that the police don’t harass us. But we can’t send our children to school," says Fatima. This concern about the children is not a parrot-like drone; it seems born of watching the very many half-clothed kids running around in the dirt. "My life is finished, but I must think of the children’s future," says Hamza, aged 26.

Fatima (27), mother of three kids, reached India several years ago, got married here and has lived in several cities for stretches of six to seven months, returning to a given town after a gap. Jalalabad, Jammu, Muzaffarnagar, "some place in Haryana", and now in Delhi, she racks her memory. She says with a quiet smile: "We have no place to go. ‘Jaane ka koi rasta nahin’. (There are no roads leading anywhere). Wherever we go, we are chased away."

The Rohingyas live across India from Jammu to Hyderabad, from Uttarkhand’s Bagwari to Jaipur, in pockets in Jalalabad, Baghpat and Muzaffarnagar. These are the main places from where the 620 families came to Delhi, says Hamza, each city having its own loose network of "Burmese refugees". "We reach the country but have no fixed schedule. We move from a city when we are thrown out," he says matter-of-factly.

World salivates over energy-rich Arakan

The Rohingya Muslims need help in two ways: with a refugee status to those who have fled the country and putting pressure on the Burmese government to restore land rights to those who remain in the country. Rehabilitation of this ethnic group seems all the more important especially because of the terror links that have surfaced. But nations seem more likely to look the other way.

It’s not as if the world hasn’t heard of Arakan in resource-rich Myanmar, the country abundant in oil, natural gas, coal, zinc, copper, precious stones, timber and hydropower with uranium deposits thrown in too.

Arakan is Myanmar’s richest oil-producing region. Arakanese locals claim they have been extracting oil for over 300 years using makeshift pulleys. Whatever the actual history, Myanmar is certainly one of the world’s oldest oil producers, its first barrel exported in the 1850s. As per CIA figures, Myanmar could have 50 million barrels of oil and 283 cubic metres of natural gas. According to experts, gas will be the main focus of the much-needed foreign investment over the coming years, though there is little data on the extent of reserves.

With the military junta giving way to a civilian government that came to power in February last, the world is eyeing Myanmar hungrily. Strategic affairs analyst Robert Kaplan wrote in Stratfor, "Geographically, Myanmar … is where the spheres of influence of China and India overlap. Think of Myanmar as another Afghanistan in terms of its potential to change a region: a key, geostrategic puzzle piece ravaged by war and ineffective government that, if only normalized, would unroll trade routes in all directions."

He goes on to talk about the immense potential of the region. "At Ramree Island off the Arakan coast, the Chinese are constructing pipelines to take oil and natural gas from Africa, the Persian Gulf and Bay of Bengal across the heart of Myanmar to Kunming. There will also be a high-speed rail line roughly along this route by 2015.
"India too is constructing an energy terminal at Sittwe [Arakan] that will potentially carry offshore natural gas northwest through Bangladesh to West Bengal. The Indian pipeline would split into two directions, with another proposed route going to the north around Bangladesh. Commercial goods will follow along new highways to be built to India. Kolkata, Chittagong and Yangon, rather than being cities in three separate countries, will finally be part of one Indian Ocean world."

If that weren’t euphoric enough, "The salient fact here is that by liberating Myanmar, India’s hitherto landlocked northeast, lying on the far side of Bangladesh, will also be opened up to the outside. Northeast India has suffered from bad geography and underdevelopment, and as a consequence it has experienced about a dozen insurgencies in recent decades … Myanmar’s political opening and economic development changes this geopolitical fact, because both India’s northeast and Bangladesh will benefit from Myanmar’s political and economic renewal.
"With poverty reduced somewhat in all these areas, the pressure on Kolkata and West Bengal to absorb economic refugees will be alleviated." He signs off on an impossibly positive note, "If Myanmar can build pan-ethnic institutions … it could come close to being a midlevel power in its own right…"

The operative words being "if" and "pan-ethnic". A look at the state of the Rohingya Muslims, one can only wonder.

The road ahead

Rohingyas saw a ray of hope when the civilian government promised to talk with the many dispossessed ethnic groups in Myanmar including the insurgent groups. But once the government announced the groups it would be talking to, their name was conspicuously missing. "While the government has engaged in talks with several other ethnic groups, not even a whisper in the wind of talking about Rohingyas," says Khin.

