Saturday 30 May 2015
This boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants, including many young children was found drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe. Passengers said that several people had died over the last few days Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images
The country has a quota of 750 refugees every year under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) plan.
"It's quite possible we can accomodate some of this refugees under the programme," he said to a group of South-East Asian journalists taking part in the 40th anniversary of the New Zealand-Asean programme.
But he said the country would not increase the quota to accommodate more emigrants even though he was concerned about the situation.
"That's because we're trying to take a really comprehensive programme for the refugees," he added.
New Zealand was among 17 countries that took part in a special meeting on irregular migration, Thursday.
Key expressed his concern on the Rohingya migrants who are drifting into sea to neighbouring countries including Malaysia.
"We understand that they have no where to go," he added.
Separately, Key said he was increasingly confident that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) would be signed this year.
The international community's apathy toward the plight of the Muslim-Burmese refugees stranded at sea mimics the indifference that saw many Jews sent to their death. Will countries of conscience remain silent?
The persecution of the Muslim Rohingya minority in Burma has been among the world's greatest human rights disasters over the past century. However, this tragedy has only recently emerged as a hot-button international issue after the Rohingya have opted for drastic means to escape the sordid conditions faced at home.
Largely based out of Burma's Rakhine state and neighboring Bangladesh, the Rohingya have been persecuted for decades on the grounds that they are illegal immigrants, or the descendants of illegal immigrants. Since a 1982 citizenship law effectively rendered the Rohingya stateless, the Burmese government has barred freedom of movement while formally withholding access to education and subjecting adults and children alike into forced labor projects.
In 2012, the already apartheid-like conditions took a drastic turn for the worse. Deadly clashes between the Rohingya and the majority ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted, under the watch (and sometimes explicit participation) of Buddhist security forces. Roughly 140,000 Rohingya were displaced, forced and confined into sordid IDP camps.
Since 2012, the grim situation has spiraled into an undeniable humanitarian catastrophe. Institutionalized prejudice remains, while indiscriminate violence and virile rhetoric has increased. The world has failed to address the systematic persecution, and conditions are ripe for an even greater humanitarian disaster.
International indifference has fostered a reality where thousands of desperate Rohingya – 25,000 in 2015 alone – have turned to human traffickers to smuggle them over the Andaman Sea. However, the Rohingya are opting for a different sort of nightmare under the human traffickers.
Rohingya are packed by the thousands in rickety ships described as "floating coffins," largely devoid of food and water. If the Rohingya even survive the journey, they are often held captive in camps in neighboring countries until their families pay the traffickers a ransom. Mass graves of trafficked refugees have been discovered in Thailand and Malaysia – two countries considered by Rohingya to be a preferable alternative.
Thousands of Rohingya are currently stranded at sea, unwilling participants in a game of "human ping-pong" due to neighboring countries' hesitancy to accept refugees. Following international pressure, Indonesia and Malaysia – the very country that has allowed human traffickers to run amok – announced they would provide temporary shelter to the refugees, conditional upon their repatriation in a third-party country within the year.
There is an alarming historical precedent for refugees fleeing genocide by sea, only to encounter international apathy.
In May 1939, the SS St. Louis, carrying nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees fleeing the ever-worsening conditions in Nazi Germany, set sail for Cuba. Upon arrival, Cuba refused the vessel permission to dock. The ship then headed to the U.S., where passengers were so close that they could see the Miami lights. However, the Coast Guard refused to allow the ship to dock, despite the direct pleas of passengers and leading U.S. Jewish figures.
The ship returned to Europe, where passengers were repatriated by several states. More than a quarter of the ship's passengers eventually died in the Holocaust.
The similarities between the Rohingya flotilla and the SS St. Louis are quite disconcerting; even more worrisome are the parallels between the international indifference to the impending genocides.
When the SS St. Louis attempted to dock in Miami, the State Department sent a telegram to the ship's passengers telling them to "await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States."
One only needs to look at Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's appalling lack of empathy to shed the false pretense that the world has learned its lesson. Abbott emphatically refused to bring in the stranded Rohingya, saying that "Australia will do absolutely nothing that gives any encouragement to anyone to think that they can get on a boat….to start a new life. If you want to start a new life, you come through the front door, not through the back door."
On Friday, Thailand – yet another catastrophe-enabler – will host a regional summit aimed at resolving the crisis. Burma agreed to attend, on the condition that the word "Rohingya" is not used, instead referring to the refugees as "irregular migrants."
