Sunday 28 February 2016

Migrant rescue effort fortified

Source Bankokpost, 26 Feb

    A Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) crew member steers a launch toward the mother ship MV Phoenix in the Chao Phraya river in Samut Prakan east of Bangkok. The group is preparing for a mission in the Andaman sea to track and rescue refugee boats. (Reuters Photo)

    SAMUT PRAKAN — The humanitarian team that sent ships to rescue refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean will launch a Southeast Asia mission this weekend to comb the seas for boat people, including Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar.

    American entrepreneur Christopher Catrambone and his Italian wife Regina set up the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) in response to the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy, when several hundred migrants drowned after their boat sank as they tried to cross to Europe from Libya.

    In Samut Prakan, Catrambone on Friday took journalists on a tour of the MV Phoenix, whose crew will coordinate with coast guards, navies and non-government organisations to track and rescue boat people as needed.

    "If we can save one life, this entire mission is worth it," Catrambone said.

    For years, tens of thousands of Rohingya have been fleeing by boat from Myanmar, where they live in apartheid-like conditions, face violence and are denied access to health care, employment and education. Smuggling boats also carry migrants fleeing poverty in Bangladesh.

    However, the discovery last year of mass graves and trafficking camps along the Thai-Malaysia border led to a crackdown on the traffickers, forcing them to abandon the ships and leaving thousands of migrants stranded at sea.

    Aid agencies and rights groups criticised Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia for playing "ping-pong at sea" and not allowing the refugees and migrants to disembark. Eventually they were allowed to land in Malaysia — their main destination — as well as Indonesia.

    Since then, the number of migrants leaving Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat has dropped off sharply because of Thai and Bangladeshi crackdowns on human smugglers.

    According to Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project rights group, about 1,500 people sailed from Bangladesh and Myanmar between September and December 2015, compared with 32,000 people tracked during the same period in 2014.

    The crew of the Phoenix crew will use drones as "eyes in the sky" to search for distressed boats, but if anyone is rescued, disembarkation will still be a problem.

    When asked by a journalist if the region's governments would allow Rohingya boat people to land, ship captain Thomas Johansen replied: "Negative. When we establish communication with them (government officials), the ball is with them, they have to reply, they have to do something."

    The MV Phoenix, which has been docked at a Thai port for repairs since November, is scheduled to set out to sea on Saturday, south toward Langkawi, Malaysia, and then spend three weeks in international waters in the Andaman Sea.

    MOAS is partnering with the Bangkok-based advocacy group Fortify Rights, which will manage data collection and provide guidance on the situation of the Rohingya.

    Thailand's crackdown on human trafficking has not eliminated the flow of people leaving, and people are still voluntarily leaving on boats, Catrambone said.

    "Rohingya have faced abuses for decades and untold numbers have died at sea," Fortify Rights executive director Matthew Smith said in a statement. "Until the root causes are addressed in Myanmar, we're going to see men, women, and children risk their lives in perilous journeys at sea."

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    Tuesday 23 February 2016

    A helping hand for Rohingya in Aceh

    Source straittimes

    Final-year NTU students (back row, from left) Goh Chiew Tong, Jade Han and Clarissa Sih, and KKH physiotherapist Siti Durriah (foreground, left) are doing their bit to help the Rohingya refugees in Aceh. With them is Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who visFinal-year NTU students (back row, from left) Goh Chiew Tong, Jade Han and Clarissa Sih, and KKH physiotherapist Siti Durriah (foreground, left) are doing their bit to help the Rohingya refugees in Aceh. With them is Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who visited an Aceh refugee camp last month.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

    When Rohingya refugees from Myanmar were found adrift at sea in May last year, many Acehnese fishermen helped them - even to the extent of hosting them in their homes.

    Their kind acts have inspired some Singaporeans to help in whatever small ways they can.

    Among them: Physiotherapist Siti Durriah, 27, who went to Aceh last month to teach English, and three final-year students from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), who want to raise awareness about the refugees by making a documentary film.

    The Rohingya, a stateless ethnic minority from Myanmar, were allowed to enter Aceh, in northern Sumatra, in May last year.

    Considered one of the world's most persecuted minorities, the Muslim Rohingya have been targets of violence in Myanmar, where the majority of people are Buddhists.

    Thousands of Rohingya have made the sea crossing from Myanmar to neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Thailand.

    Last month, Ms Siti spent three weeks in a refugee camp in Acehconducting developmental assessments for children, and teaching teenagers English. She got involved after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees put her in touch with a non-governmental organisation in Aceh, called Yayasan Geutanyoe.