Discrimination is growing, says Nurul Islam, president of the London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organization. In a March 29 interview, he said, "There is no change of attitude of the new civilian government of U 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."

For the world, their predicament has remained a blind spot. There’s little coverage on their plight.

The UNHCR, which takes care of ‘Arakanese Muslims’ in the region, does not mention the term Rohingya in its online literature on Myanmar, choosing to refer to them as Arakanese Muslims. "The UNHCR works in Arakan with an understanding with the regime. It is on a contract. Though Rohingya is established in international community, UNHCR avoids using the term," says Khin. Can lopping off their core identity help assimilate or mainstream this ethnic group?

The UNHCR says it supports the 800,000 Muslim residents in the northern part of the region that was renamed Rakhine state (NRS), who do not have citizenship." Its website says, "There has been no improvement in the legal status or living conditions of the Muslim residents of NRS. With the government’s response to the proposals being a reiteration of current policies, UNHCR foresees a continuing need for programmes to assist residents without citizenship in NRS."

Fears are strong that the coming 2014 census that the Burmese government has promised may bypass the existence of the Rohingya Muslims altogether. NGOs are stepping up their agitation in the run-up to the census, says Khin.

These fears were given credence by recent reports that senior government officials have said that there are no ‘stateless people in Myanmar’ while the immigration minister reiterated the allegation that the Rohingyas are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

At Madanpur Khadar, they have no place to go. And they are praying they will not outstay their welcome. The charity has taken no decision, but has provisioned for about a month, says Dr Najaf, its secretary.

Does India have reason to fear Rashida? If you look at the plight of this young population, not today. But if we don’t take care of her and her children, who knows what these kids will be doing a few years from now? They’re sitting ducks, easy prey.

Burma Freedoms Mean More Persecuted Rohingya Will Flee the New Apartheid

Source from Phuket Wan, 25 MAy 2012

PHUKET: Concern is mounting that the increasing signs of openness in Burma actually could mean harsher repression for the stateless Rohingya, and more boatpeople on the Andaman Sea off Phuket in coming ”sailing seasons”.
Boatpeople: 'Ugly as ogres' to some, neglected human beings to others Boatpeople: ‘Ugly as ogres’ to some, neglected human beings to others

Feeling more free now to speak their minds, the neighbors of the Rohingya in Burma – also known as Myanmar – are openly expressing contempt for the minority Muslim group, according to those with contacts in the isolated Rakhine state.

Some onlookers assumed that increasing freedoms in Burma would benefit the Rohingya in their quest to be accepted as citizens. But the opposite has proven to be true so far, says Chris Lewa, founder and director of a rights group, The Arakan Project.

”There is some evidence that the people who do not want the Rohingya in the region have been emboldened to become more outspoken about their land and their jobs ‘being stolen,” she said.

”The Rohingya are not mentioned by name and what’s being said does not constitute race hatred, but that could change.

”Although it is very difficult to make predictions, the reform agenda in Burma conscientiously excludes the Rohingya and they have very little support, even among Burma’s opposition parties.”

Although Rohingya can now travel between villages without requesting official permission, they cannot stay away from home overnight. Jobs and an income are denied.

Fears are also growing among those Rohingya who have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, where life in or around refugee camps is no better, as talk grows of forced repatriation to Burma.

The outlook for the Rohingya is not promising elsewhere in the region.

In Malaysia, the target destination for many who take to the sea looking for a better life, acknowledgement of Rohingya as refugees has ceased for the time being, possibly in an effort to reduce Malaysia’s appeal to others looking to escape.

There is growing concern now, as Western nations make concessions to a more liberal government in Burma, that the 800,000 stateless Rohingya will be the biggest losers.

Violence cannot be discounted.

Dr Wakar Uddin, chairman of the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America, was recently quoted as saying: ”If somehow the Burmese government [manages] to get sanctions lifted and the Rohingya issue is not resolved, we are finished.

"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.”

Lack of hope was echoed by Nurul Islam, president of the London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation, who 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.”

