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.