The international community convened similar conferences preceding and during the Holocaust. In 1938, Franklin Roosevelt convened the Evian Conference to resolve the Jewish refugee problem. Of the 32 participating countries, only the Dominican Republic expressed willingness to accept a capped number of refugees. Five years later, the U.S. and the U.K. met in Bermuda to discuss the ever-worsening Jewish refugee problem. Again, both countries maintained their immigration quota policies.
An undeniable historical precedent exists for what happens when international indifference meets a humanitarian crisis so far gone. As the Bangkok conference approaches, the question must be asked: Until what point will the world allow the parallels to accumulate?
Ben Samuels is an editor at Haaretz.com. He tweets at @Bsamuels0.
Seven Nobel Peace laureates call the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar a genocide and demand action as two-day Oslo conference ends
Tuesday 26 May 2015
WANG KELIAN, Malaysia Malaysia has found 139 graves, and signs of torture, in more than two dozen squalid human trafficking camps suspected to have been used by gangs smuggling migrants across the border with Thailand, the country's police chief said on Monday.
The dense jungles of southern Thailand and northern Malaysia have been a major route for smugglers bringing people to Southeast Asia by boat from Myanmar, most of them Rohingya Muslims who say they are fleeing persecution, and Bangladesh.
"It's a very sad scene... To us even one is serious and we have found 139," Malaysia's Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, told reporters in the northern state of Perlis. "We are working closely with our counterparts in Thailand. We will find the people who did this."
The grisly find follows the discovery of similar shallow graves on the Thai side of the border earlier this month, which helped trigger a regional crisis. After a crackdown on the camps by Thai authorities, traffickers abandoned thousands of migrants in rickety boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.
"We were shocked by the cruelty," said Khalid, describing conditions at the 28 abandoned camps, scattered along a 50 km (30 mile) stretch of the Thai border, around which the graves were found in an operation that began on May 11.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims are ferried by traffickers through southern Thailand each year, and in recent years it has been common for them to be held in remote camps along the rugged border with Malaysia until a ransom is paid for their freedom.
Past Reuters investigations have shown ransoms demands ranging from $1,200 to $1,800, a fortune for impoverished migrants used to living on a dollar or two a day.
Pictures of the camps shown to journalists by Malaysian police showed basic wooden huts built in forest clearings.
Khalid said bullet casings were found in the vicinity and added there were signs that torture had been used, without elaborating. Metal chains were found near some graves.
The first decomposed body was brought down to a police camp set up at the foot of the mountains where the camps were found on Monday evening, an operation that took nearly five hours due to the roughness of the terrain.
"The body was only bones and little bit of clothing on it," said Rizani Che Ismail, officer in charge of Padang Besar police department, adding that the cause of death was not immediately apparent.
Police chief Khalid said one of the grave sites was just 100 meters or so from the site where twenty-six bodies were exhumed from a grave in Thailand's Songkhla province in early May.
Thailand, under pressure from the United States to do more to combat people smuggling, launched a crackdown after finding that mass grave, since when more than 3,000 migrants have landed from boats in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Thai police said on Monday there were no human trafficking camps left in southern Thailand after a month-long crackdown.
But the crisis at sea is not over.
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR estimated on Friday that some 3,500 migrants were still stranded on overloaded vessels with dwindling supplies, and repeated its appeal for the region's governments to rescue them.
Malaysia and Indonesia have said they will allow the thousands still at sea to come ashore temporarily and ordered their navies to rescue people found adrift.
Thailand has said it will not allow migrant boats to land, but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Monday the Thai navy would help those in medical need.
"I have ordered the navy to take our boats and set up a floating command center to help those who are hurt," he said.
Most of Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Rakhine state. Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with majority Buddhists in Rakhine in 2012. They are denied citizenship and have long complained of state-sanctioned discrimination.
Myanmar denies discriminating against the group and has said it is not the source of the migrant problem.
The scale of the discoveries along the Thai-Malaysia border will raise questions about the extent of official complicity in the camps.
Malaysian police said in a statement that two police officers were among 10 people arrested so far this year in investigations into human trafficking, without giving details.
Thailand said earlier this month that more than 50 police officers had been transferred as a result of investigations into human trafficking networks in the south.
Malaysia's Najib said in a post on his official account that he was "deeply, deeply concerned with graves found on Malaysian soil purportedly connected to people smuggling.
"We will find those responsible," Najib posted in English.
(Writing by Alex Richardson; Additional reporting by Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur, Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Pracha Hariraksapitak in Bangkok and Randy Fabi in Jakarta; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Saturday 23 May 2015
The Philippines has said it is ready to help in solving the issue of Rohingya refugees stranded on ships in the region, making plans with UNHCR to accommodate about 3,000 migrants.