The word ”Rohingya” is seldom used by officials in any of the countries bordering Burma, even though they share the common problem of what to do with unwanted boatpeople.

In Thailand, where the inhumane ”pushbacks” of hundreds of unwanted Rohingya boatpeople were exposed in 2009, the military continues to determine policy, with mixed results.

Although the military says about 5000 boatpeople were detected in or near Thailand in the latest November to April ”sailing season,” others say the real number could be approaching twice that figure.

There have been no Rohingya held in detention in Thailand for about 12 months. There would be no point.

Those boatpeople who are apprehended cannot be sent back to Burma because they do not have Burmese citizenship.

The suspicion is that those who are apprehended are handed on to people traffickers, who pass them across the border, into Malaysia.

In looking for comparisons to the Rohingya and their treatment, apartheid in South Africa brings striking similarities.

While apartheid marked the subjugation of the black majority by a white minority, the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority appears to have the overwhelming support of most other Burmese.

There is no doubt that racism is at the heart of Burma’s disdain for Rohingya. The shame is that the world is now openly embracing a regime that endorses racial segregation.

Greg Torode, a journalist on the South China Morning Post newspaper, first exposed the depth of Burmese racism back in 2009 when he reported that a Burmese envoy based in Hong Kong, Ye Myint Aung, described the Rohingya as ”ugly as ogres.”

In a letter to all heads of foreign missions in the city, Ye Myint Aung wrote: ”You will see in the photos that their complexion is ‘dark brown’,” noting that the complexion of Burmese is ”fair and soft, good-looking as well”.

Racism at its most blatant and insidious offers up the most logical explanation of all for Burma’s treatment of the Rohingya.

Just as Ye Myint Aung was never held to account for his words, Burma has never been seriously questioned about its modern, apparently acceptable version of aparttheid.

85 Rohingya Boatpeople Land in Mon State

Source from Irrawaddy news, 25 May 2012

An Indonesian navy officer counts Rohingya refugees at a naval base on Sabang island in 2009 after the refugees were found floating at sea on a wooden boat. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Eighty-five Rohingya boatpeople who were picked up by Mon fishermen in the Andaman Sea have been landed at Aim Dein village in Ye Township, Mon State.

“They were at sea for two weeks,” said a local Mon woman had who voluntarily taken food and water to the destitute people. “Then they had engine problems during a storm and could go no further.”

According to local residents in Ye, only one of the boatpeople is a woman; the rest are men. They were put ashore at Aim Dein at 3 pm on Thursday by fishermen who picked them up while they were drifting at sea.

Aim Dein is a remote coastal village 10 miles from Ye in southern Burma or Myanmar.

“The boatpeople told us that 17 others had died at sea from starvation,” said an Aim Dein local. “They said they were en route to Malaysia.”

Later on Thursday, Mon township authorities, police and maritime officers interviewed the 85 boatpeople. No comment was made, however, on what would be done with the Rohingya boatpeople nor where they would be sheltered in the meantime.

On Wednesday, Maung Kyaw Nu, the president of the Burmese Rohingya Association of Thailand, appealed to Burmese MPs and to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to assist the almost 2 million Rohingya living in Burma and elsewhere.

Rohingya people perennially leave their homes and families in Burma and Bangladesh where they face extreme discrimination and are denied citizenship.

The Muslim Rohingya often find they have little alternative but to try to travel illegally across the Andaman Sea to try to find work in Thailand, Malaysia or another third country.

They are frequently described by human rights groups as “one of the most persecuted people in the world.”

Thailand is among the countries criticized for treating Rohingya boatpeople inhumanely. The Rohingya issue drew international attention in 2009 when the Thai military was accused of intercepting boatloads of Rohingyas, sabotaging their vessels, and abandoning them at sea.

Rohingya Appeal to Suu Kyi

Source from Irrawaddy news, 24 May 2012

A Rohingya mother and her children carry water from a stream to their refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (PHOTO: Reuters)

BANGKOK—An exiled Rohingya activist last night appealed to MPs and to National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi to assist the almost 2 million Rohingya living in Burma and elsewhere.

“I would like to ask our beloved Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out of behalf of Rohingya people, and ask for the return of our lost rights, the rights our forefathers had,” said Maung Kyaw Nu, the president of the Burmese Rohingya Association of Thailand.

