Tuesday 14 December 2010

A population in limbo

12 DEC 2010, http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?sec=nation&file=/2010/12/12/nation/7601348
Until things improve, something needs to be done to help refugees awaiting resettlement to third countries or until they can return to their home countries. 

WHO could have predicted that the fall of Saigon would impact Malaysia?
The capture of the South Vietnamese capital (now known as Ho Chi Minh City) by the North Vietnamese Army 35 years ago marked the end of the Vietnam War and the transition of a period leading to the formal re-unification of Vietnam under communist rule.
Making do: Vietnamese boat people at the Pulau Bidong refugee camp. Access to clean water is one of the basic needs of refugees. Malaysia’s first brush with refugees was with the South Vietnamese who came to be known as the boat people.
It led to a mass exodus of South Viet­namese who feared persecution because of their sympathies for the old government.

Many escaped by boat and ended up on our east coast, brought naturally by the tides. That was Malaysia’s first brush with refugees, who came to be known as the “Vietnamese boat people”.
“Refugees are people who are forced to leave their countries to avoid persecution,” says Alan Vernon, representative of the United Nations High Com­missioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“The fear has to be justified. You can be afraid but the fear might not be justified.”
“The absence of a legal framework makes it more difficult for refugees” ALAN VERNON, UNHCR REPRESENTATIVE
He stresses on this fact because many people do not differentiate between migrants and refugees.
Under international law, a refugee is defined as a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being prosecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion, is in a foreign land and unable to avail himself of the protection of that country.

In contrast, migrants come to Malaysia because of economic opportunities.
There are over two million foreign workers in the country now, not including illegal workers. Most hail from Indo­nesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, India and Vietnam.
“A migrant can choose to return; they might go back to poverty but it is not the same as facing persecution or the possibility of being killed,” says Vernon.

The UNHCR began its operations in Malaysia in 1975 with the arrival of the Vietnamese boat people and this remained its main priority until 1996, when the Comprehensive Plan of Action on Indochinese refugees was officially brought to a close.
For over two decades, the UNHCR assisted Malaysia in hosting close to 250,000 boat people before durable solutions were found for them. Over 240,000 Vietnamese refugees eventually resettled in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, France and New Zealand while some 9,000 returned to Vietnam.
As Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol that followed, the UNHCR is the main body protecting and assisting asylum-seekers and refugees here.
Malaysia also hosted thousands of Filipino Muslims from Mindanao during the 1970s and 1980s as well as Muslim Chams from Cambodia and Bosnians in the 1990s.
In recent years, thousands of people from Aceh, Indonesia, also sought refuge here.
These days, however, the main refugees are Myanmar nationals, mostly victims of their military junta.
As of October this year, 91,100 refugees and asylum-seekers have registered with the UNHCR. Almost 84,000 are from Myanmar, comprising the Chins, Rohingyas, Myanmar Muslims, Mon, Kachins and others.
Other refugees are from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Another 10,000 people of concern to the UNHCR remain unregistered.
While in Malaysia, these refugees await resettlement to third countries or remain until the situation in their home countries improves.

Globally, there are 15 million refugees but the total number of people resettled each year is fewer than 100,000. About 7,400 refugees in Malaysia were resettled last year.
Vernon says if the situation changes in their homeland, these people will ultimately return.
“When the situation improved in Aceh (after the signing of the peace agreement following the 2004 tsunami), the Achenese returned. Home is still the best (place to go). Everyone feels the same way. Even those Viet­namese who were resettled in Western countries are interested in going back,” he adds.
But until things improve, something needs to be done.
“What we don’t want is a population in limbo. That’s the nature of refugees – they are waiting for what happens next,” he explains.

Unlike decades ago, refugees today are moving around freely with the local community. They are spread throughout the country although most are concentrated in the Klang Valley.
In the past, the common solution for the Vietnamese boat people was to house them in refugee camps.
“But camp settings are negative as people are denied freedom of movement and conditions are squalid, with sanitation and hygiene problems. The camp becomes a way of warehousing people,” says Vernon.
At the height of the refugees’ exodus from Vietnam, more than 60,000 people were living in a cramped area of not more than one sq km in Pulau Bidong (an island off Tereng­ganu).
Maintenance of refugee camps, he adds, is costly and the running of a camp can amount to more than US$50mil a year.

Vernon believes the current urban setting allows the refugees to live freely and in better conditions although there are still issues that need to be addressed.
The absence of refugee legislation, he points out, makes it difficult for these people to earn a living. Refugees can only take on odd jobs and because there are no contracts involved, the tendency of them being exploited is very high.

Children are denied formal education, while health care is an expensive affair for refugees. Then, there are also the issues of arrests and detention.
“The absence of a legal framework makes it more difficult for refugees,” says Vernon. The UNHCR is urging host governments to put in place refugee laws and sign the refugee convention.
So far, 147 countries have signed the convention, with only Timor Leste, the Philip­pines and Cambodia being parties to the convention in Asean.

Vernon believes that many governments are reluctant to set conditions in place, believing this might attract more people to the country.
“Refugees are a global problem and governments have to work together on the issue and share out the burden.”
Vernon feels that Malaysia has done well so far, with help from civil society and non-governmental organisations.
From his personal experience, Malaysians want to help out once they understand the plight of the refugees.
“It could happen to anybody if things go out of control in a country,” he reminds.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Muslim Victims of Cyclone Giri Face Discrimination

 Source from The Sail, 5 Dec 2010

Letter to humanitarian communities by a youth Kyaw Zan from Myebon,

As we know, the recent cyclone giri displaced more than 100,000 people to homeless and killing at least 45 people while over 250,000 people were affected mainly in Kyaukfru, Myebon, Minbya and Pawtaw townships of Arakan state, Burma.

The distructions recorded as Burma’s the second largest disaster after Cyclone Nargis. But, the sources of devastations and detriments are unseenable by international communities. The victims needed both emergency and recovery assistances for normalization.

Despite the emergency assistences have been reached slowly and disributed by all humanitarian partners including government agencies, authorities, local NGOs, INGOs and UN agencies, the last hand-pickers are locals. The letter reveals they did not distribute yet to any Muslim victims. Some of their neighbour Rakhines had been berated for pointing to assist equally to those needy Muslim victims who are being more vulnerable than them.

Total affected Muslim family lists is estimated as; about 300 Muslim families from Fishing village and Prangfru village of Kyaukfru township, about 200 Muslim families from Myebon township, and some Muslim families from Minbya township. Although the emergency and a little recovery assistances have been supplied in Kyaukfru, Myebon and Minbya townships, Muslim victims were isolated from such assistances.
This are unacceptable behaviours against the victims therefore the aid supply groups require to monitor its workers to supply in equal term without any distinction.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Depayin and The Driver

DVB, 12 November 2010

Kyaw Soe Lin, Suu Kyi's driver during the Depayin massacre (Joseph Allchin)

It was May 2003 and a young law student named Kyaw Soe Lin was on a very special mission. As an organiser and legal aid for the National League for Democracy, he had been given the job of driving Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on her tour of the country. And as the stretch of detention that began in the bloody aftermath of this event comes to an end, DVB spoke exclusively to the driver at a house in Mandalay.
Suu Kyi had only been free for about a year when she set off from Rangoon. Her tour with other NLD members, including party secretary U Tin Oo, would take in the hoards of disenfranchised voters who had backed her and her party in such numbers 13 years prior.

The trip began in mid-April and the first stop was Monywa. As it progressed, the convoy received minor harassment from stone-throwing thugs and other intimidating behaviour.
But as it drove from Moegaw in Sagaing division back to Mandalay on 29 May, the first signs of real trouble came. What followed was a political crime of terrible proportions and a harrowing indictment of the newly-victorious Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

On 29 May, Kyaw Soe Lin recalls that the convoy came under attack from stones and catapults, with a number of NLD members left injured. Despite this, it continued and made it to Mandalay. The next day the party headed to Depayin district, and as they passed through the small village of Kyiwa, up ahead in the road were two monks who stopped the convoy, asking if Suu Kyi could address a gathering.
“I told Aunty [Aung San Suu Kyi] that we shouldn’t stop as we usually get harassed around dusk time. But the monks said they have been waiting for Aung San Suu Kyi since the evening before and requested that she give them a speech and greet them. They were two elderly monks sitting and waiting, so Aunty said we should stop for them.”

