Wednesday 30 March 2016

Human smugglers roundtable: are smugglers parasites or service providers?

Source Opendemocracy, 26 Mar

In the first of three questions, human smuggling experts share their views on what and who actually constitutes a human smuggler. The answer depends greatly on where they operate.

Migrants arrive on the Greek island of Kos from Turkey in September 2015. Christopher Jahn(IFRC)/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by-nc-nd)

Question 1 – the rhetoric surrounding smugglers is packed with graphic images of violence and exploitation. What does your research indicate? Are smugglers really parasites profiting on human desperation, or, at the end of the day, do they provide a service to those on the move? How do we move the conversation forward?

Antje Missbach

Antje Missbach is a senior research fellow at Monash University in Melbourne and author of Troubled Transit: Asylum Seekers Stuck in Indonesia.

Provided by author

My recent research looks at the Indonesian fishermen transporting mostly Afghan and Pakistani asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia. It shows that the men convicted for people smuggling under Indonesian law do not resemble the stereotypical human smuggler found in the public media or in populist political debates. Instead of being either greedy, predatory, brutal monsters or altruistic, inerrant saints, most sentenced offenders have very little formal education and often live on both the geographic and socio-political margins of society. Retelling their 'career paths' reveals that most became involved in people smuggling due to ongoing precariousness in their lives. Sick children and spouses, insurmountable indebtedness, exploitation by peers, and few prospects to escape the daily misery of their lives made them take up very risky job offers. Against their better judgement they accepted job offers, sometimes arranged through those whom they owed money.

Shahram Khosravi

Shahram Khosravi is an associate professor of social anthropology at Stockholm University.

Provided by author

Several years ago Amir Heidari, a well-known migration broker in the Middle East and Europe, told me that the first 'human smuggler' in history was Moses, who led his people escaping Egypt across the Red Sea. History is full of examples of such heroes who save people from oppression and death. Helping Jews out of Nazi occupied territory is a recent example. Another is the rescuing of enslaved people of African descent in the US in the nineteenth century, a historical episode known as the Underground Railroad.

Heidari proudly told me that he was his own migration board. "I work for those who are declined visas and passports," he said. "I work for anyone who has no passport, and with pleasure help them go wherever they want". By saying this he refers to the unjust distribution of the right of mobility. While those with a surplus of mobility rights cross borders gloriously as an honourable act of globalism and cosmopolitanism, those without papers have to do it in an informal way. For me, the so-called 'smugglers' are the consequence of unequal rights to mobility and are necessary actors as far this inequality exists.

Using the single term 'smuggler' for all actors who work as informal migration brokers is misleading. The people categorised as 'human smugglers' are not a homogenous group. Alongside the criminal ones, there are local people, such as nomads living in border regions for whom border crossing has become crucial to their economic and social life. They might facilitate an 'illegal' border crossing for a low price.

Sarnata Reynolds

Sarnata Reynolds is an international human rights attorney who is an expert on refugee and migrant issues, statelessness, and human rights violations among displaced populations.

Provided by author

My experience researching and documenting the profiles of smugglers is directly related to my work on forced displacement. We know there are historical migratory routes between points in separate nations that reflect a demand for workers in one country, and a population capable of taking on the work in another, among other factors. Mexico and the United States have had this symbiotic relationship for generations, and it can also be seen in southeast Asia between Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia, and in the movement of workers from west Africa to north Africa and on to Europe.

While the demand for workers who take up dangerous, difficult jobs has not declined in much of the world, access to visa programmes that facilitate their safe and lawful passage has become ever more difficult. Without a lawful alternative, individuals and families in need of work have resorted to irregular migration. At the same time, the criminalisation of migration throughout the world has resulted in the narrowing of routes between two points, often funnelling migrants into the most dangerous passages, and a growing reliance on 'experts' who can facilitate safe passage. This phenomenon is the inevitable consequence of national and international laws that politicise and restrict freedom of movement regardless of the pressing economic, social, and political dynamics of individuals, families, and industries.

Without a doubt, some smugglers engage in terribly bad acts and take advantage of those who rely on them, including rape, torture, kidnapping, and other types of abuse. Others are part of impoverished and persecuted communities, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar, which may financially benefit by arranging boat passages, but also provide a vital lifeline to Rohingya people. Some smugglers may do both.

Migrants often have multiple motivations for moving and the same can be said of those who take up smuggling tasks. National and international policies and responses that cast all smugglers as bloodthirsty villains distort this reality and are unlikely to lead to the dismantling of smuggling routes. Yet, these same crackdowns may further undermine the rights of people on the move. For example, Thailand's crackdown on smuggling and trafficking in 2015 resulted in the abandonment of thousands of Rohingya people at sea. They were left at sea because the smugglers and traffickers could not meet them at traditional disembarkation points. This tragedy was foreseeable but not planned for, and the smuggling continues.