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority living mostly in western Burma’s Arakan State where they are denied Burmese citizenship, and subjected to various forms of discrimination: they generally have to wait two to three years for permits to marry; are usually prohibited from leaving the village where they live; and are subject to human rights and other abuses by local civil and military authorities.

When Rohingya couples do receive permission to marry, they must sign an agreement that they will not have more than two children. If a couple marries without official permission, the husband can be prosecuted and spend five years in detention—with Buthidaung jail in northern Arakan State thought to hold prisoners in this category.

However, the Rohingya say they were promised equal rights by Burma’s colonial-era independence heroes, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, in return for their support in the struggle against British rule.

“In 1946 General Aung San visited my area,” said Maung Kyaw Nu. “He said to our people ‘I give you a blank cheque, please co-operate with me.’”

All told, around 750,000 Rohingya live in Burma, mostly in Arakan State in the country’s west, with an estimated 1 million more living in exile in Bangladesh, Malaysia, India and elsewhere—an exodus prompted by decades of human rights violations and discrimination.

Rohingya endure squalid and dangerous conditions in camps in Bangladesh and third countries, such is the oppression they face at home, say activists. Some Rohingya undertake a perilous sea journey to Thailand, where in 2009 Thai authorities were accused of pushing Rohingya boats out to sea and leaving the refugees to their fate on the open waters. Other Rohingya attempt get to Indonesia or Australia in search of a new life, including a group of 26 who were almost shipwrecked en route to Australia from Indonesia, subsequently helped to land in Timor-Leste by local fishermen.

The push factor could be increasing, according to Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson, who says relations between the Rohingya and the majority Buddhist Rakhine in the western region are deteriorating, even as Burma continues a recent glasnost. “While there are now some Rohingya MPs, some Buddhist Rakhine in the state assembly are raising issues for the Rohingya,” he said.

Phil Robertson says Burma’s treatment of the Rohingya and the country’s 100-plus other ethnic minorities is a litmus test for the government’s reform credentials. “Is there a place for the Rohingya in Burma?” he asked.

Thai photographer Suthep Kritsanavarin has visited the region. “Between the Rakhine and the Rohingya there is always tension,” he said, speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, where his exhibition “Stateless Rohingya: Running on Empty,” is on display.

Burma is scheduled to host a meeting of the Asean human rights commission from June 3-6. It seems unlikely that the Rohingya issue will be discussed at the get-together, as according to Phil Robertson, the Rohingya were not discussed during the commission’s last meeting in Bangkok.

“So far, Asean has been ducking this issue,” he said, asking: “Can Asean grapple with a fundamental regional problem, and solve it?”

Dhaka aid embargo hurts Bangladesh as much as Rohingya refugees

Source from, 24 May 2012

Blocking humanitarian aid to deter more Rohingya refugees is worsening a wider malnutrition crisis in Teknaf and Ukhia
MDG : Bangladesh : global acute malnutrition (GAM) in Kutu plaong refugee camp near Myanmar borderGlobal acute malnutrition in Rohingya children is now reaching 27% in the Kutu Palong makeshift refugee camp. Photograph: Misha Hussain

Rafiqul’s arm is no wider than a tube of sweets. The 18-month-old Rohingya refugee suffers from acute malnutrition and, without medical treatment and nutritional therapy, his chances of survival are becoming slimmer.

The latest survey by Médecins sans Frontières found that global acute malnutrition, one of the basic indicators for assessing the severity of a humanitarian crisis, is as high as 27% in the Kutu Palong makeshift camp, where an estimated 20,000 unregistered refugees live. It is almost double the emergency threshold of 15% set by the World Health Organisation.

Yet the Bangladesh government refuses to formally allow humanitarian assistance into the camp or the surrounding border districts of Ukhia and Teknaf. The majority of the estimated more than 200,000 unregistered Muslim Rohingyas in Bangladesh live in these two districts after fleeing persecution in neighbouring Burma, which is predominantly Buddhist.

Government officials claim humanitarian aid would create a "pull factor" for other Rohingyas, putting even more pressure on an already strained local labour market. A recent article in the Samakal, a Bangla-language daily, quoted a foreign ministry source describing Rohingyas as "excess baggage on the economy, society and national security".