MANILA: The Philippines government has held a series of high level meetings with UNHCR to formalise plans to temporarily house the Rohingya refugees.
Earlier this week, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said the government is open to sheltering up to 3,000 refugees. Some analysts say such preparation is key for the plan to be successful.
"They are already scouting around for several venues, but the venue is the least of our concern," said Clarita Campos, political science professor, University of the Philippines. "It's more important to figure out the medical needs of the migrants, as well as other health and food requirements first.
"Then later on, we need to think about education and job requirements. All of this has to be planned out and planned well."
While it is unlikely the boats carrying the refugees will reach Philippine shores, the government has said they are looking forward to being part of the solution to this regional humanitarian crisis.
The Philippines will present its position at the May 29 meeting in Bangkok which will bring together more than a dozen governments from Southeast Asia and beyond.
The UNHCR's Philippines representative said the country has the necessary legislative framework to take in the refugees, such as the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940.
"The Philippines has experience dealing with refugee status to determine and to undertake individual interviews with people to understand the conditions which have pushed them into this ordeal - and to determine whether they are in need of international protection or not," said Bernard Kerblat, Philippine Representative, UNHCR.
The Philippines has had a long history of helping refugees, including persecuted Jews during World War II, Vietnamese boat people during the Vietnam War and the Chinese during the rise of communism and their civil war period.
But officials say proper measures also have to be in place to help classify these Rohingya migrants.
"They have to be able to establish their status," said Banuar Falcon, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines. "Some process has to be made available to them. There are reports that the migrants are a mix of members belonging to a persecuted community and other economic refugees seeking greener pastures."
A Philippine Refugee Processing Center was set up in Bataan in the Central Luzon area where previous refugees stayed before being re-settled elsewhere. That has since fallen into disuse due to lack of funding. But the government also said it was mindful of resource limitations while it is still implementing a rehabilitation and reconstruction program for areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
The Turkish government has sent Turkish military ships to reach the Rohingya Muslims stranded off Thailand and Malaysia
World Bulletin / News Desk
The Turkish navy is carrying out efforts to reach Rohingya Muslims stranded in boats off the coast of Thailand and Malaysia, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said.
Addressing a group of young people at Çankaya Palace May 19, Davutoğlu said that Turkey was doing its best to reach Rohingya Muslims at sea with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with the help of a ship from the Turkish Armed Forces already sailing in the region.
Some 7,000 to 8,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants are currently thought to be in the Malacca Straits, unable to disembark because of crackdowns on trafficking networks in Thailand and Malaysia, their primary destination.
Boats carrying about 500 members of Myanmar's long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim community washed ashore in western Indonesia on May 10, with some people in need of medical attention, a migration official and a human rights advocate said.
The men, women and children arrived on two separate boats, holding 430 people and 70 people respectively, said Steve Hamilton, deputy chief of mission at the IOM in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital.
Rohingya Muslims have suffered for decades from state-sanctioned discrimination in Myanmar.
Attacks on the religious minority by Buddhist mobs in the last three years have sparked one of the biggest exoduses of boat people since the Vietnam War, sending 100,000 people fleeing, according to Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project. The project has monitored the movements of Rohingya for more than a decade.
Tightly confined and with limited access to food and clean water, Lewa said she worries that the migrants' health is steadily deteriorating. Dozens of deaths have been reported in the last few months.
Sunday 17 May 2015
Saturday 16 May 2015
Interview with Dr Maung Zarni
Grave atrocities Rohingya people are facing in Myanmar, also known as Burma, is alarming. The Rohingya people numbering 1,3 million is a Muslim minority living in the Arakan state in western Myanmar. Although they are living in the country for generations they are denied citizenship and basic necessities including basic healthcare, work and schooling. They are primary targets of hate crimes and discrimination amounting to genocide fueled by extremist nationalist Buddhist monks and Thein Sein government. Yet there are notable figures within the country who embrace Rohingya struggle and dares to speak about the condition of Rohingya. Buddhist scholar Dr Maung Zarni, member of the Permanent People's Tribunal on Sri Lanka and a co-author of The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar's Rohingya (2014) is an outspoken critic of racist nationalism and violence in his native country. As a prominent dissident of semi-military regime of Thein Sein, he has fled from Myanmar due to safety concerns and resides in London. We conducted an interview via email with Dr Zarni offering invaluable insights into the complex sociopolitical situation in Myanmar today.