Milena Belloni

Milena Belloni is a sociologist working on forced migration from Eritrea.

Provided by author

It is hard to generalise on what kind of persons smugglers are. During my research along the migration corridor which links Eritrea and Europe between 2012 and 2014 — the Eritrean refugees I interviewed sometimes told stories of cruel smugglers who locked them up for long time in crowded stores with limited food and water while waiting for them to pay the journey's price. Other times refugees told me about honest and respectable smugglers who managed to facilitate their safe border-crossing.

These contradictory accounts may not only be the result of contingencies and different smugglers' personalities. They also may be due to the many different actors involved in facilitating irregular migration from Eritrea. For example, there are guides accompanying fugitives from Eritrean border areas to neighbouring countries; drivers who transport refugees from camps to cities and through the desert to Libya; middlemen, who organise the journeys and put migrants in contact with different service providers; other agents who provide the space to keep migrants during the journey. These actors have different expertise and forms to craft relations with the smuggled migrants. For example, while the success of a middleman is based on his reputation, enforcers in Libya are meant to collect payment and this may entail violence and coercion. In order to draw a more realistic image of smugglers, it is thus important to avoid generalisation and to work on building a fine-grain understanding of the many different roles and the internal organisation of smuggling.

Maurizio Albahari

Maurizio Albahari is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.

Provided by author

Smugglers provide a service and meet a demand, but might do so in ways that are abusive and exploitative. Some help to create the demand that their services meet: international migration presupposes the availability of transportation, whether authorised or not, and smugglers are known to advertise their services, for example by word of mouth and through social networks. In a variety of settings, including the Libyan coast or between Syria and its neighbouring countries, displaced persons in vulnerable positions find themselves enduring the exploitative demands of their smugglers. They may see this as the only viable coping strategy, especially when faced with dire local prospects, lack of access to legal and humanitarian protection, and absence of authorised travel options toward a safe haven. These persons might be subjected to psychological abuse, be pressured to use sex as a form of payment, or be physically coerced into obeying the orders of smugglers – from the imposition of additional fees, to where and how long to wait for a boat, to who gets to board and when, where to sit, what to carry, when to jump into the water.

It is fundamental to acknowledge the discretion enjoyed by smugglers. At the same time, institutional and media discourses routinely conflate improvised boat drivers and seasoned smugglers, smugglers and traffickers, and small smuggling groups with larger smuggling networks. Moreover, they take it for granted that smugglers somehow coerce people into their own international journey. Analytically, it is instead fundamental to challenge tropes of victimhood, so that relevant decision makers can start grappling with the evidence of migrants' and refugees' need or desire to trespass international boundaries. The anti-smuggling rhetoric appears to be very selective and resistant to disproof – stereotypical, in short. Perhaps, what we should ask first is not whether smugglers are more or less violent and exploitative, but rather to what degree is this rhetoric genuinely misinformed? And to what degree does it serve as a convenient distraction, for both citizens and decision makers?

Claudia Tazreiter

Claudia Tazreiter is an associate professor of sociology at the University of New South Wales.

Provided by author

My research indicates a large gap between the media and political rhetoric on people smugglers and the reality of mobility for irregular migrants. The phenomenon of people smuggling is not new and nor are the labels attached to this 'trade'. On one end of the spectrum, smugglers do extort large sums of money from desperate and vulnerable populations who have no other recourse for flight from a country of origin and often life-threatening circumstances. But on the other end of the spectrum, irregular migrants talk about their 'agent' as a person who provides a service they require.

This 'agent' is likely to be a person they or a family member knows personally, or a member of a community, village or ethnic group with which they have ties. An 'agent' may well have used a people smuggler to facilitate their own journey in the past, and who now facilitates the journeys of others – not always with a monetary motive. Some of these 'small smugglers' make no profit from their activities, with all the money going to pay for the means of travel and the bribes of corrupt officials.

The debate ought to focus more squarely on the origin of the problem and the complex reasons why people seek out and use the services of people smugglers. Such a focus on the root causes of the desperation that forces people to put their lives and the lives of their families at risk will illuminate a very different side of the debate, namely on the localised forms of political violence as well as the global political economy that drive the conditions that create irregular migration.