    Ms Siti, who works at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said: "Many of the refugee children I met there did not have basic formal education. I met an 11-year-old who did not know how to read or write."

    In a separate effort, NTU students Goh Chiew Tong, Clarissa Sih and Jade Han - all 23 - want to make a documentary to draw attention to the Rohingya refugees.

    Entitled Peumulia Jamee, which means "honouring your guests" in Acehnese, it aims to tell the story of how the Acehnese fishermen helped the refugees.

    Said Ms Goh: "They are not from the most developed region, yet you see them give so much out of so little. The response of the Acehnese was so special to us. I think part of the reason they responded this way was because of their experience during the 2004 tsunami, when they went through a lot of hardship and received a lot of help."

    Ms Han said it was an Aceh head fisherman who made the call to save the refugees after they were turned away by neighbouring countries.

    She said: "They have this belief that they would save everything that is out at sea, even animals. So, what more humans?"

    The team, which is making the documentary as part of an NTU final-year project, has been to Aceh thrice since November last year, and visited four camps: Kuala Langsa, Bayeun, Lhok Banie and Blang Adoe.

    The project is expected to be completed in the first half of this year.

    Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng visited an Aceh refugee camp last month, in his personal capacity, to find out how Singaporeans are involved in the effort.

    He said: "With our limited land size, we cannot accept refugees but the least we can do is to help in whatever other ways we can."

    There are plans to return to the refugee camp with more volunteers from Singapore in December this year, he added.

    "We talk so much about having the kampung spirit here, and the people in Aceh have it. I think there are lessons and stories that need to be shared," said Mr Ng.

    Ms Siti said: "Every effort, no matter how small, is important... You can be a fisherman or a student, but when you help, even if it's just one person, the help will go a long way."

    Thursday 18 February 2016

    BROUK: Four Steps the NLD Led Government Can Take On Rohingya Crisis

    Media release from Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK)

    Thursday 18th February 2016

    Four Steps the NLD Led Government Can Take On Rohingya Crisis

    The Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK today publishes a new briefing paper calling on the NLD-led government, which will take power in April, to take four practical steps to start addressing human rights violations against the Rohingya. The briefing paper is available on our below website link. steps the NLD-led government can take in its first six months to address human rights violations against the Rohingya

    Addressing the root causes of prejudice and human rights violations against the Rohingya will take many years, but in order to start this process, and to have an immediate impact saving lives and reducing human rights violations, here are practical steps an NLD government can take in its first six months:

    • Action against hate-speech and extremists - Take action to prevent hate speech and incitement of violence, and demonstrate moral leadership, with Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders personally and specifically speaking out against prejudice and hatred, and challenging the extreme nationalist narrative.
    • Ensure humanitarian access - Immediately lift all restrictions on the operations of international aid agencies and also start to devote more government resources to assisting IDPs and isolated villagers.
    • Reform or repeal of the 1982 Citizenship Law - The lack of full citizenship lies at the root of most of the discrimination faced by the Rohingya. There is no way this issue can be avoided, and it is much better that an NLD-led government bite the bullet and deal with it at the start of their period in government when they have a new and strong mandate, strong party unity, and elections are years away. It will have to be addressed at some point. Better it is done while the NLD-led government is strongest.
    • Justice and accountability - An NLD-led government should set up a credible independent investigation with international experts to investigate these crimes and propose action. If the NLD government fails to do so, the United Nations should establish its own Commission of Inquiry.

    The briefing paper also analyses the NLD and Military approach to the Rohingya issues, and what the election results reveal about anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim prejudice in the country.

    These results appear to reinforce something that BROUK has long believed, which is that while prejudice against Muslims is widespread, it is not necessarily that deep. Prejudice against Rohingya is greater than Muslims in general, but is not the top concern of many Rakhine. The prejudice that exists is widespread, but for many periods has been below the surface. It usually comes to the surface when prejudice and hatred is stirred up by political and religious extremists. It is a top down process, not a grassroots bottom up expression of repressed tensions, as many have tried to argue.

    For decades successive regimes and governments in Burma have pursued a twin-track policy of impoverishment and human rights violations in order to attempt to drive Rohingya out of the country. Under the government of President Thein Sein human rights violations against the Rohingya sharply escalated, as he attempted to use Buddhist nationalism and anti-Muslim prejudice in the country to win public support.

    The incoming NLD government presents the first opportunity in decades to not only halt the escalation of anti-Rohingya policies and laws, but also put it into reverse, ending violations of international law and applying the rule of law and international human rights standards.