Ironically, the policy of blocking aid for the Rohingyas appears to be hurting the host population as much as the refugees. A report by Action Contre la Faim (ACF), released this month, found disturbing statistics for Bangladeshi children in the districts: 16.5% of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition in Ukhia while the rate is 21.5% in Teknaf.

According to the report, the prevalence of acute malnutrition in both districts, two of the poorest in the country, has increased since 2009. The report cited decreasing purchasing power parity of agricultural day labourers, floods and the lack of humanitarian assistance as possible reasons for the malnutrition crisis.

The seasonal rains also have an impact on the availability of day labour such as construction, fishing or rickshaw-pulling. "Neither my husband nor I have been able to find work for more than three weeks [because of the rains]. We have no income, and no food," said Rafiqul’s mother, Rezana.

Clandestine humanitarian aid

The reports come exactly a year after the government rejected a $33m UN joint initiative aimed at reducing hunger and poverty for both Bangladeshis and refugees in the region. The government claimed it would draw more Rohingyas across the border.

However, Echo, the humanitarian aid arm of the European Commission, which funds three NGOs operating under the radar in Ukhia and Teknaf, is sceptical as to whether aid really does create a "pull factor". "Our funding in the Kutu Palong makeshift camp and surrounding populations has increased over the past two years. Yet there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in camp numbers, which on the contrary [have] significantly decreased," says Olivier Brouant, an Echo humanitarian expert.

Nevertheless, the NGO Affairs Bureau, the department responsible for granting work permits to NGOs, has denied any organisation that mentions Rohingya in their application. None of the NGOs working in Ukhia or Teknaf has a permit, despite having permission to work in other locations. This has forced a handful of aid agencies to run clandestine humanitarian programmes, creating additional challenges.

Without the permit, NGOs struggle to bring in cash for day-to-day operations, import medical equipment and treatment or ready-to-use therapeutic food, which is essential for children suffering from malnutrition. The NGOs work under the threat of being shut down if they communicate the grim situation within the districts to the international press.

Bangladesh, like many other developing countries with large refugee populations, is in an unenviable position. Its political leaders have to solve worsening malnutrition in the host population while shouldering the ethical responsibility of taking in refugees despite not signing the 1951 Refugee Convention.

In recent months, positive steps have been taken to address the former concern. A $2m joint World Food Programme-ACF community-based nutritional programme started this year aims to treat more than 15,000 Bangladeshi children suffering from acute malnutrition, as well as 2,000 pregnant and nursing women.

Unfortunately for the Rohingyas, the situation across the border seems no better. Despite progress towards democracy in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party has been non-committal on the Rohingya issue. The situation in Burma remains too fragile for the refugees to return home safely.

While the Bangladesh government weighs up its duty to its citizens with its moral obligations to refugees, Rezana and thousands like her do not know where to turn. "I’m damned if I stay, I’m damned if I don’t," says Rezana, "so where should I go?"

Chittagong a Part of Rohang (Arakan)

Source from
14 Nov 2005
written by Mohammad Sadek and Enayet Ullah (Thailand)

It is really dramatic that the Chittagong has fallen under the part of bagnaldesh which was always a part of Rohang (Arakan) for centuries.

Though it under the rule of Bangladesh; not under the rule of Bengal as Bengal covers the area unto Calcutta, a part of India. But, the impression over the people of Chittagong (ancient Islamabad) or Chatia has become to be Bengali under the policy of Bengalization, folding the people of Chittagong into one with other parts of Bangladesh.

Vast majority people of Chittagong are the Roi or Rohingya whgo were never ruled by Bengal and thus a small numbers of Chati or Chittagonian people has go down under the domination of Rohingya. They used to communicate in Rohingya dialect among each other, which is presently known as Chittagongian dialect.

History is evidence that the Rohang (Arakan) kingdom was the most familiar at all over the world from which the rule of peaceful co-existence was practiced there. The Rohingya are peace-loving, they have been living together with Rakhaing (locally known as Magh) and other nationalities of the Rohang (Arakan) and ruled the land for centuries.

