Sunday 26 February 2012

Suu Kyi feels sorry for Myanmar refugees

Source from Free Malaysia Today, , 25 Feb 2011
Despite having been kept in isolation and under house arrest for 14 years, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's priority is still freeing her people from the junta.
KUALA LUMPUR: Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi feels empathy for her fellow Myanmar citizens who have been forced to seek shelter as illegal refugees in Malaysia.
“I am very sorry that conditions in our country are such that the Burmese (Myanmars) have been forced to become refugees.
“We hope that the day will come when they will be able to return to their homes in safety,” she told reporters here over the telephone from Myanmar.
Released three months ago after being under house arrest for 14 years, Suu Kyi also had a few words for Malaysians.
“To the people of Malaysia, I would like to say, thank you for letting the refugees stay,” she said, without missing a beat.
Acknowledging that refugees were difficult issues for many countries, she said: “We would like them (the home countries) to look upon these refugees with compassion and understanding.”
Nearly 100,000 Burmese refugees reside in Malaysia, with over 10,000 of them children.
As refugees, they are not recognised here. Malaysia classifies them as illegal immigrants.

Help needed
As such, many have been mistreated and rounded up into detention centres.
Some have been trafficked, never to be seen again.
“We are trying to do everything we can to alleviate conditions in which they (refugees) are living in,” Suu Kyi said, calling on donor countries and NGOs for help.
She also said that there were efforts to create an international Burmese network for both refugees and migrant workers.
Nevertheless, the embattled Burmese leader said that Myanmar needed to change if the refugee problem was to be arrested.
“Nobody wants to run away across the border and live in refugee camps. They do so only because conditions here are so bad.
“In order to stop them from being a problem to the rest of the world, we have to try and change conditions in Burma.”
Political conditions
Myanmar has been under the thumb of a military junta for nearly 50 years.
Decried by many around the world as an oppressive regime, the junta has kept an iron grip over nearly all facets of Burmese life.
The junta has also detained more than 2,000 political opponents in the country.
Refering to the prisoners, Suu Kyi said: “They are kept in appalling conditions.
“The fact that I have been released is nothing to celebrate about, as long as there are 2,000 more still  in prison.”
The Burmese leader also denounced MPs in her country’s newest Parliament as nothing more than “showpieces”.
It is not difficult to see why, with sessions in Myanmar’s Parliament, the Hluttaw, lasting for not more than 15 minutes each.
Suu Kyi’s own political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was rendered illegal by the military junta in May 2010, months before the country’s first election in 20 years.
Even so, she said that her party still commanded a firm support base throughout the country, especially among Myanmar’s youth.

Media in Burma
Suu Kyi also commented on the junta’s direct control of her country’s mass media.
“There is no freedom of the media yet in Burma,” Suu Kyi said, referring to the recent arrest of Myanmar Times editor Ross Dunkley.
Dunkley, who founded the Yangon-based English-language weekly, was accused of assaulting a woman in January.
Although the woman withdrew the complaint, the junta decided to pursue the matter.
The Myanmar Times is also the only newspaper in the country with foreign investors, a detail which Suu Kyi questioned.

With a heavily censored media system, Myanmar stands at position 174 out of 178 countries, according to the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres.
“It would help if we could try to expand the limits of what journalists can do in Burma. I think we all have to work towards greater freedom of information.
“But I don’t know whether that kind of freedom (can be achieved) by investing in Burma’s media through the authorities,” she said.
Suu Kyi added that it was not practical to use Twitter and Facebook in Myanmar at this stage, due to stringent Internet restrictions.
“We have made an application to the relevant departments,” she said, adding that she hoped to use both tools in the future.

Middle East comparisons
Suu Kyi also told reporters that the current unrest in the Middle East was not reported in Myanmar’s media.
Nevertheless, she said that those familiar with events in the Arab world compared them with Myanmar’s own uprising in 1988.
Back then, thousands of Burmese civilians including Buddhist monks were killed by the military junta after holding demonstrations across the country.
Suu Kyi said that the Burmese have stood up against the junta many times before, only to be gunned down by the army.
While she said that the Libyan army was divided on how to treat its citizens, she added that the Burmese junta had no such inhibitions.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Rohingyas: a people both with, and without, an origin

Source from, 17 February 2012
There are some three to four hundred thousands of them in the city, but, according to the law, they simply do not exist. The Burmese Muslims - known as Rohingyas –make up a sizable portion of illegal immigrants living in Karachi, and, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are considered to be one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world.
Although they are often misconstrued as Bengalis, the Rohingyas, both culturally and linguistically, are very much different from the people of Bangladesh. “For the layman, they are all Bangladeshis, but the Burmese people are poles apart in every way, even in terms of facial features,” said Muhammad Khan Lodhi, an assistant director at the National Alien Registration Authority (Nara).