    "At the election people voted for hope, not hate," said Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK. "This Rohingya issue is not as intractable as many diplomats and observers try to argue. If there is strong moral leadership and action countering hate speech and incitement, it will be possible to take practical steps to start to end human rights violations against the Rohingya. There is a unique opportunity to make real progress but if those arguing for a soft and slow approach win the debate, the opportunity will be lost and the crisis and suffering will continue for many more years."

    For more information contact:

    Tun Khin on + 44 7888714866
    Muhammad Noman on +44 7850463444

    Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK)

    Wednesday 10 February 2016

    Arakan Army chief’s father-in-law appointed Rakhine parliament speaker

    Source frontiermyanmar, 8 Feb

    A Rakhine National Party election campaign rally in Yangon, October 25, 2015. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)
    08 Feb 2016

    NAY PYI TAW — The Rakhine State parliament in Sittwe has elected as its speaker a lawmaker with ties to an insurgent army currently battling against Myanmar's military.

    State lawmakers have confirmed to Frontier a parliamentary vote on Monday morning to appoint as speaker U San Kyaw Hla, a lawmaker representing Ponnagyun for the Rakhine National Party and father-in-law of Brigadier General Tun Myat Naing, the chief of the Arakan Army.

    Along with four other ethnic armed groups, the Arakan Army was barred by the government from participating in last year's National Ceasefire Agreement due to ongoing hostilities. With an estimated fighting force of 1,500, the Arakan Army has received training support from the Kachin Independence Army in Myanmar's north, and was involved in numerous skirmishes with Tatmadaw troops in Rakhine State last year. Brig-Gen Tun Myat Naing is believed to reside in Laiza, the KIA's headquarters.

    More than 200 people were displaced during the most recent round of clashes in Kyauktaw township. In response, the military has said it would "eliminate the Arakan Army" in an announcement carried by state-run media last month.

    Monday's parliamentary session in Sittwe, the first in which the winners of last November's election took their seats, also elected the RNP's U Phone Minn as deputy speaker.

    The appointment of a chief minister for Rakhine State remains on the agenda. Under the terms of the 2008 Constitution, Myanmar's president has the sole authority to appoint regional government heads.

    Despite being the largest party in the Sittwe legislature, winning 22 of the state's 35 elected seats, the RNP is several seats short of a majority, owing to the 12-strong bloc of military appointees. The party has lost one seat after U Hla Aung Nyunt, the MP-elect for Minbya-2, was convicted of trespassing and harassing a woman working for a rival candidate of the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

    The National League for Democracy, which sent eight lawmakers to the Sittwe parliament, has put forward NLD lawmaker U Nyi Bu as the party's chief minister candidate. In response, the RNP has threatened to boycott the parliament unless one of its members is appointed chief minister.


    Monday 8 February 2016

    Correcting the false narrative of the Ma Ba Tha can be the starting point for a future Myanmar

    by Dr. Habib Siddiqui,
    Wirathu and his band of criminal Buddhist monks have hijacked Buddhism and poisoned the political discourse inside Myanmar. Ma Ba Tha uses the rape of a Rakhine woman allegedly by Rohingya Muslims in Arakan to paint a very damning picture of the divide between "us" and "them". And such a nasty propaganda, a false one, which I must remind our readers, has worked because people are always willing to believe the worst about one's enemies if they are programmed as such.
    For too long, in the context of Burma, her various ethnic and racial groups were poisoned to hate each other, which only helped the divisive forces inside, let alone the military that ruled the fractured country with strong arms tactics and brutal strategy. Wirathu and the hateful, xenophobic monks like him were used as the willing partners to prolong this environment of hatred and intolerance against the minority Muslims, esp. the Rohingya people, and strengthen the grip of the military that ruled and other divisive forces within the country to arrest a change for the better in the political scene.
    Fortunately, even though most Muslims were barred from voting and participating in the latest election process, people inside Myanmar have spoken loud and clear. They have rejected the criminal messengers and propagators of hatred and dehumanization.
    It is high time to stop Ma Ba Tha once and for all time. This would require not only serious efforts within the movers and shakers within the poisoned society, esp. those with some authority, e.g., the NLD and various political parties that represent the very mosaic of this diverse country but also a brave intelligentsia that knows its historical role to correct the wrongs and create an environment of inclusion and tolerance and hope.
    Surely, such an endeavor is never going to be an easy one, but we can all try our best with our limited resources to make that happen, and multiply our voices for a change for the better.
    The process can start by educating the broader public about the falsity of the very claim that Ma Ba Tha has been exploiting to poison Myanmar. If I recall correctly, Dr. Zarni was able to expose that there is no truth to the claim that the Rakhine Buddhist woman was raped and killed by Rohingya Muslim(s). He wrote that "the rape narrative of the Rakhine woman - the late Ma Thida Htwe - raped by 'Bengali men' was patently false, but spread by President Thein Sein's men the likes of Major Zaw Htay (Hmu Zaw), Colonel Ye Htut (now deputy information minister) as a trigger event to set the fire of genocidal hatred towards the Muslims. Ma Thida Htwe was NOT raped but was simply murdered - the doctor who examined her body told Ko Zaganar [a popular comedian], in no uncertain terms, that there was absolutely no evidence of rape on Ma Thida Htwe's dead body. The doctor was forced to sign the medical report which claims falsely she was raped. The rape story was spread by government agents on the social media and was used as a launching pad to start waves of mass killings against the Rohingya and the Muslims across Burma or Myanmar." "Within a month of his death - when [Maung Thura[ Zaganar attempted to meet Htet Htet's wife," writes Dr. Zarni in his blog, "she was found dead in a village well. How convenient!" It is believed amongst the independent analysts that NASAKA security forces killed Ma Thida Htwe and possibly Htet Htet's wife.
    As subsequent inquiries have proven most of the anti-Muslim pogroms and genocidal activities inside Burma (or Myanmar) owed their origin to the government – central and local. These crimes were sometimes scripted and often times sanctioned by the government.
    I can only pray and hope that the NLD government will take a different course making the country a safe and secure one for all its various groups of the population.