The two monks turned out to be imposters, and as the car stopped for Suu Kyi to consider the proposal, the wrath of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a civilian proxy of the military, was turned upon the convoy.
That day some 70 NLD members were killed by thugs from the party who last week committed perhaps the greatest fraud the country has known.

“When we stopped the convoy, [NLD] youth securities surrounded our car…and we were informed by the NLD members who protected our rear that a mob, including fake monks armed with sticks and other melee weapons, were approaching us in four or five buses,” said Kyaw Soe Lin.
“Then we heard they were attacking our convey and the villagers waiting for us. Then they came to us and started beating people up – some villagers and our members at the scene fought back. But Aunty told them not to retaliate. The attackers, clad in monk robes, arrived at our car carrying sticks and blades. They were all wearing white armbands. They started beating – their way of attack wasn’t actually chaotic but quite tactical/”
As they came under attack, Kyaw Soe Lin pleaded with the mob, protesting that The Lady was in the car. This made no difference, and, he suspects, probably only encouraged the mob, whom it is thought were trying to assassinate the Nobel laureate. And if it weren’t for Kyaw Soe Lin, it could have been that Daw Suu’s fate would have mirrored that of her father, General Aung San. He was gunned down in a political assassination in Rangoon in 1947, shortly after gaining independence for Burma.

“They carried on attacking the car and beat to death the youths [NLD members] protecting it,” he said, eyes twitching with the tension of the heinous memory. “Some just collapsed right on the spot.
“My anger then exploded and I was going to run over the attackers with the car. I stomped on the lever three times and reversed the car. The attackers had slipped a wooden stick into the car – I didn’t know when they did it. The stick was jamming the steering mechanism so that the car would flip when driven forward and it would look just like an accident. So I reversed the car and the wooden stick broke. It was stuck between a wheel and another part.

“As I reversed, they broke the windows on my side and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s side, and also on the side where Ko Htun Zaw Zaw was sitting next to me. They also broke the car’s headlights and the back mirrors were shredded to pieces. The car’s body was also smashed up.”

He tells the story in the gloom of a rainy Mandalay evening, lights flickering above. “I reversed but then I saw our youth members and the students who came with us all lying on the ground and I was worried that I’d run them over too. So I drove away to avoid them. We went a bit forward in the car and saw that three other trucks were blocking the road. I told Aunty there was something wrong with the car and drove towards them without turning away. The trucks looked like six-wheel Hino trucks.

“I pulled onto the side of the road when we were really close to those cars and slipped past them, only to reach to the area the attackers had designated as the “kill zone”. There were about 30 trucks with their headlights shining behind the attackers, who were armed with sticks.”
“There were about 200 or 300 people dressed in USDA uniforms holding posters. The attackers were so many.
“As our car got near there, they watched us in surprise. There were [NLD security] clinging onto the sides of our car and I worried that the attackers might pull them off if they got near us. So I pretended I was going to run into the crowd and they scattered away. Then I pulled the car back up onto the road and kept on driving. Then we saw there were road blocks set up all the way across the road. I knew that we all, including Aunty, would die if we didn’t leave there, so I kept on driving.”
As he drove through the mob, objects were hurled at the car, smashing more of the remaining windows and hitting him. But he drove on.
“Aunty asked me if I was okay. I said I was fine and kept on driving; if I stopped at the blockage, they’d beat us to death. So I ran over it and found that there was another layer of trucks blocking the way about four to five feet after the blockage. There was a gap left between the cars and I drove through there – luckily the car fitted right in the space. Then there was a line of policemen with their guns pointed at the car. I went through them but didn’t hit anyone, as they jumped to the side. As I drove on, I saw people with guns that looked like soldiers. Aunty said we should only stop when we reach Depayin.”

But Kyaw Soe Lin was lost, and having never been to Depayin before, didn’t know the route. Soon he stopped in a forest to try and mend the vehicle, which was packed with fellow NLD members, including The Lady. After making improvised repairs, he drove on and came to the town of Yea-U. But as he entered the town, security personnel stopped the vehicle and asked who was in the car. They were told to wait, and about half an hour later a large number of military personnel arrived.
“They came out carrying guns and surrounded us. About 15 minutes later, an army official – apparently a battalion commander – arrived and put a gun to my temple and asked us to go with them. Aunty nodded us to go, so we did. We were taken to Yea-U jail.
“We got there around 9pm and saw people apparently giving witness accounts of the incident. They were all wearing the same armbands worn by the attackers. Aunty told the police and intelligence officials there that she would cooperate with them if they promised to abide by legal procedures; otherwise they would just kill us all if they wanted. They promised to abide by the law and took Aunty with them.
“I was held for two days at the Yea-U detention centre”; two days in which the authorities intentionally denied Kyaw Soe Lin and his comrades food, only giving them water. After two days he was transferred to Shwebo prison and thrown in with the common criminals. He said that he was given worse food than the thieves and rapists who were now his co-habitants.

Soon he was on the move again – hooded and shackled, he was driven to a plane and flown to Hkamti.
“When we reached Hkamti, we were not fed. In the evening, they took away the egg and good rice given us from Shwebo jail, saying that they would feed us in the evening. They gave us a handful of un-husked rice with rotting fish paste which some people could not eat. Some people vomited.”

They were kept there and soon the interrogation began. They were told to say that the people in the villages who had welcomed them had been the ones who attacked the convoy. This, needless to say, they refused because, as Kyaw Soe Lin points out, the tour was officially sanctioned. “We took this trip in harmony with them [the authorities]. For this reason, if they beat us, let them do it; if they killed us, we have to die, she said to us. Because of that, we did not say what they wanted us to say.”

On refusal of their demands to cover up the violent political intimidation, the authorities began the torture, “stripped naked and candle wax dropped all over the body,” he recounts. “They forced us to sit on our haunches and one after another, kicked us like a football. The face was kicked too. And as soon as they entered the detention centre, they punch your face with fists. This is not a special detention centre’s interrogation – they carried out the torture because I drove Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s car. I was deliberately tortured.”
He continues in harrowing detail: “They had drunk before interrogating us. They stank of alcohol as they tortured us. And having tortured us, they went away again. Then they threatened us – they said they will electrify us; will keep us in the pouring rain. Not me alone, but all of those with me were beaten up. The sounds of ‘I am scared’ and smashing – I heard these. It wasn’t that painful when I was beaten up; it was more painful in my heart when [other people] were beaten.”

The appalling conditions were also part of the punishment. “My detention cell was slightly higher than standing height. On the floor, because it is rainy season, water was above knee-level. You can’t sleep, can’t sit. They handcuffed us behind our back from the day we arrived, and it lasted this way for exactly a month, day and night. They also came to interrogate at midnight and in the morning, and for the whole day.”
His detention was ‘only’ six months as there was no crime. This was not a judicial detention in any sense of the word; they couldn’t even conjure a vague law to detain the members of the convoy.

But like so many prisoners of conscience, Kyaw Soe Lin’s troubles did not end with his release. “When I came out of the prison, I resumed my studies. But they were following from behind relentlessly when I attended classes. Then I told one intelligence agent that we were doing nothing bad, nothing improper. ‘You released me because I am innocent. As it is so, I do not like the way you are stalking me now’, I said. Only then did they stop following me from behind. There was some stalking but no other harassment.”
He adds that it took him years longer than a normal law student to receive his licence to practice.
And so as Suu Kyi is finally released after more than seven years under house arrest, the immense injustice that she is fighting is almost visible on the troubled face of one of the closest witnesses to the harrowing events that put her back in detention in 2003, Kyaw Soe Lin.