Human smugglers roundtable

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Turning a Blind Eye

Dr. Zarni: "US Government is in no position, intellectually or morally, to 'determine' the international nature of my country's persecution of the Rohingya. Ask US Ambassador to UN Samantha Power."
Source NYtimes, Published on April 14, 2002

''A PROBLEM  FROM HELL''                 

America and the Age of Genocide.

By Samantha Power.       

Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish linguist who escaped Nazi-occupied Poland in 1941, coined the term ''genocide'' as a kind of speech-act. He meant not only to name a crime whose magnitude, combined with its sweeping singularity of motive, distinguished it even in the annals of coldblooded mass murder. He meant for the crime's very name to be a call for universal opprobrium -- one that would inspire, if it did not mandate, punishment and prevention.

As Samantha Power recounts in '' 'A Problem From Hell': America and the Age of Genocide,'' it was Lemkin who devised and lobbied tirelessly for the Genocide Convention, which the United Nations adopted in 1948. Defining genocide as the commission of certain crimes with the ''intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such,'' the convention called for perpetrators to be punished and for contracting parties ''to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.'' Nervous about its own record on race, however, the United States did not become a party to the Genocide Convention until 1986, when President Ronald Reagan backed it as a face-saving measure following his visit the previous year to Bitburg cemetery, where 49 Nazi SS officers are buried. Even then, three Republican senators -- Jesse Helms, Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar -- attached so many reservations to the American signature that the convention would not meaningfully bind the United States to much of anything.

Yet those reservations could not prevent ''genocide'' from becoming the speech-act Lemkin intended in popular parlance. Associated above all with Nazi horrors, the term has become so powerful a talisman, and so unarguable a synonym for evil, that its very invocation seems an incitement to act. By the same token, it is a word loaded with demagogic potential. Paranoid tyrants, including perpetrators of genocide, are fond of manipulating public emotions by claiming that their own people are threatened with impending genocide. American political leaders go to great lengths to avoid uttering the word in cases where they hope to remain disengaged; they do not hesitate to use it, however, when they wish to stir up public outrage in support of military action. Hence, Serbian war crimes in Kosovo were quickly deemed genocidal, whereas in the more obvious case of Bosnia, State Department officials carefully picked their way around the g-word.

It will hardly come as a surprise to most Americans who follow foreign affairs that Bosnia, and not Kosovo, is the norm. In '' 'A Problem From Hell,' '' Power expertly documents American passivity in the face of Turkey's Armenian genocide, the Khmer Rouge's systematic murder of more than a million Cambodians, the Iraqi regime's gassing of its Kurdish population, the Bosnian Serbian Army's butchery of unarmed Muslims and the Rwandan Hutu militias' slaughter of some 800,000 Tutsi. (Power has room, in this substantial volume, for only passing mention of the massacres of similar and larger scale in Nigeria, Bangladesh, Burundi and East Timor, among other places.) This vivid and gripping work of American history doubles as a prosecutor's brief: time and again, Power recounts, although the United States had the knowledge and the means to stop genocide abroad, it has not acted. Worse, it has made a resolute commitment to not acting. Washington's record, Power ruefully observes, is not one of failure, but of success.

Self-interest trumps humanitarian concern in United States foreign policy with striking consistency, Power demonstrates. Cold-war calculations led the Nixon and Carter administrations first to pave the way for the Khmer Rouge's ascent to power, and then to continue to justify its right to rule Cambodia long after a Vietnamese invasion dislodged Pol Pot. Business interests and the desire to contain Iran's revolution induced the first Bush administration to support Saddam Hussein economically as he gassed and bulldozed Kurdish villages. Of Bosnia, former President Bush's secretary of state, James Baker, famously proclaimed, ''We don't have a dog in that fight.'' Rwanda, the subject of Power's most shattering chapter, lay even farther from any vital interest of the United States. There, the Clinton administration ignored early warnings of impending catastrophe, declined to intervene and, according to many, opposed United Nations peacekeeping efforts. When at last the Clinton White House was stirred to action in Kosovo, it was, Power writes, largely out of concern for NATO's credibility and the administration's own domestic image. ''I'm getting creamed,'' she quotes President Clinton as saying when the lobby of opinion makers calling for intervention in Bosnia had grown deafening. It would be too humiliating to go through that again.

Power, the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, gives us a Washington that is vibrant, complex and refreshingly human. Within it, she finds an unlikely, bipartisan collection of men and women whose courage and moral commitment she admires. Among them are Henry Morgenthau, Charles Twining, Claiborne Pell, Madeleine Albright, Robert Dole and a group of junior State Department officials who resigned to protest American inaction in Bosnia. Senator William Proxmire regaled the Senate with a ''speech a day'' for 20 years, urging that the United States become a party to the Genocide Convention. Peter Galbraith, when he was a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, fought fruitlessly for recognition and condemnation of the Iraqi Kurdish genocide, traveling at great personal risk to northern Iraq.