But, some Rakhaing people do not want to accept or acknowledge the realistic history with their racism and communalism that harm on the humanity. They don’t want to be identified as Magh that may prove their origin of being from Magadah (Bihar) State of India and their lawlessness for whom a familiar saying is present as “Magher Mulluk” (country of lawlessness) that indicates to Rakhaing people directly.

As a result, the then influential Rakhaing leader Ngathandi appealed to the then Burman King Bodapaya to occupy the Arakan and to be the King of that land, which was succeeded in 1784 but he gained to be the Governor only. Later, the entire people of Arakan have fallen into the suffering of their miseries, which has been still existed unto present day.

The Burmese colonialist and Rakhaing communalist and racist have taken initiative to divert the name of Rohang and to divide the state into two parts. During that time, the British Empire occupied the India up to Burma’s east border and when the British Empire was awarding independent to the people, these in-humanists approached to them to apart the Arakan based on religious majority which was also a policy of the British Empire. So that, the Arakan fall into two parts such like apart in Burma and the other in Pakistan, likewise, the Bengal in Pakistan and in India, Kashmir in India and Pakistan, Panjab in Pakistan and India, Afganistan in Pakistan and Soviet Russia etc.

However, the origin and reality are undeniable and the issue shall arise in a day, when the people get free from colinialization and fall under the history of sufferings. As an example, today, the Rohingyas are the sufferers of the Stateless, though their land Arakan ancient name “Rohang” is being exist in both Burma and Bangladesh. They are neither accepted by Burma nor Bangladesh. Burma accuses of being Bangladeshis or Bengalis and Bangladesh accuses of being Burmese. They are neither Bengalis or Bangladeshis nor Burmese in the present days but they are “Rohingya” the people of Rohang or “Arakanese” the people of Arakan. They have their distinct identity in culture, religion, history and heritage etc.

Therefore, it would note that the governments of both Burma and Bangladesh must recognize the Rohingya as their indigenous ethnic groups as these governments are enjoying the benefits of the Rohinagys’ land that they rule for centuries. Otherwise, these countries must advocate their issues to the international community including the United Nations, European Union, OIC, Arab League, ASEAN, SAARC and etc. to make space for these unfortunate Rohingya to settle them there and to eradicate the problems of statelessness.

As Burma is ruled by the military dictator, involved in gross human rights violations, the international community would put pressure on the regime for the democratic reforms to award ability to advocate the people issues, rather than making worst.

Despite being democratic country, the Bangladesh authorities are deliberately ignoring the issue of the human rights of the “Rohingya” and oppressing them by various means who are already vulnerable and fighting for hand-to-mouth survival in condition of emerging crisis of hunger and poverty.

So, the Rohingya people would like to remind to those communalist and colonialist of Arakan and Burma to stop all sort of maltreatments against the Rohingya including Bengali accusation, discrimination, hatred policy, rape, torture, forced relocation, forced eviction, taxation, confiscation of their land, new Buddhist settlement, restriction on their travels, restriction on marriage, anti-Rohingya propagandas, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and extra judicial killings etc.

Though the Rohingya are sufferers in the present day, their fate may be changed in a day likewise the Israelis were the sufferers in the hands of Palestinians but now the Palestinians are the sufferers in the hands of Israelis. I don’t mean that the situation of Arakan will lead into such atmosphere but the humanity would be existed at all conditions and all times.

Lastly everyone should be realize the matter of the name of the people and its derivations like the people of Singapore are called Singaporean, Malaysia – Malaysian, Cambodia – Cambodian, Burma – Burmese, Bangladesh –Bangladeshi, Bengal- Bengali, Chittagong- Chittagonian, Arakan –Arakanese or Rohang –Rohingya. The ancient name of Arakan was Rohing and Chittagong was never a part of Bengal but with Rohang. So that the people of Chittagong may be included in Rohingya rather then Bengali, they are also Bangladeshis as it is presently situated in Bangladesh. Similarly, the Rohingya would have rights to be the citizenship in both countries of Burma and Bangladesh as their distinct identity is rightly protected and culture and heritages are rightly preserved. Ð


Writers are Rohingya activists, fighting for their due rights that lost after the occupation of their ancestral homeland “Rohang” (Arakan) in 1784.