Some Rakhine Buddhists argue that they are falsely accused and they are real victims who are under constant threat in their own land. Do you think this is true? Do you think that both Muslims and Buddhists have equal share in escalating violence?
Both Rohingyas and Rakhines are victims of Burmese oppression. The Rohingyas fare worst as they suffer from double-oppression: the legalized persecution by the Burmese central government since early 1978, and direct and state-organized terror campaigns to drive them out of Burma -on grounds that they pose a "threat to national security" because of their historical and anthropological link with former East Bengal (East Pakistan until 1973 and Bangladesh since Bangladesh's independence in 1973)- and the racist and majority Buddhist Rakhine who treat them like dirt.
The Rakhines are a colonized people by the Buddhist Burmese since 1785 when their kingdom was decimated by the invading Burmese. The Rakhines outnumber Rohingya by 3/1. Rakhines man local administrative and authority structure, in addition. So, when Rakhines say they are threatened by the Rohingyas, it is really a case of Rakhines scapegoating the Rohingyas for the real oppression, colonial control and economic exploitation by the Burmese and the Burmese military. Because the Burmese military is way too powerful for the Rakhines to rise up against the Rakhine take their rage and grievances out on the most vulnerable but widely disliked Rohingyas in their midst.
The Rohingya population was denied to self identify in the 2014 nationwide census. What consequences do you foresee?
Not only are they denied the right to self-identity -which is international legal/human rights norm- they are being forced to assume an identity as "Bengali" by their oppressor: both the Burmese regime and the Rakhine and other Buddhists, especially the majority Burmese. The consequences are of genocidal proportions: destruction of the entire ethnic community, both starting and ending with the identity erase.
Myanmar is to hold general elections in 2015. Do you think elections' result will reduce the role of military in politics? Is there a possibility of emerging of a new political cadre which will address the Rohingya issue?
Regardless of what happened in the elections, whoever wins, there is generally speaking no political class or circle among the pro-democracy, pro-human rights opposition movement or the ruling military regime. They all share common genocidal strain of racism against the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi is no better in this regard, except she is likely to respond more positively to the international pressure than the regime has been.
The military will find ways to control politics and economy -in spite of the elections- as long as the Constitution is not changed significantly, especially the 3 clauses: 1) which legalizes any future coup by the commander in chief; 2) bars any type of judicial persecution against the military oppressors and 3) guarantee 25% of the parliamentary seats.
The leader of the 969 Movement, Monk Ashin Wirathu stated several times that the movement is unfairly blamed for rising Islamophobia in the country. And President Thein Sein defended Wirathu saying his order was just striving peace and prosperity. How do you see these remarks?
Wirathu was on the record (tape-recorded and it is now on line) that he wanted to launch and lead a campaign to purge Burma of all Muslims -"starve them to death, make them homeless"- in a style of a CIA operation -all in his own words. His intention was made public to a gathering of hundreds of monks at a well-known Buddhist pavilion in Mandalay as early as 2004 before he was sentenced to jail and jailed, for his involvement in burning alive an entire Muslim family -a well-to-do grocer and a Haj returnee- in his birthplace called Kyauk Hse (about 45 minutes drive from Mandalay).
Burmese intelligence and the entire government of Thein Sein (and before him the now aging despot General Than Shwe) knew all this. But the problem is the military regime agrees with Wirathu's ideas. Myanmar generals have systematically "cleansed" the armed forces in Burma of all Muslim officers over the past 53 years -as a matter of unstated anti-Muslim policies. In fact, only Buddhists are promoted. Now the military has stopped recruiting any Muslims for any rank, however low in the armed forces. In addition,Reuters news agency documented that the highest level of military leadership has authorized and commissioned the Ministry of Religious Affairs to publish anti-Muslim writings over the past 27 years -starting with Than Shwe's boss named Senior General Saw Maung. So, when Thein Sein as President was defending Wirathu he is lying with a straight face. Nothing less.
Do you think the Arakan conflict is for the advantage of Burmese government since Arakanese Muslims are often treated as a scapegoat?
Yes, so far the horizontal aspect of the conflict in Rakhine between Rohingyas and the Rakhine has enabled the regime in central Burma to divert attention of the domestic constituency -mainly Buddhist monks and Burmese public- away from the real issue of continued control of economy and power in the country. But mind you the conflict has been exploited, expanded and blown out of proportions by the Burmese military -which is the original sponsor of a state-directed, legalized and policy-induced mass persecution- in a word, genocide -of the Rohingyas.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a prominent opposition figure having massive popularity inside the country and abroad. Yet she kept quiet on the rights of minorities in the country especially Rohingya. What are the reasons behind it? Do you think it may change in the near future if she prevails in the political struggle with Thein Sein and military?