And as the authorities – perhaps in an effort to divert attention from their fraudulent election and to appease a rightfully sceptical international community – release their most famous prisoner, that reconciliation and justice will be hard to find where impunity springs eternal from the hands of the military to its chosen minions.
“All those beaten up were imprisoned, but for those who carried out the beating, not one. No one knows who was behind the attack. And in the prison, we were beaten up for one reason or another. It was a deliberate way to torture. It is not like interrogation, just torture.”

Saturday 9 October 2010

The Unwelcoming Committee

Source from Irrawaddy news magazine- Vol. 18, No. 9, September 2010 
Resentment of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is giving rise to highly organized and increasingly vocal resistance to their presence
Sitting on a dusty balcony outside the local district office in Ukhia in southern Bangladesh, a group of smartly dressed men take turns speaking their mind. One man, taller than the average Bangladeshi, stands up. Throwing his fist in the air, he states the group’s objective.

Rohingya children in Bangladesh face a bleak future. (Photo: Yuzo/ The Irrawaddy)
“Those bloody naughty people, they destroy the environment, upset local law and order and sell drugs,” he says. “They must all go back to Burma.”

The rest of the group nod their heads and wave their hands to compete for the next opportunity to speak. Two things have brought this group of men together: grievances against Rohingya refugees who have settled in the area, and their powerful positions in the local community.

Together they have formed the Anti-Rohingya Resistance Committee, which has taken on the role of pressuring the government to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Burma. Despite their dedication to their cause, however, their goal remains highly ambitious and controversial.

Citing religious oppression in Burma, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh over the last three decades to seek asylum. Several times the Burmese government has made major pushes to flush the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, out of Burma’s Arakan State—the last one being in 1992.
Since then, the Bangladeshi government has allowed the United Nation’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, to register 28,000 Rohingya who fled before 1992 and provide them with shelter in two official camps. Despite growing domestic pressure to force them out of the country, a government official told The Irrawaddy, “The government remains committed to voluntary repatriation.”

A far larger problem is the status of a growing population of unregistered refugees who arrived after 1992. Settling in two camps—Kutupalong and Leda—which have evolved into slums of the official camps, these later arrivals are not permitted to receive humanitarian assistance. But as local communities intensify calls for their repatriation, the unrecognized refugees say it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to leave the camps to find food and work.

Crouched on the floor of her small mud hut, Aatika, a 27-year-old mother of four, described how she was recently beaten and robbed by locals as she was coming back to the camp after working outside for three days.
“They told me I should not be here, that we were taking all the local jobs,” she said as she tried to calm her crying child. “Then they beat me and took my money. It was terrible. We do not receive any rations, so I have to go outside to make money to feed my children.”
According to refugees in the unofficial camps, the attacks are becoming more frequent as resentment of their presence grows in Bangladesh. This has created a climate of fear among the refugees, who risk losing their earnings every time they return to the camp.

Before Aatika had finished speaking, a man began recalling his ordeal. Faced with severe food shortages in the camps, he traveled to work in a rubber plantation. After three weeks, he returned to the camp to give the money he had earned to his large family. Knowing that he might have problems going through local communities on the way back, he hid the money in his shirt collar.

But this did not help him when, as he approached the entrance to the camp, he was ambushed by five local Bangladeshi men armed with knives. They ordered him to hand over his money, ignoring his protestations that he didn’t have any. They searched him until they found it, and then beat him up for “wasting their time.”
His meager earnings taken from him, he had no money to feed his family or buy medicine for his sick second youngest child, who died soon afterward. Death among the weak has become a common occurrence in the unofficial camps, where a local leader said that at least six people die every day from malnutrition.

In February, the relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other groups highlighted the effects of involuntary pushbacks by the Bangladeshi government, resulting in a dramatic reduction of cases of forcible repatriation. Now, however, refugees report that arrests and imprisonment are becoming more common—something many say they fear more than being forced back across the border.

“When we are sent back, we are tortured by the Burmese army, but at least we can come back here when they’re finished with us. But if we’re sent to prison, we could be there forever,” said one refugee.
Despite the conditions reported by the refugees, Hamil Chowdury, the secretary of the Anti-Rohingya Resistance Committee, expressed little sympathy. He said the Rohingya receive too much assistance, while locals receive nothing.

The unofficial Kutupalong camp is home to thousands of Rohingya refugees. (Photo: Yuzo/ The Irrawaddy)
Cox’s Bazar, the district where the refugee camps are located, is one of Bangladesh’s poorest areas. Resources are scarce in this extremely overpopulated region, and many locals struggle to find jobs themselves, said Chowdury, who described the refugees as nothing more than a burden.

“Our area is so poor already, we cannot look after more people, especially when they are involved in crime,” said Chowdury who has strong links with the ruling Awami League party.

According to Chris Lewa, the coordinator of the Arakan Project, a group that advocates for Rohingya rights, politics is fueling much of the current anti-refugee sentiment, as local politicians gear up for promised elections postponed since last year because of allegations that some candidates had registered Rohingyas as voters.
“The Rohingya issue is still used for propaganda purposes among candidates and for their electorate,” said Lewa, who added that most of the Rohingya have since been purged from voter lists.

Leaders of the Anti-Rohingya Resistance Committee, which recently submitted a petition to the government calling for the closure of all camps, said the group will take action if its demands are not met. They warned of demonstrations and hunger strikes, and threatened to block roads to prevent refugees leaving the camps.
“If they do take matters into their own hands, we are very concerned because increased restrictions would mean more and more deaths from starvation,” said one refugee leader.

Another issue that could add to the problems of undocumented refugees is a proposed plan to issue national ID cards to Bangladeshi citizens. Anti-Rohingya groups support the move, which they say would make it easier to determine “who should be sent back.”
Lewa said this is now one of the biggest problems facing the unofficial refugees, who often hide in local communities when conditions in the camps become unbearable.

“Undocumented people are easily singled out, targeted and taken advantage of by the police,” Lewa said. “My recommendation would be that the government register them, either as refugees or, at the very least, by giving them temporary stay or work permits.”
Meanwhile, the Anti-Rohingya Resistance Committee said that their efforts are gaining momentum and that local communities would soon rise up to get rid of the unwanted refugees.

It remains unclear, however, if this surge in anti-Rohingya feeling will pass after the elections, or if the UNHCR’s plan to provide US $33 million in aid for the local population will help to ease tensions. But in the meantime, the Rohingya refugees continue to face food shortages and endure the burden of being stateless and unwelcome in both Bangladesh or Burma.

Saturday 2 October 2010

US Congress Calls on Burmese Regime to Recognize Rohingyas as “Full and Equal” Citizens of Burma

By Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK | September 30, 2010 

US Congressman Christopher Smith has today introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling on Burma’s military regime to immediately recognize the Rohingya people “as full and equal citizens of Burma”, and to lift all restrictions on movement, marriage and access to education. The resolution also calls for an end to the regime’s campaign of religious and ethnic persecution “amounting to crimes against humanity throughout Burma”.

Congressman Smith met Maung Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), earlier this year, during a visit to Washington DC organized by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Speaking about today’s resolution, Congressman Smith said, “This legislation underscores the plight and human rights abuses endured by the Rohingyas with the hope and expectation that the light of scrutiny will result in new actions by the many governments that can and should provide assistance and refuge to the Rohingyas. It is an international call to action to alleviate their suffering and persecution in every way that we can.”
In addition to highlighting the suffering of the Rohingyas in Burma, the resolution urges the government of Bangladesh to address “the dire humanitarian conditions and food insecurity in the makeshift camps” along its border with Burma, in co-operation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and to “desist from forcing unregistered Rohingya to return to Burma”. It also highlights the situation of Rohingyas in Saudi Arabia, and urges the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to allow Rohingyas “access to education and livelihoods”.

Addressing Burma’s crimes against humanity, the resolution urges the United States Government to “proactively support” the recommendation by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma for the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry.