“The Rohingyas are a stateless people,” says Daniyal Rizvi of the Futuristic Foundation, a social research institute that works extensively on issues of illegal immigration and human trafficking in South Asia.

Rizvi said that a majority of the Burmese people living in Pakistan belong to the Arkan province of Myanmar. The Rohingyas are not considered Burmese by the government of Myanmar because they are not of a ‘pure Buddhist bloodline’.

In the late 70s, and again in early 90s, two major Rohingya exoduses took place. Their people were, for all intents and purposes, forced to leave their home country due to the imposition of laws that restricted their intermarriage and religious freedom. They took refuge in Bangladesh.

“There is not a single mosque in the whole of the Arkan province – a state where 70 percent of the population is Muslim, even after multiple resettlement programmes by the state to bring down the Muslim population,” added Rizvi, who has visited Myanmar nine times for research on these issues.

The Bangladeshi government does not consider them refugees. The Rohigyas live on the roads from Teknaf (the Bangladesh-Myanmar border) to Chittagong and are hounded by the police. They have no land of their own.

Life in the city

“My parents came to Pakistan because it is a Muslim country,” said Shabbir Hussain, a taxi driver and a madrassa graduate.

According to reports, there are 65 shantytowns populated by Rohingyas and Bengalis in which members of both communities live side by side. At least two such colonies are named after the Burmese lineage in Karachi: Arkanabad (named after the Arkan province in Burma) in Korangi Dai Number and a Burmese colony situated near Landi.

The Burmese population, like that of the Bengalis, is mainly employed by the city’s textile and fishing sector, where they have to work for ten to twelve hours a day. “They are the lumpen proletariat of Karachi,” says Salman Mukhtar, a senior social activist who works on poverty-related issues in Karachi.

“These people are basically migrant labourers. They have no legal status, no job security; they are virtually slaves to the whims of contractors who take work orders from textile and fishing companies to, for example, get an export assignment done,” he told The News.

“They work for the minimum possible wages; the Bengali and Burmese population, because of their low pay-rate, played a pivotal role in making Pakistani textiles competitive in the international market during the mid-80s and the 90s.”

Despite living in run-down shanty homes, where there is no access to electricity or clean water, the Rohingyas have managed to outstrip their Bengali counterparts in terms of being accepted by the mainstream Pakistani, a fact that does not bode well with the Bengali community leaders.

Political ambitions

The Bengalis claim that the Burmese, who started coming to Pakistan in the late 70s, call themselves Bengalis because they want an excuse to get naturalised citizenship; however, the Rohingya leadership denies having any link whatsoever to Myanmar.

“They have nothing to do with Pakistan. We are Pakistanis, we have been living here since before the fall of Dhaka, we gave sacrifices for the creation of Pakistan, we have a stake in this country,” said Masud-ur-Rehman, the general secretary of the Pak-Bangla Ittehad, a community-based Bengali organisation.

This turf war between the two groups has resulted in much political activism in recent times. Playing on the Bengali card, the Rohingyas have managed to form a party called the Action Committee which is backed by the largest political party of Karachi.

Mehsud’s claims were refuted outright by Abul Hussain Sonar, who is a member of the supreme council of the Action Committee. “We are Bengalis. We have no connection with Myanmar whatsoever. I am a second generation Pakistani. My parents migrated from Bangladesh in the 1960s.” Sonar claims that there are no Rohingyas living in Karachi, and that even if there are, there is a minimal number of them. The Bengalis, on the other hand, think that their political mandate is being exploited. Masud says the Burmese have money and are relatively better educated, which has allowed them to claim representation of the ethnic Bengalis in the city, who are at least four times more than the Rohingyas in number.

“If you actually make a comparison, you can see that there are a number of differences between our communities. For example, the Burmese have a tendency to send their children to madrassas; they are well-read and are a very close-knit community, which has given them an edge.”