The same Washington, of course, is a place of defeatism, inertia, selfishness and cowardice. Warnings pass up the chain and disappear. Intelligence is gathered and then ignored or denied. The will of the executive remains steadfastly opposed to intervention; its guiding assumption is that the cost of stopping genocide is great, while the political cost of ignoring it is next to nil. President Bush the elder comes off as a stone-hearted prisoner to business interests, President Clinton as an amoral narcissist. Perhaps nobody looks worse than former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, on whose watch both Bosnia and Rwanda self-destructed. ''When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk,'' Power writes, ''it has a duty to act.'' She objects not only to the fact that the United States declines to intervene militarily in genocidal conflicts, but also that frequently it declines to do anything -- even to rebuke perpetrators publicly.

Where are international institutions in this picture? They depend on the financing and political will of the United States. Unfortunately, like many observers of the Bosnian peacekeeping fiasco, Power appears to have given up on international institutions. She does not argue for empowering them, for liberating them from the narrow interests of the powerful or for altering their terms of engagement in genocidal conflicts. Instead, she presses for the United States to act like something other than the self-interested superpower it is.

The most utopian among us will have difficulty imagining a United States that functions as disinterested protector to the world's imperiled peoples. Outside its borders, the country is even less frequently perceived as the white knight it might imagine itself to be; rather, conflicts of interest, real or perceived, trail it wherever it intervenes. Power does not take such concerns seriously. If she did, she would not be so swift to dismiss the role of international institutions in favor of American unilateralism. Are the world's powerful the most trustworthy guardians of its powerless? Not on the evidence of this book. Could it be otherwise? Samantha Power might say that this is an empirical question, and it is on this ground that her idealism and her pragmatism meet. She believes that Washington is made of individual wills, and that these wills are open to suasion. Those who refuse cynicism, she insists, whether they are journalists, politicians or ordinary citizens like Raphael Lemkin, have the power substantively to alter our leadership's notion of what is, or isn't, in the American interest.

Drawing (Thomas Fuchs)

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Turkey nabs 350 migrants from Myanmar heading to Greece

Source globalpost, 27 Mar

The Turkish coastguard on Sunday stopped five boats carrying dozens of illegal migrants, mostly from Myanmar, who were trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos, local media reported.

A coastguard vessel spotted the boats about four miles off the shore of Dikili town in Izmir province as they tried to reach Lesbos, the private Dogan news agency reported.

The coastguard stopped the boats and took the migrants back to shore where they were handed over to the police.

Most of them were from Myanmar.

"There is a planned massacre against Muslims in the country we live," one of the migrants told Dogan, saying the combination of danger and poverty had forced them to leave.

His remarks suggested they were members of Myanmar's Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority which has been targeted by violent attacks and state-sanctioned discrimination in the Buddhist-majority state, earning them a reputation as one of the world's most persecuted peoples.

The numbers of people reaching Greece from Turkey have declined since an EU-Turkey deal went into effect on March 20 under which all migrants landing on the Greek islands face are sent back.

Before the deal, the numbers arriving each day had numbered in the thousands. On Monday, 1,662 people arrived, but this fell to 600 on Tuesday and 260 on Wednesday.

Monday 21 March 2016

Australia 'goes soft on egregious human rights abuses in Myanmar'

Source Brisbanetimes, 20 Mar
Lindsay Murdoch 

Bangkok: The Turnbull government wants to downgrade United Nations monitoring of human rights in Myanmar despite reports of ongoing repression by the country's military, which retains impunity from abuses.

Australia's stand at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva comes as rights groups accuse Myanmar government forces of committing serious violations during renewed fighting with several ethnic armies in remote border areas, including forced labour, torture and ill-treatment and sexual violence against woman.

Ethnic Rohingya girls at a refugee camp in Rakhine state, Myanmar.
Ethnic Rohingya girls at a refugee camp in Rakhine state, Myanmar. Photo: AP

Fighting since November in the remote hills of north-eastern Myanmar with the Shan State Army - North has displaced at least 10,000 villagers.

The government denies the allegations.

The UN was told several serious issues exits in Myanmar despite the election of Aung San Suu Kyi as Chairperson of the ...
The UN was told several serious issues exits in Myanmar despite the election of Aung San Suu Kyi as Chairperson of the National League for Democracy. Photo: Taylor Weidman

More than 100 civil society organisations in Myanmar have written to the UN asking for it to continue to provide strong monitoring and leadership on the "massive human rights challenges" facing the country.