Maung Tun Khin, President of BROUK, said, “This is an extremely important resolution, not only for the Rohingya people but for all the people of Burma. We are in full support of the call for a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity committed by the regime against its people, and we are grateful to Congressman Smith for his support.”

CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said, “We are delighted that Congressman Smith has introduced this very important resolution, which is the first time the plight of the Rohingyas has been given such attention. We hope that the regime in Burma will sit up, listen, end the cruel and dehumanizing treatment of the Rohingya people and restore their citizenship. We hope the Bangladeshi government will take action to improve the plight of Rohingya refugees, and that the United States will make the Rohingyas’ situation a priority.”

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk. To interview BROUK please contact Maung Tun Khin on +44-7888-714866

CSW is a human rights organisation which specialises in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.

Tags: , , , This post is in: Press Release

Friday 1 October 2010

Burma/Myanmar: FIDH calls for the public and unequivocal support of the European Union for the creation of a United Nations commission of inquiry on atrocities in Burma

Paris – Brussels – Bangkok – The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) addressed today an open-letter to H.E. Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and vice-President of the European Commission calling upon the European Union to support the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry in Burma/Myanmar.With this letter, FIDH, transmitted to the High Representative the latest report of its affiliated league, the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN – Burma), documenting the latest grave violations committed in Burma.

FIDH reiterated its call to the High Representative and the European Union to assist the Burmese people’s quest for justice and truth, by supporting the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry in the current session of the United Nations General Assembly and include such a demand in the proposed resolution to be adopted by the Assembly, with a specific fact-finding mandate to investigate allegations on war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed by all actors, state and non-state, in the country.

Under the international human rights law and the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council as well as the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect”, the European Union should take concrete actions in order to guarantee the security and the basic rights of large part of Burmese population.

Emmanouil Athanasiou
Responsable du Bureau Asie – Head of Asia Desk
FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme
17, Passage de la Main d’Or
75011 Paris, France
Tél.: 0033 1 43 55 25 18
Fax.: 0033 1 43 55 18 80

Recognize Rohingyas as “full and equal citizens of Burma,” urged US Congress

London – US Congressman Christopher Smith has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling on Burma’s military regime to immediately recognize the Rohingya people “as full and equal citizens of Burma”, and to lift all restrictions on movement, marriage and access to education. The resolution also calls for an end to the regime’s campaign of religious and ethnic persecution “amounting to crimes against humanity throughout Burma”.Congressman Smith met Maung Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), earlier this year, during a visit to Washington DC organized by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Speaking about today’s resolution, Congressman Smith said, “This legislation underscores the plight and human rights abuses endured by the Rohingyas with the hope and expectation that the light of scrutiny will result in new actions by the many governments that can and should provide assistance and refuge to the Rohingyas. It is an international call to action to alleviate their suffering and persecution in every way that we can.”

In addition to highlighting the suffering of the Rohingyas in Burma, the resolution urges the government of Bangladesh to address “the dire humanitarian conditions and food insecurity in the makeshift camps” along its border with Burma, in co-operation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and to “desist from forcing unregistered Rohingya to return to Burma”. It also highlights the situation of Rohingyas in Saudi Arabia, and urges the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to allow Rohingyas “access to education and livelihoods”.

Addressing Burma’s crimes against humanity, the resolution urges the United States Government to “proactively support” the recommendation by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma for the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry.

Maung Tun Khin, President of BROUK, said, “This is an extremely important resolution, not only for the Rohingya people but for all the people of Burma. We are in full support of the call for a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity committed by the regime against its people, and we are grateful to Congressman Smith for his support.”

CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said, “We are delighted that Congressman Smith has introduced this very important resolution, which is the first time the plight of the Rohingyas has been given such attention. We hope that the regime in Burma will sit up, listen, end the cruel and dehumanizing treatment of the Rohingya people and restore their citizenship. We hope the Bangladeshi government will take action to improve the plight of Rohingya refugees, and that the United States will make the Rohingyas’ situation a priority.”

Wednesday 1 September 2010

US rues ‘dictators in civilian clothes’

Merely “civilianising” Burma’s current situation will do nothing to transform the country, Washington has said in an apparent rebuke to rumours of a major reshuffle at the top of the Burmese army.The retirement from the military of the country’s three top generals, Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Shwe Mann, is seen by observers as a pretext for their role in the new civilian government that has been promised after elections, slated for 7 November.

The elections are Burma’s first in 20 years, and only the second since a coup in 1962 heralded the start of military rule. Than Shwe has resided over the country since 1992, but details of his role beyond the elections remain unclear: a foreign ministry official told DVB last week that he was retiring to become a patron of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), while other sources have said the move is a forewarning of his switch to the presidential role.

Not surprisingly, the news has not been welcomed by much of the international community who predict that the same military men will continue to pull the strings, despite a cosmetic change having taken place.
“A dictator in civilian clothing is still a dictator. The fact that they are moving out of uniform but still constricting the political space within Burma is a problem for Burma,” said US State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley. “And we haven’t changed our view. Just taking the current political challenge and civilianizing it is not the answer.”

The Obama administration earlier this month gave its backing to a UN commission of inquiry on Burma, the first step in investigating whether the ruling junta is responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as senior UN officials and top international jurists have suggested.

Crowley reiterated calls for the junta to take steps to “allow for an effective and viable political opposition and have a real competition within civil society in Burma” by opening political space and dialogue with ethnic groups.
He warned that if this does not occur now, “future elections, whether they involve military figures or civilian figures, will not be viewed as credible, free, or fair”.
The country will head to the polls in just over two months, but conditions in the run-up to the date appear to favour the likes of the USDP over the small faction of opposition and ‘third force’ parties who have been permitted to run.

Many have been forced to significantly reduce the amount of candidates they can field due to financial and political constraints – each candidate must pay a 500,000 kyat (US$500) fee, which is beyond the reach of most parties but manageable for the wealthy USDP.
Two of the most prominent opposition parties, the National Democratic Force and the Democratic Party, have said that together they will only field 200 candidates, while the USDP has put forward around 1000.

Generals in reshuffle buying diamonds, gold

Rangoon—Family members of recently retired top military officers and government ministers in Burma have been collecting diamonds, gold jewelry and solid gold, according to business sources.Diamond and gold traders in Rangoon said family members and relatives of those who have been recently removed from their top military posts and who will have to resign ministerial posts after the election, appear to be transforming their property into diamonds and gold.

“Ministers and generals don’t keep money in cash,” said a businessman in Rangoon. “They have converted it into strong and valuable items such as diamonds and gold. They don’t need to buy land and cars anymore because they already have as much they want. Those things are not as valuable and as movable as diamonds and gold that they can carry along with their families wherever they go.”

A number of jewelery dealers told The Irrawaddy that the generals’ family members did not come to the market to buy diamonds and gold, but instead send their close business associates and brokers to take care of it for them.

The current price of solid gold is 652,500 kyat [US $665] for one kyat-thar [approximately 0.015 kg].
A gold trader close to the regime’s top generals said gold bars and gold have been purchased in visses [one viss is approximately equivalent to one kilogram].

“It is really difficult to estimate the amount of gold they have,” said a gold trader. “For many years they have bought it, and they are still buying it.”
Family members of the generals are reportedly buying more diamonds than the ministers themselves.
“Diamonds are everyone’s fancy and can be worth millions or billions. Although it is small, it is a treasure that makes the possession stronger and more valuable. Families of top generals are particularly buying expensive diamonds,” said a diamond shop owner in Rangoon.

According to military sources in Naypyidaw, Snr-Gen Than Shwe is well known as the richest of the generals followed by the family of his deputy, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye.
Ministers Aung Thaung of the Ministry of Industry No. 1 and Htay Oo of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation are said to be the wealthiest among government ministers.

Almost all the important positions in the army have recently been filled with a new generation of army officers. The state-run media has been silent on the reported resignations of top military officials in the Burmese leadership structure.