Whatever the truth may be, one thing is for sure: the Rohingyas have successfully buried their violent past and have begun a new life with a new identity in the city of Karachi.

Friday 17 February 2012

Rohingya Denied Passports to Work in Thailand

Source from Irrawaddy news, 16 Feb 2012

Ethnic Rohingya from western Burma's Arakan State say that Burmese authorities in the Thai border town of Ranong have refused to issue them the documents they need to work in Thailand legally.

Ethnic Rohingya boat people wait for medical treatment after being rescued at a port in Aceh Province, Indonesia, in February 2011. (Photo: AP)

Around 20 Rohingya currently working on the Thai resort island of Phuket said that they have been unable to obtain "border passports" because local Burmese authorities have refused to recognize them as Burmese citizens.

"They said we were lucky they didn't catch us in Kawthaung [opposite Ranong on the Burmese side of the border], or they would have had us thrown in prison," said Maung Oo, a 35-year-old Rohingya man from Buthidaung Township in Arakan State.

"For us, it is difficult to stay in any country. Even in Bangladesh, India or Thailand," he added.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority from western Arakan State, near Burma's border with Bangladesh. Denied recognition as one of the country's more than 130 ethnic groups, they face persecution at home, forcing many to flee to other Asian countries.

According to Maung Oo, other Muslims he spoke to from Moulmein, the capital of southern Burma's Mon State, were issued passports. Only Muslims from Arakan State were rejected, he said.
"I was born in Burma and went to a Burmese school. I speak Burmese and am a Burmese citizen, but they still wouldn't give me a passport," said Sa Pwint, another Rohingya from Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State.

Sa Pwint said he and two friends went to the border twice to apply for passports, and were rejected both times because they came from Arakan State, even though they had documents to prove that they were Burmese citizens.

"They just said that all of our documents were fake," he said.
Nai Nyan, an ethnic Mon man who currently works in Thailand's Trat Province, said that when he went to Ranong to get a border passport, three Muslim women who traveled on the same bus were refused the documents.

"One woman cried in front of me. It was very sad to see," said Nai Nyan.
Andy Hall, the director of the Migrant Justice Program for the Bangkok-based Human Rights and Development Foundation, confirmed that the practice of denying border passports to Muslims from Arakan State appears to be widespread.

"I have previously received similar information, as have networks I work with, that people of Muslim ethnicity/descent"¦ were refused nationality verification (NV) temporary passports by [Burmese] authorities when questioned at the government's three NV centers in Ranong, Myawaddy and Tachilek if they said they were from Arakan State," said Hall in an email.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Burma: Homelands confiscation continues in Arakan

Source from Green Left, 5 February 2012
By Habib

Map of the 36 Rohingya villages of the Kyauktaw township in the western Burmese Arakan state along the Kaladan River.

Early in January, the Sa-Ka-Kha-9 military division based near the ancient Falom village seized about 50 houses and a mosque that had been built at the village's edge. It is one of 36 that are Rohingyan (a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority) in the Kyauktaw township in the western Burmese Arakan state along the Kaladan River.

These lands had been re-bought from the military by Falom villagers. For 17 years, until re-buying the land, the village consisted of 280 houses and some farm lands. The mosque was demolished by the military in 1995.

In recent years, the military sold-back some of these lands to the villagers. Villagers rebuilt about 50 houses and more are being built.

In 1995, the military forces led by sub-captain Mya Hlaing attacked villagers and drove them into the jungle. Dozens of villagers were detained and a few were brutally killed. The jungle was too deep and rough for the displaced villagers to live in.
Some of them went to other Rohingyan villages, some returned to stay around the graveyard of Falom village. The rest were settled near Namaungnya village.
In its latest attack, the military did not care that villagers have official papers for the land they bought back.

One Falom villager, Mr Noor, who has taken refuge in Australia, has approached Rohingya organisations to highlight his village's issue.
He said the military division responsible for the latest attack established itself near the village in about 1993 and forcefully occupied the village and lands in 1995.

The division then expanded its territory, using new techniques to extort money from villagers.
Despite promises from Burma's military-backed civilian government to end repressive policies towards Rohingya people such as "arbitrary fines, 'Muslim free zones' and extensive jail sentences," nothing has yet changed.

The fact is, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and the people of majority ethnic group within the Arakan state do not recognise the existence of the Rohingya people and they are still hostile towards them.
[For more information, Mr. Noor can be contacted at 0469 756 116.]