    Wednesday 3 February 2016

    Myanmar nationals said to be among 39 drowned

    Source mmtimes, 1 Feb

    Myanmar migrants were among the 39 people who drowned in the Mediterranean on January 30, according to Turkish state media.

    A Turkish coast guard official stands on the shore overlooking a boat accident in the Aegean Sea that led to at least 39 migrants drowning on January 30. Photo: AFPA Turkish coast guard official stands on the shore overlooking a boat accident in the Aegean Sea that led to at least 39 migrants drowning on January 30. Photo: AFP

    A boat ferrying migrants and asylum seekers to Lesbos, Greece, sank just a few miles from Turkey's Aegean coastline, according to the Turkish Coast Guard. A patrol leading the rescue effort saved 62 people, but at least 39 – including five children – drowned, Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily reported. Many of the rescued were hospitalised for hypothermia.

    As the search continues, the number of casualties is expected to grow. Among the deceased were nationals from Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar, the coast guard said.

    The Myanmar government could not immediately confirm the report, but said it is investigating whether Myanmar citizens were involved in the accident.

    "We asked our Myanmar embassy representatives in that country to check whether the deceased really do include Myanmar citizens. It is possible that even though the news said they are from Myanmar, they may not be," said U Zaw Htay, director of the President's Office. "If they are Myanmar citizens, the embassy has the responsibility to provide support."

    The Myanmar embassy in Ankara did not return request for comment yesterday.

    The accident over the weekend is not the first time that Myanmar migrants have been onboard boats of asylum seekers being smuggled to Europe via the Mediterranean, although a spokesperson from the UNHCR said yesterday it was fair to say that Myanmar nationals are in the minority. Of the over 1 million migrants fleeing to Europe by sea last year, half were Syrians escaping war.

    Media reports of the accidents punctuating the perilous sea journeys throughout last year did include references to Myanmar passengers, however. In May, a rescue of over 600 asylum seekers trying to cross the Aegean Sea included 200 people identified as fleing Myanmar, Iraq and Afghanistan. In August, Turkish security forces detained 435 migrants before they embarked on an attempted crossing of the Aegean Sea; 19 of them were from allegedly from Myanmar. And in November, the coast guard said they rescued 27 migrants of Afghan and Myanmar origin who were trying to cross in an inflatable boat.

    It is unclear whether any of the Myanmar nationals identified by the Turkish authorities include Rohingya – officially called "Bengali" by the Myanmar government, and largely denied citizenship rights.

    U Zaw Htay said the government has "no right to say whether [those in the accident] are Myanmar citizens or not" until an investigation is completed, and added that the government does not have a responsibility to those who are not citizens.

    Myanmar was internationally criticised for failing to take responsibility for its part in the regional smuggling crisis that flared in May last year when boats full of migrants and asylum seekers from Rakhine State and Bangladesh were stranded on the Andaman Sea. Hundreds were estimated by the UN to have died as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand started a "push-back" policy that prevented the boats from disembarking.

    In order to stem its own unprecedented influx of migrants and asylum seekers, the European Union has begun drafting legislation that would criminalise volunteers or holidaymakers who assist asylum seekers. In the first month of 2016, more than 52,000 people arrived by sea in Greece and 218 have died off the Turkish coast, according to the International Organisation for Migration. A nationality breakdown involving Myanmar was not available.