Friday 30 July 2010

Thailand to sign Myanmar natural gas purchase deal

Bangkok – Thailand will sign on Friday an agreement to buy natural gas from the Zawtika field at the offshore Block M9 in the Gulf of Martaban in Myanmar from late 2013, Energy Minister Wannarat Charnnukul said.State-controlled PTT PCL (PTT.BK), as a buyer, will sign the gas deal with sellers, which include state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise and PTTEP International, a unit of PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) (PTTE.BK), he told a news conference.

PTTEP’s subsidiary owns 100 percent of Block M9, located about 300 km (185 miles) south of Yangon.
PTTEP is expected to supply an initial 300 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) from M9, of which 240 mmcfd would be delivered to Thailand and the rest to Myanmar. It is expected to have petroleum reserves of 1.4 trillion cubic feet per day.

Myanmar natural gas accounts for about 30 percent of Thailand’s consumption, mostly in power generation.
About 965 mmcfd of gas from the nearby Yetagun and Yadana fields is exported to Thailand.
The output from the Zawtika field will raise Thailand’s natural gas import from Myanmar to 1.2 billion cubic feet per day, sufficient to meet rising power demand in Thailand, Wannarat said. (Reporting by Khettiya Jittapong; Editing by Jason Szep)

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Malaysia's Never Ending Woes with Refugees

Malaysiandigest, 12 July 2010 

This is the first of the two-series interview with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia Alan Vernon, on several issues relating to refugees and asylum seekers.
KUALA LUMPUR, 12 JULY, 2010: Malaysia has been a heaven for refugees starting with the Vietnamese boat people who landed in droves on her shores following the end of the Vietnam War in April 1975.

At the height of the refugee crises about 250,000 Vietnamese people took shelter in Pulau Bidong (a small island off Terengganu's coast) before most of them resettled in third countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway.

Also, about 9,000 of the refugees returned to Vietnam.

Even after the Pulau Bidong camp was finally closed in October 1991, Malaysia till today remains a heaven for refugees from other countries.

Refugees are actually a global problem and there are 50 million refugees worldwide, said Alan Vernon, 56, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.    

UNHCR commenced operations in Malaysia in 1975 initially to deal with the Vietnamese boat people. UNHCR also helped the Malaysian Government in receiving and resettling over 50,000 Filipino Muslims who fled Mindanao to Sabah during the 1970s and 1980s.

UNHCR also supported the Malaysian Government in resettling several thousand Muslim Chams from Cambodia in the 1980s and several hundred Bosnian refugees in the 1990s.

Refugee Statistics

In Malaysia, at the end of May 2010 there were some 88,100 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR's office where they were given the UNHCR identification document.

At present, Myanmar is seen as the biggest contributor of refugees to Malaysia with out of the total, 81,600 are from that ASEAN nation.

The Myanmar refugees consist of some 38,900 Chins, 18,900 Rohingyas, 6,400 Muslims, 3,800 Mon, 3,600 Kachins and the remaining being other ethnic minorities from Myanmar.

"Many more are in Thailand and that country has possibly four to five million refugees from Myanmar because they share the common border.

"For them to come to Malaysia, it is more difficult. They also come here because they know they can survive here. If they cannot survive, they will not come.

"So I think Malaysia is a victim of its own success. If your economy is worst, you will have your own refugees," said Vernon.

Other 6,600 refugees and asylum-seekers are from other countries including some 3,500 Sri Lankans, 930 Somalis, 580 Iraqis, 530 Afghans and 200 Palestinians.

In terms of gender, 70 percent of refugees and asylum-seekers are men while 30 percent are women.

There are also a large number of unregistered refugees and asylum-seekers with their number estimated at 10,000 persons.

Not in Camps

One of the good things about refugees in Malaysia, as pointed out by Vernon is that they do not stay in camps.

The refugee communities live in decent low cost housings across the country, often sharing these spaces with large groups.

"Sometimes the people think camps are a good solution for refugees but generally what happened in camps is that the people suffer much, much more.

"You would also have a situation of forced dependency, people on welfare, people have to be taken care of in the camps.

"Very often when camps are created they tend to last longer than other kind of situations because the camps take on a life of their own," explained Vernon who has been the UNHCR Representative in Malaysia since November 2008.

His association with refugees goes a long way starting with the Vietnamese refugees while he was teaching in the United States in 1978.

He joined UNHCR in 1987 and held the position of Associate Resettlement Officer in UNHCR Field Office in Kuala Terengganu (1987-1991). His other postings with UNHCR took him to Sri Lanka and Geneva.

Vernon noted it was a very positive move that the Malaysian government allows the refugees to move about, which means they could find ways to take care of themselves and to fulfill their own requirements.

Refugees and Migrants

However, there is one important thing that Vernon will like Malaysians to understand, that is, a refugee is not a migrant.

UNHCR's definition of a refugee is a person who is forced to leave home based on a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of political opinion, ethnicity, religion or membership in a particular group.

"Luckily Malaysia has never had a situation like that. Malaysia has never produced refugees. We are very happy about that but are hopeful that Malaysians will be tolerant of the fact that refugees did not choose to come to Malaysia.

"They were forced to leave their homes and they cannot go back until the condition back home improves so that they are no longer at risk because of the fear that they face - imprisonment and possibly death.

"This is in contrast to migrants who made a choice to leave their countries for better economic opportunities or better education," stressed Vernon.

It is estimated that Malaysia has in the region of three to four million migrants with 50 percent of those being here legally.

Common Challenge

With no short term solution for the refugee problem, the common challenge is to find a way to fulfill the needs of the refugees and at the same time protect the interest of the host country as a whole.

For the record, Malaysia is not a party to the 1951 Convention and its Protocol relating to the status of refugees.

Becoming a signatory to the Refugee Convention is an important thing to do otherwise everything has to be done on goodwill. However, this is not predictable and it does not provide guidance to all levels of government.

"So there is a need to put in a legal framework. This is very crucial. This is to make sure they are protected, they are safe, secure until such time when they can go home. Some of them can be resettled but this can never be a solution for every refugee," he added.

Vernon told Bernama that there are fewer resettlement places than there are refugees in Malaysia.

He said his side submitted more than 10,000 refugees for resettlement last year but reiterated the best solution for refugees was to go home.

Managing the Issue

Where refugees are concerned, Vernon expresses his optimism that the success stories achieved with the Vietnamese boat people and the Achenese shows there is a solution for the refugee problem.

"When the Vietnamese boats started arriving in Malaysia in 1975 and increased in 1979, it felt like it would go on forever. But it was all over by 1991. The Achenese is another good example, they came and after tsunami they went home," he said.

According to him, Myanmar is a country that is likely to continue producing refugees for sometime to come.

"There is an election this year and despite the problems in the country we are hopeful that things would get better there," he added.

The practical reality is that, he said, Malaysia would need to think about how to deal with the situation in Myanmar. Malaysia being part of Asean should to take into account of the Myanmar refugee problem in its foreign policy and find ways to deal with the situation at the source.

"One of the challenges for Malaysia as it aspires to be a fully developed country by 2020 is that it will need to assume its global responsibility and one of those is to help the situation of refugees.

"The way it works has to be through partnership. UNHCR is here. Other NGOs and international communities can also help and I think there is plenty of space to manage this issue in a better way.

Wednesday 30 June 2010

The weak points of Burma’s ethnic resistance groups – Lt-General Yawd Serk

The Nation (Thailand), Tue 29 Jun 2010 

For more than 50 years, the ethnic resistance groups struggling against the Burmese military government have failed to achieve success. To identify the reasons for this failure we need to evaluate our weak points.
First, our love for the nation is mainly dependent on each individual situation and position. We have failed to find a strong unity that would enable us to reach our goal.