Troubles continue for Myanmar’s Rohingya minority

Source from AFP, 21 May 2012

KLANG, Malaysia — For five years, Abdul Rahim Abdul Hashim was repeatedly press-ganged into forced labour at a Myanmar military camp, until the ethnic Rohingya teenager could take no more.

Abdul Rahim crossed the border into neighbouring Bangladesh late last year and secured passage on a rickety boat for the perilous 3,200-kilometre (2,000-mile) sea voyage to Malaysia.

"I could not stay (in Myanmar) anymore. We could not go to school, I could not get any job," said Abdul Rahim, 18, of the plight of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that alleges particularly acute repression under Myanmar’s government.

The newly civilian government’s moves to relax decades of military rule have been hailed worldwide and provided hope of a new era for majority Burmese and ethnic minorities who have long claimed oppression.

But refugees and activists say initial optimism is fading among many Rohingya — whom the United Nations calls one of the world’s most persecuted minorities — as repressive practices have continued and an exodus abroad shows no sign of abating.

"I don’t want to go back. There will be no change," Abdul Rahim said in the Rohingya language through a translator.

Myanmar has an estimated 750,000 Rohingya, according to the United Nations, mainly in the western coastal state of Rakhine bordering Bangladesh. Another one million or more are believed to already live in exile in other countries.

A Muslim minority in mainly Buddhist Myanmar who speak a Bengali dialect, Rohingyas claim decades of persecution by a government that they say views them with suspicion.

Activists say forced labour is common and Rohingyas face discriminatory practices including travel restrictions, limits on family size, and a refusal to issue them passports that leaves them effectively stateless.

"There is no change at the moment. The Rohingya still see no future," said Chris Lewa, director of Bangkok-based The Arakan Project, an advocacy group monitoring the Rohingya.

An estimated 7,000 Rohingya, some from exile in Bangladesh but also directly from Myanmar, risked the voyage to Malaysia since October, she said.

Many still flee to Bangladesh but Muslim Malaysia has steadily become a magnet due to its more developed economy and because authorities have closed one eye to illegal migration in recent years due to a need for cheap labour.

Malaysia has an estimated two million illegal migrants, most seeking economic opportunities, but the UN refugee agency said there also are about 97,000 legitimate refugees fleeing persecution or other hardship, mostly from Myanmar and including 23,000 Rohingya.

"The new destination country is Malaysia. This year it could be more than ever coming here," Lewa said.

Once in Malaysia, Rohingya remain vulnerable to harrassment and have limited access to services such as health care.

Lewa said Myanmar invited Rohingya to vote, stand as candidates and form political parties in 2010 elections, but adds that a corresponding offer of possible citizenship never materialised, crushing the hopes of many.

"While the new government has engaged in a series of reforms toward democratisation, there has been no real progress for the Rohingya, no change at the policy level and very little on the ground," Lewa said.

"Forced labour, marriage restrictions, restrictions on movement and arbitrary arrests continue."

Abdul Rahim embarked on the dangerous journey south along the Myanmar, Thai and Malaysian coasts with two dozen others aboard a small boat in Bangladesh.

"I was very scared," he said.

Intercepted by Thai authorities, they were detained in a jungle camp for several weeks and fed just once a day until Abdul Rahim and several others bribed their way out.

They eventually made their way by bus and on foot to the Malaysian border.

Those who make it must dodge Malaysian authorities while scraping out a meagre living through manual labour.

In a bare room in a residential neighbourhood in Klang, a port town 30 kilometres west of the capital Kuala Lumpur, scores of young Rohingya men recounted their troubles back home as they sat together after an Islamic lesson.

Abdul Rahim said he was regularly snatched from his home to help build roads, cut down trees and perform other hard labour at the military camp.

"In Myanmar we can never sleep. Now we can sleep here," he said.

Several of the men said they paid smugglers up to $1,000 for passage, yet now earn just 30 ringgit ($10) a day transporting boxes of produce at a local fishmarket.

Some harbour dim hopes of resettlement through the UN refugee agency to a third country such as the United States or Australia.

But others embark on the even longer boat journey to Australia via Indonesia.