She is a racist herself -who has justified Islamophobia of the Buddhists on Britain's Radio Four, in the fall of 2013- to a famous TV and radio interviewer Mishal Hussein. There is no factual basis or prospect that she will be less racist in the least likely event that the military will ever let her assume presidency.
Myanmar is an ethnically diverse county and Rohingya is not the only Muslim minority in the country. How is the relationship of Rohingya with other minorities? Are all minorities subject same kind of aggressive minority policies of the government?
No, only Rohingyas are the victims of sustained genocidal persecution for nearly 40 years. Other minorities, Buddhists and Christians (including Karens and Kachins and Chins, etc.) as well as even non-Rohingya Muslims are racist towards the Rohingyas -as the direct result of nearly 40 years of the media and the education system demonization and illegalization of the Rohingyas.
How did British colonial administration treat the Muslim community in the country? What are the legacies of British colonial administration regarding the Arakan issue?
British colonialism was not simply about economic exploitation and political control. It was a huge edifice of multiple-racisms. British colonial rulers were racist and genocidaires themselves. It is well-documented that the British exported their racism -then justified on pseudo-scientific anthropology of the late 1900 AD- to its colonies. Ethnic and racial divide and rule was a corner stone of British colonial administrations all over the world. But generally, Britain is an irresponsible colonial master; to date Britain refuses to help address the problems of racial and ethnic conflicts around the world many of which have roots in their policies 100-200 years ago, from Palestine and the Middle East to India and Pakistan to Burma.
Discriminative policies including restrictions on marriages and birthrates were in force before Thein Sein. What are additional discriminative policies introduced in his term of presidency?
Restriction on population growth on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion and nationality is considered an act of genocide -out of five acts, when pursued with the intent to gradually destroy or reduce the number of a particular people. So, this genocidal population policy has been expanded by Thein Sein himself, when he requested the Parliament to draft four new laws that will restrict interracial and religious marriages. In addition, it is Thein Sein who revoked the last Rohingya legal documentation -the temporary registration cards issued to the Rohingyas in exchange for the formerly/originally citizenship cards.
If you would suggest a roadmap to break the cycle of violence against Arakan Muslims what would the main points be?
The roadmap will start with the UN -and key powers in the Security Council- holding a serious International Conference on the Rohingya affairs. Burma is a signatory since Dec 1949 of the UN Genocide Convention -which came into effect on 9 Dec 1948. As such, it is in violation of the treat- the Convention is a binding treaty, not just a resolution. The conference will call for immediate lifting of all restrictions and disruptions on humanitarian aid including food, medicine, and medical treatment; calls for the guarantee for the physical safety of all Rohingyas from the attacks by local racist Rakhine groups; calls for the end of blanket impunity for those local troops and Rakhine racists alike who harm Rohingyas; calls for the restoration of basic human rights; calls for the restoration of citizenship of anyone who belongs to the Rohingya ethnic community; and recognize their right to self-identity -and end the official denial that they were ever an ethnic group, on the basis of the government's documentation that irrefutably established the Rohingyas as the officially recognized ethnic group of Burma starting in the 1950s and ending around 1965.
International community has welcomed democratic reforms of Thein Sein and removed international sanctions. Yet the Rohingya situation has improved little. Do you think that international pressure to the government would result in policy change regarding Arakan?
Thein Sein regime reformed not out of will but out of a very difficult political and strategic situation where it was forced to rely on China and Russia alone -and in the face of the collapse of dictatorships in the Arab world where the leaders ended up being killed or jailed.
The only way the regime will change its genocidal policy towards the Rohingya is by sustained, strategic and serious international pressure. Only when they understand there will be a heavy price for them to pay internationally -in terms of economic squeeze, threats of arrests and trial at the International Criminal Court or support for the radicals in the country will the regime come to their senses and behave. They are thugs and bullies, in essence, who dare to beat up and murder the weak and the weaponless. The only language they understand and appreciate is bigger force, more powerful bully.
What do you think about the role of international relief organizations in the region? What kind of projects would you suggest to improve conditions of Rohingya people?
Humanitarianism is all well and fine. It plays an ameliorative role. But the root cause is politically and racially driven genocide. In situations of genocide, humanitarianism is woefully inadequate. It is a band-aid, not a cure.