Second, on the political front, we laid out different policy objectives, with some groups aiming at a federal Burma and others wanting total independence. These different political ideologies mean we have fought against one another- a fight that has been fuelled by people’s lack of political knowledge and a lack of education that means many are easily manipulated.
On the other hand, the educated scholars are reluctant to face the hardship of struggle, and only provide moral support from the shelter of their homes. Very few educated people have made the sacrifice to come out and work for their people.

In addition, many involved in the struggle do not know how to differentiate between friend and foe. Faced with disagreement and disapproval, they break up into small factions and bow to the enemy. They become informants, giving the enemy knowledge of weak points of the resistance groups. They forget who the real enemy is.

Disagreement and argument are a natural part of internal affairs. But whatever the disagreement and however big the argument, we should not break up. We should come face to face, reconcile, compromise and find a way to beat the enemy. This means paying more attention and care to the role of alliances.
In the past, we made alliances not with our hearts but with words. These prioritised the interests of each individual and organisation over the common interest. When the enemy attacked one group, its ally failed to help, because it was not being directly attacked. But if the enemy defeated the first group, its ally would be the next target. This demonstrates that the role of an alliance should be to help one another finish off the enemy.
Third, putting individual ego before the national interest means no unified group can form – there are always splits in the gathering. Fights broke out among the groups over control of territory, but they failed to protect the people or rehabilitate country.
We could not beat the enemy because we were distracted by self-interest and disputes that weakened our unity. It is not the external enemy but the enemy within that has been responsible for the destruction of resistance groups. The lesson is clear: we must work towards reconciliation and building a strong unity via the right policies. Otherwise, there are too many obstacles on our path to success.
Fourth, if we compare our struggle with that of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh’s, our efforts are no match for his. We need competent political and military leaders as well as educated people. Our people need the capacity to develop.

Shan political parties are unreliable, as most of the politicians are stuck in their houses due to the threats from the enemy. The pressure and threats from the Burmese regime prevent them from laying out the same policies as the armed groups do.

If we adopted the same political ideology of self-determination, and united against the Burmese regime, it would not be difficult to lay out political strategies. But the ethnic minority groups that wanted to become part of a federated Burma have not been able to agree with those who were fighting for total independence. As a result, finding unity has been delayed. If the ethnic Wa, Palung, Pa-O and Lahu groups could accept that ethnic nationalities have lived together peacefully in Shan State since ancient times, then a new federated Shan State is not far away. We can overcome the difficulties and guarantee the rights of the ethnic groups through open discussion.

Fifth, when the armed groups began agreeing ceasefires with the Tatmadaw (Burma’s military), they lost political ground. The Burmese regime now has the upper hand in negotiations with them.
The ceasefire groups mistakenly believed that they would be able to talk politics with the regime. In the meantime, they thought they would be able to recruit, boost funds and stockpile weapons. However, the regime has played a clever game, preventing the ceasefire groups reaching both their political and military goals.

The regime offered ceasefire talks for two reasons:
1. The internal political conflict intensified in Burma after Aung San Suu Kyi became more actively involved in the politi cal movement. The regime needed to solve its internal problems first.
2. In 1989, many ethnic armed groups mutinied from the Burma Communist Party led by Thakin Pa Thein Tin. At this point, the regime was afraid that the ethnic groups would form into a single opposition force, so offered ceasefire agreements in return for concessions. The regime was desperate to prevent the groups forming an alliance with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

(This familiar tactic of the Burmese regime is often characterised thus: “When it is weak it will kneel down and beg for mercy, but when it is strong it will ignore your requests and cut off your begging hands.”)
Twenty years on since the policy of ceasefires began, the philosophy of solving political conflicts through political means has not materialised. Some ceasefire groups have abandoned their beliefs after receiving economic privileges from the regime, while others have been left in a dilemma over their political stance. With their political objectives derailed, they are now reacting to the regime’s oppression in an ineffective day-to-day way. As a result, lasting peace is even further from their grasp.

Moreover, if the ceasefire groups agree to participate in this year’s election or agree to transform into border guard forces, militia or police, their original political objectives will have clearly failed. The 2008 constitution is not accepted by all ceasefire groups but by contesting the election, they will automatically relinquish their political objectives.

Lastly, so far, the ethnic armed groups have only adopted guerrilla tactics in the struggle against the Tatmadaw. A large offensive with military strategy that could match that of the Burmese army has not been carried out. No central command has been formed, and battalions and brigades fail to take commands from their headquarters. In contrast to this weak and ineffective command structure, the battalions of the Burmese army obey orders from above in all cases. We have to face the fact that the Tatmadaw is stronger and better in controlling its troops. Even though the regime’s political and human-rights reputation has been shattered, their decades-long grip on power remains strong.

Lt-General Yawd Serk is chairman of the Restoration Council of the Shan State.

Sanctions force departure of Burmese general’s student daughter

Like many overseas students, Zin Mon Aye hoped to parlay her accounting degree into permanent residency. But her days in Australia were numbered once officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade learned she was on campus at the University of Western Sydney.

Ms Aye, 25, is the daughter of Brigadier-General Zin Yaw, a senior figure in the Burmese dictatorship.
Australia is a party to sanctions supposed to put pressure on the regime by targeting its leaders and their families.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith decided in 2008 that allowing Ms Aye to stay in the country would be at odds with Australia’s international policy on Burma.
She is expected to return to Burma within days, having fought Mr Smith all the way to the full bench of the Federal Court, and lost.

“Sadly, she’s being punished for something of which she is innocent,” said her lawyer, Tony Silva.
According to the court decision this month, Ms Aye said “she was estranged from her parents because of her father’s association with the brutal Burmese military dictatorship”.
She said she did not depend on her parents financially and had a full-time job waiting once she finished her masters at UWS.

Her argument was that Australia’s sanctions should not penalise “adult children of senior Burmese regime figures, who are not supporters of the regime”.

The three judges who heard her appeal agreed it must fail, although they split 2-1 on the degree to which she could challenge Mr Smith’s essentially political decision in the courts.

One judge, Bruce Lander, said Mr Smith’s decision directly affected her right to stay in Australia.
This meant he should have given her procedural fairness by allowing her to say whether or not she was in fact Brigadier-General Zin Yaw’s daughter. But since her identity was not in question, her appeal had to fail.
The other two judges, Jeffrey Spender and Neil McKerracher, took a more absolute position on the separation of powers issue.

They said Ms Aye was inviting the courts to second-guess Mr Smith’s sanctions policy. This they could not do.

Friday 25 June 2010

World – a hostile place for refugees

 Thestar, 24 June 2010


JUNE 20th was World Refugee Day. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), millions of people across the world are forced to flee their homes as a consequence of war and persecution and ethnic, tribal and religious violence.

They often leave everything they have behind and literally run for their lives. For most of us, it is hard to imagine what that must be like though there are no shortage of reminders. Just last week we witnessed heart-rending scenes on television of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks fleeing racial violence in Kyrgyzstan.
Unfortunately, the world is largely a hostile place for refugees. Many live in the shadows – unnoticed, exploited, abused, and unwelcomed.

It would be nice to say that things are different in Malaysia but they are not. Scattered across our nation are dozens of “detention centres,” our own little gulags, where thousands of refugees and illegal immigrants are incarcerated under appalling conditions.

They are deprived of even their most basic rights and endure countless indignities. Many are abused, suffer from malnutrition and die of disease. And, as even the government has acknowledged, they are often trafficked and sold into slavery as well, with the connivance of corrupt officials.

Unsurprisingly, riots break out from time to time in the camps. I suppose you can only push people so far before they break. These are not violent people, just desperate people.

Of course, there are no westerners detained in such camps for no western government would allow its citizens to be so treated, and neither would we dare treat them so. No, the camps are for those who have been abandoned by their own countries.

The vast majority in our camps, for example, are refugees fleeing repression and ethnic cleansing at the hands of Myanmar’s brutal military regime.
To our great shame, they find only hostility and further abuse here. Between 2002 and 2008, more than 4,800 Myanmar refugees were whipped for “immigration offences.” In reality, they were whipped simply for running away from the death and destruction that stalks them in their own land.
And the sad part is that these abuses have been going on for years as a consequence of official indifference and neglect.