"They have no hope. If they die (at sea), never mind. (They may) find a better life," said a Rohingya exile who only gave his name as Yahya.

Winners of the Human Rights Defenders Award

Source from US Department of State, 18 May 2012

The U.S. Department of State is pleased to announce that Ales Byalyatski of Belarus and Uganda’s Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law are the joint winners of the 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award. This award recognizes individuals or non-governmental organizations that show exceptional valor and leadership in advocating the protection of human rights and democracy in the face of government repression.

Ales Byalyatski has bravely advocated on behalf of victims of political oppression and their families despite harassment by the Government of Belarus. As the founder of “Vyasna,” one of Belarus’ leading human rights organizations, Byalyatski provided legal and practical support to victims of an on-going crackdown and acted as a key source of information about human rights violations. He is currently a political prisoner, serving a four and a half year sentence for defending human rights.

Uganda’s Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law is honored for effectively defending the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, often at great personal risk. The Coalition, which is comprised of 40 Ugandan NGOs, has successfully defended the rights of LGBT individuals in Ugandan courts, sparked public dialogue on LGBT rights in Uganda, and challenged widespread misperceptions and prejudices. The Coalition’s structure, effectiveness, and engagement with Ugandan civil society, government officials, and the Ugandan public provides a model for other human rights activists around the world.

This year’s nominees came from every corner of the world. Common World and the Little Bird Mutual Assistance Hotline in China, as well as the Mutual Support Group and the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights, from Guatemala were nominated organizations, as were an impressive group of individual nominees: Jorge Molano of Colombia, Adilur Rahman Khan from Bangladesh, George Freeman from Sierra Leone, Govinda Prasad Sharma Koirala of Nepal, Swaziland’s Justice Thomas Masuku, Igor Kalyapin from Russia, Zarganar from Burma, and Zaw Min Htut, a Rohingya rights activist living in Japan.

The United States stands with these and all human rights defenders and civil society activists who work hard every day, in every part of the world, to make real the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Burmese ‘Slaves’ Rescued from Thai Factory

Source from Irrawaddy news, 17 may 2012

Burmese workers are provided with food at a police station after being rescued. (Photo: BAT)

Nearly 150 Burmese migrant workers, who for up to two years had been locked inside a shrimp factory in Mahachai near Bangkok, were rescued on Tuesday by Thai police and social organizations.

Kyaw Thaung, a spokesperson for the Burmese Association in Thailand (BAT), told The Irrawaddy that his organization found out about the workers through an employee who had escaped.

“There are 146 workers altogether. They were placed in the basement underneath the factory and forced to work like slaves,” said Kyaw Thaung.

He said the BAT staff informed local authorities about the conditions in the factory and the plight of the desperate workers, but were told they would have to produce stronger evidence, such as photographs or videos, before the authorities could take further action.

The staffer, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Irrawaddy that he had to risk his life to obtain such evidence.

“I had to shoot photos and videos secretly, and I was afraid of being found out by the factory thugs or the police. I don’t have any documents to stay in Thailand,” he said.

After his evidence was submitted to local Thai police and a UN agency, the factory owner, Burmese charge-hands and security guards were arrested, and the workers were finally freed from bondage.

The rescue effort also reportedly involved the BAT, the Anti-Human Trafficking Division of the Royal Thai Police (AHTD), United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), the Foundation for Education and Development (FED) based in Thailand’s Phang Nga Province, and the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.

A male worker who escaped from virtual slavery told The Irrawaddy that some of the victims were trapped there for up to two years and that when unwell were not allowed to receive medical treatment. Everybody had to work approximately 20 hours a day without any days off, he said.

He also said that Kyaw Soe, the Burmese charge-hand who was arrested together with the factory owner, treated the workers cruelly and even slapped their faces sometimes.

“Once I got out of the factory, I felt I had gone from hell to heaven,” he said.

On May 15, Thai police in nearby Samut Prakan Province arrested more than 1,000 migrant workers, 386 of whom were from Burma, while the rest were from Laos and Cambodia. The arrest was carried out due to alleged drug dealing by some workers, Thai newspapers reported.

According to organizations assisting migrant workers in Thailand, there are about four million Burmese, only half of whom have official documents, currently working in the kingdom.

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