In 1995, Irene Fernandez published a major report drawing attention to the abuse, torture and inhumane conditions in our detention centres. Instead of investigating conditions in the camps, the government of the day turned on Irene with a vengeance not often seen in our country. Irene endured nearly 13 years of harassment before she was finally acquitted by the High Court of the charge of maliciously publishing false news.

The 18th century English philosopher, Edmund Burke, once said that, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Good men in government did nothing about the abuse, and evil prevailed.
And it continues, as recent reports by Suaram, Amnesty International and others, clearly show. More Malaysians should take time to read the reports; they will be shocked to discover what is being done in their name.
When the government is prodded by international pressure or by negative publicity, action is quickly promised. Real change, however, is slow in coming.

In February this year, for example, the Home Ministry announced that the government was in the final stages of issuing identification cards to refugees so that they would get at least some recognition and protection. Unfortunately, “final stages” can last a very long time in Malaysia; the cards have still not been issued.
If there is political will and public support, surely it is not impossible to find a just solution to this problem. Surely a country that routinely takes in hundreds of thousands of contract workers can find a way to temporarily absorb the 80,000 to 100,000 refugees that now live in Malaysia. They might benefit our economy instead of being a drag on our international image and a blight on our conscience.

To be sure, the whole Myanmar refugee issue is a complex one and requires concerted action and coordination at the regional and international level. Malaysia should not be left to shoulder this problem alone. And certainly, national reconciliation in Myanmar is urgently needed, as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak recently pointed out.

At the end of the day, however, we have a responsibility under our own laws as well as under international humanitarian law to treat refugees with the care and compassion they deserve.
Malaysians make much about our faith in God. It is time we acted as men and women of faith. We must show mercy and compassion because we believe that God is compassionate and merciful. Our confession of faith is only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal if it is not matched by justice and compassion for these, the least of the least.

World Refugee Day has gone by without much fanfare but it is up to each and every Malaysian to give it meaning by sparing a thought for or lending a hand to help the refugees in our midst. It is up to us really if evil will triumph or not.

> Datuk Dennis Ignatius is a 36-year veteran of the Malaysian foreign service. He has served in London, Beijing and Washington and was ambassador to Chile and Argentina. He was twice Undersecretary for American Affairs. He retired as High Commissioner to Canada in July 2008.

Saturday 19 June 2010

Take urgent steps to address plight of Rohingyas

Source from thestar, 18 June 2010

Rohingya refugees are a forgotten group in South-East Asia, and their children are facing many challenges.
Out of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees, only 18,800 are registered with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

They are being marginalised and unspecific numbers of them are living life in sub-human conditions. They are considered illegal immigrants in this region.
Activists in Malaysia have found that there are at least over 8,000 school-age children who are deprived of their basic rights to education and other needs.

A number of them become street children as they need to find the means to survive.
In late 2009, the Malaysian Government announced that the Rohingya refugee children would be allowed access to our public schools, but this is a commitment that remains on paper only.
The education authorities at the local level still stick to the prior situation whereby the refugees are deemed illegal and thus their children cannot attend public schools.

Sadly, the Rohingya refugees are not being treated like the other non-Rohingya Burmese refugee children for whom volunteers from different countries are able to look into their education and financial needs.
I appeal to the international community to take urgent steps to look into the plight of these children.

Mohammad Sadek,
Program Coordinator,
Arakan Rohingya Refugee Committee (ARRC), Malaysia.

Sunday 30 May 2010

European Parliament resolution of 20 May 2010 on the situation in Burma/Myanmar

Source from European Parliament, 

The European Parliament ,
–  having regard to its previous resolutions on Burma/Myanmar,
–  having regard to Articles 18 to 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948,
–  having regard to Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966,
–  having regard to the statement made by UN Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana on 5 May 2010,
–  having regard to the Council Conclusions on Burma/Myanmar adopted at the 3009th Foreign Affairs Council meeting held in Luxembourg on 26 April 2010,
–  having regard to the statement made by High Representative Catherine Ashton on 1 March 2010 on the rejection of Aung San Suu Kyi's appeal by the Supreme Court of Burma/Myanmar,
–  having regard to the Chairman's Statement issued at the 16th ASEAN Summit held in Hanoi on 9 April 2010,
–  having regard to the European Council Conclusions - Declaration on Burma/Myanmar of 19 June 2009,
–  having regard to the Council Conclusions on Burma/Myanmar adopted at the 2938th General Affairs Council meeting held in Luxembourg on 27 April 2009,
–  having regard to the EU Presidency Statement of 23 February 2009 calling for all-inclusive dialogue between the authorities and the democratic forces in Burma/Myanmar,
–  having regard to UN Secretary-General's report of 28 August 2009 on the situation of human rights in Burma/Myanmar,
–  having regard to the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council of 26 March 2010 on the situation of human rights in Burma/Myanmar,
–  having regard to the Declaration issued by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on 14 May 2009 on the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi,
–  having regard to Rule 122(5) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  having regard to the announcement by the Burmese authorities of national elections in 2010, the first since 1990,
B.  whereas in their published form the five electoral laws and the four decrees violate all democratic principles and make the holding of free elections impossible, in particular by excluding the country's 2200 known political prisoners; whereas members of religious orders in Burma/Myanmar, including an estimated 400 000 Buddhist monks, are explicitly banned from voting, highlighting the perpetual discrimination by the military junta on the basis of religion or status,
C.  whereas these laws violate the basic principles of freedom of expression and right of association; whereas Burmese news media based abroad, which constitute the main source of news for the Burmese people, are still banned from operating within Burma/Myanmar,
D.  whereas these laws are based on the 2010 Constitution, which guarantees impunity for the crimes committed by the current regime and provides for the complete suspension of fundamental rights during the state of emergency, for an indefinite period; whereas Burma/Myanmar's new constitution is designed to maintain a dictatorship in a civilian guise, and does not grant any human rights or offer any prospect of genuine change,
E.  whereas any expression of dissident political views is systematically and brutally repressed (for example by means of arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, imprisonment, torture and extrajudicial killings),
F.  whereas elections cannot be considered free and fair if the opposition is not involved,
G.  whereas the National League for Democracy (NLD), the clear victor in the last democratic elections, has decided to boycott the elections announced for 2010, in the light of the conditions imposed on participation; whereas the NLD was disbanded by law on 6 May 2010, after not registering for the elections,
H.  having regard to the declaration issued at the 16th ASEAN Summit stressing the importance of reconciliation and the holding of free, regular general elections open to everyone,
I.  whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma/Myanmar has condemned ‘gross and systematic’ human rights abuses committed by Burma/Myanmar's dictatorship, stating that they constitute ‘a state policy that involves authorities in the executive, military and judiciary at all levels’, and has called for the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the dictatorship,
J.  whereas the Government of Burma/Myanmar continues to refuse the EU Special Envoy on Burma permission to visit the country and engage in dialogue, despite repeated requests over many months,
K.  whereas since 2003 the Government of Burma/Myanmar has rejected every single proposal by the United Nations and the international community to revise its seven-stage ‘roadmap to democracy’,
L.  whereas there are currently 2200 known political prisoners being detained for engaging in peaceful activities in Burma/Myanmar, and whereas more than 140 political prisoners are being deliberately denied medical treatment, including 88 Generation Student leader Ko Mya Aye, who has a life-threatening heart condition,
M.  whereas the military continues to perpetrate human rights violations against civilians in ethnic conflict areas, including extrajudicial killings, forced labour and sexual violence,
N.  whereas attacks against ethnic minority civilians in eastern Burma/Myanmar continue, resulting in hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, many of whom, owing to restrictions on humanitarian assistance by the dictatorship, can only be reached by cross-border aid from neighbouring countries,
O.  whereas Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition NLD, has been under house arrest since 2003; whereas on 14 May 2009 the authorities arrested her on charges that she had breached the terms of her house arrest by permitting the visit of an American, John Yettaw; whereas on 11 August 2009 a criminal court inside Insein prison in Rangoon sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi to three years' imprisonment for violating her house arrest, a sentence which was subsequently reduced to 18 months' house arrest; whereas on 1 March 2010 the Supreme Court of Burma/Myanmar rejected Aung San Suu Kyi's appeal against the unjust sentence imposed on her in 2009,
P.  whereas the EU remains a major donor to Burma/Myanmar and stands ready to increase its assistance to the people of the country, in order to improve their social and economic conditions,
Q.  whereas ECHO has reduced funding for refugees on the Thailand-Burma border, despite the number of refugees remaining almost the same, and has ended funding for boarding schools in refugee camps,
R.  whereas the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the European Union and many governments have said that the solution to Burma's problems is proper tripartite dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, genuine ethnic representatives and the Government of Burma/Myanmar, and whereas the Government of Burma/Myanmar is still refusing to enter into such dialogue,

1.  Reaffirms its unwavering commitment to the people of Burma/Myanmar;
2.  Condemns the holding of elections under completely undemocratic conditions and on the basis of rules which exclude the main democratic opposition party and deprive hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens of their right to vote and stand for election, in a clear attempt to exclude the country's entire opposition from the ballot;
3.  Deplores the fact that, under the new constitution, the military will be guaranteed at least 25% of the seats in parliament and will have the power to suspend civil liberties and legislative authority whenever it deems that to be necessary in the interests of national security;
4.  Strongly urges the Government of Burma/Myanmar to take without delay the steps needed to ensure a free, fair and transparent electoral process, including the participation of all voters, all political parties and all other relevant stakeholders in the electoral process, and agree to the presence of international observers; calls for the electoral laws published in March 2010, which make the holding of free and transparent elections impossible, to be repealed;
5.  Calls on the authorities of Burma/Myanmar to heed the appeals of the international community to allow Aung San Suu Kyi and all other prisoners of conscience to participate in the political process;
6.  Urges the international community to make every effort to ensure that free and democratic elections are held;
7.  Strongly urges the Government of Burma/Myanmar to lift restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, movement and expression, including for free and independent media, in part by making Internet and mobile telephone services openly available and accessible and ending the use of censorship;
8.  Strongly condemns the ongoing systematic violations of the human rights, fundamental freedoms and basic democratic rights of the people of Burma/Myanmar; calls on the authorities of Burma/Myanmar to put an end to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law;
9.  Urges the Government of Burma/Myanmar to release all prisoners of conscience without delay, unconditionally and with full restoration of their political rights and to refrain from further politically motivated arrests;
10.  Calls on the High Representative and the Member States publicly to support the recommendation of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma/Myanmar that the United Nations establish a commission of inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma/Myanmar, and to include this request in the draft resolution to be discussed at the United Nations General Assembly in 2010;
11.  Emphasises that the political and socioeconomic challenges facing Burma/Myanmar can only be addressed through genuine dialogue between all stakeholders, including ethnic groups and the opposition;
12.  Reaffirms the essential importance of a genuine process of dialogue and national reconciliation for a transition to democracy; calls on the Government of Burma/Myanmar immediately to open a genuine dialogue with all parties and ethnic groups; welcomes, in this context, the mediation efforts by the UN Secretary-General and the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma/Myanmar;
13.  Urges the governments of China, India and Russia to use their considerable economic and political leverage with the Burmese authorities in order to bring about substantial improvements in Burma/Myanmar and to stop supplying the country with weaponry and other strategic resources; calls on the governments of the ASEAN countries and of China, which have a ‘privileged relationship’ with Burma/Myanmar, to use their good offices in particular to try to reverse Burma's policy of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, which is resulting in hundreds of thousands fleeing over the border into Bangladesh and increasing the hardship of the ultra-poor living in the Cox's Bazaar district;
14.  Expresses its strong support for the continued work of the EU Special Envoy and invites the Burma/Myanmar authorities to cooperate fully with him;
15.  Welcomes the Council's decision to extend the restrictive measures provided for in the current EU decision by another year and emphasises its readiness to revise, amend or strengthen the measures already adopted in the light of developments on the ground;
16.  Calls on the Commission to reverse cuts in funding for refugees on the Thailand-Burma border and immediately start funding cross-border aid, especially medical assistance;
17.  Reiterates its call for a solution to the problem of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh; urges the Bangladesh Government to authorise their official registration as refugees and the Burma/Myanmar authorities to halt all forms of persecution of the Rohingya and fully to respect their fundamental rights as a religious and ethnic minority;
18.  Welcomes the European Union's support for a global arms embargo and urges European governments and the Commission actively to start working to build a global consensus in favour of such a ban;
19.  Supports the mediation mission undertaken by the UN Secretary-General and welcomes his commitment to solving this problem;
20.  Instructs its delegations for relations with ASEAN, China, Russia, the USA, India, the countries of South Asia and Japan to place Burma/Myanmar on the agenda for their meetings with their counterparts and discussion partners in those countries;
21.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the governments and parliaments of the Member States, the EU Special Envoy for Burma, the Burmese State Peace and Development Council, the governments of the ASEAN and ASEM member states, the ASEM secretariat, the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Burma/Myanmar.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Workshop on Rohingya Refugees in Malaysia

By Prof. Azizah Kassim

The above workshop was organized by IKMAS on 16 December 2009 at Puri Pujangga UKM to acquaint IKMAS Fellows and others interested in the study of transnational migration with the refugee population in Malaysia.
The focus was on the Rohingyas, a minority Muslim ethnic group from Myanmar who first arrived in the country in the mid 1970s. 

Numbering around 16,000 in October 2009, they are the second largest group accounting for over 27 percent of about 58,000 Myanmar refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia. Unlike other refugees, they are stateless, as they have been stripped of their citizenship by the present government in Myanmar. The workshop was designed to provide a platform for the Rohingyas to explain and discuss their problems and plight with other participants and to foster links between them and the academic community which could be useful to both parties in the future.

About sixty people attended the workshop, of which forty were Rohingya leaders from different associations. The rest comprised academics from UKM, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) and Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) as well as representatives from the Malaysian Government. 

Through the paper presentations and discussions which followed the non-Rohingya participants were made aware of the extreme hardships faced by the Rohingyas and their vulnerable position which opens them to abuses and exploitation; and made many, the victims of trafficking across borders. The workshop concluded that there is an urgent need for them to seek intervention and assistance from related donor agencies at the national and international levels and to facilitate this, the workshop resolved that the Rohingyas must unite the various groups within the community and form an umbrella body so as to be able to deal effectively with these agencies.

IKMAS thanks all the participants, especially the Rohingya representatives who took time off from work to attend the workshop and make it a success.

Seven papers were presented, six of which were by representatives of the community. They were as follows:
Session 1: Background to the Rohingya Refugee
Paper 1: Why and How Rohingyas Came to Malaysia
Speakers: Rafiqullah Islam (UKM) & Junight (UIA) &
Md Yassin (Rohingya Entrepreneur)
Paper 2: The Rohingya Refugees & the State in
Malaysia: A Profile
Speaker: Azizah Kassim (IKMAS, UKM)
Session 2: Leadership & Employment
Paper 3: Rohingya Refugee Associations: Leadership
Dilemma and Crisis
Speaker: Mohammad Sadek Ali Hosain (ARRC)
Paper 4: Earning a Living and its Challenges
Speakers: Abdul Hamid (USM)
Session 3: Social Issues & Challenges
Paper 5: Education for Rohingya Refugee Children:
Local Initiatives and External Support
Speaker: Muhammad Saifullah (Teacher)
Paper 6: Illnesses and Access to Health Services
Speaker: Habibur Rahman (ARRC)
Paper 7: Status of Women in the Rohingya Community
Speaker: Habsah Muhd Sukuma (UKM)