They also called for the opening there of an Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights.


Yanghan Lee, the UN's special rapporteur in Myanmar, last week told a UN forum that a slew of serious problems exist in Myanmar despite euphoria over the election last November of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, including persecution of Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine state.

More than 130,000 Rohingya remain in squalid displacement camps while the rest face everyday curbs on basic rights, including their freedom of movement.

The out-going military-backed government used the police and courts to imprison people on politically motivated charges, raising the number of political prisoners to 100, while another 400 face criminal charges for peaceful activism, according to Human Rights Watch.

Human rights groups have condemned Australia's support of moves for the UN council to only provide technical assistance, such as writing new laws.

Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre, said Australia's position "severely underplays the extent and seriousness of the ongoing human rights abuses" in the country.

"It reduces pressure at a critical time of the democratic transition and diminishes the ability of the international community, including our allies, to push for much needed change," Ms Howie said.

"If Australia wants to be seen as a world leader on human rights it must step up and advocate them at critical times such as these," she said.

"It is incredibly disappointing to see Australia go soft on some of the most egregious abuses in our region."

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs refused to comment directly about its stand in the UN council, saying that "Australia's view is that the best way to improve human rights practices in Myanmar is to engage constructively with its incoming government, rather than seeking to isolate it."

The spokesperson said Myanmar has made progress on human rights but acknowledged that "serious human rights concerns remain".

Australia's position in talks at the council has been to support moving Myanmar from being categorised as an "Item 4" state, with serious human rights issues, to an "Item 10" one – states that only need technical assistance.

Australia's position is at odds with the United States, Britain and the European Union but contrasts with a tough stand Canberra took against China on March 10, when it was a signatory to a joint statement with countries including the US, Britain, Japan, Norway and Germany.

That statement expressed concern about China's "deteriorating human rights record" including the detention of rights activists, civil society leaders and lawyers, unexplained disappearances and the apparent coerced returns of Chinese and foreign citizens from outside mainland China.

On Tuesday, Myanmar's military stoked concern by nominating hardliner former general Myint Swe for vice-president. The nomination is a sign of tension between the army and Ms Suu Kyi, who insists she will run the government behind the scenes after generals blocked her from becoming president.

The office of military commander Min Aung Hlaing​ later issued a statement saying the military will co-operate with the incoming government "for stability and peace, unity and development".

A vote on Myanmar is expected to be held in the UN council next week.

Thursday 10 March 2016

Rohingya women are in desperate need of protection and recognition

Source icmc, 7 mar

Geneva, 7 March 2016 - On International Women's Day, ICMC draws attention to the plight of Rohingya women who, without legal recognition and often persecuted, are forced to flee to third countries in search of protection. On this occasion, we share the story of Amina, as a testimony of the challenges Rohingya face and a way of encouraging women worldwide to stand up for their rights.

Amina is a 31-year-old Rohingya woman, originally from the Rakhine State of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). She arrived in Malaysia in 2011, escaping from persecution and lack of legal rights in her country. "I officially registered with UNHCR Malaysia to get refugee status, but because the process is long and complicated, I had to look for employment in order to sustain my family back in Myanmar", she explained. "I have three sisters, aged between 18 and 30, and a brother, who is paralyzed from malaria because he could not access health services when he was a child. He is 35 years old and he can't speak, move and eat on his own. My mum is constantly looking after him. My whole family lives in Rangoon. It is very dangerous for them to be there, as Rohingya people face persecution and are under severe monitoring and control from State officials, who restrict free movement around the country." In Myanmar, Rohingya people often get arrested by the police for no particular reason other than being part of this ethnic minority, and they are exposed to physical violence. "Once you get arrested, you have no idea what will happen to you. Life is extremely dangerous there", Amina said.

Amina, a young Rohingya refugee, escaped violence and persecution in MyanmarAmina, a young Rohingya refugee, escaped violence and persecution in Myanmar. Photo: ICMC / Nathalie Perroud

As a Rohingya woman, Amina was lucky enough to access education until university level. This is extremely rare in Myanmar. "I was very lucky because my parents, especially my mum, were very supportive of me attending university. However, I couldn't study what I would have liked: I have applied for a degree course in international diplomacy in Rangoon, but because I am Rohingya, I was not able to access this course. Traveling to Rangoon is restricted for Rohingya people. So I studied English in Sittwe [the capital of Rakhine State] instead."

The situation of Rohingya people is extremely difficult in Myanmar, but for Rohingya women it is even worse. There is a widespread belief that women do not need to access education, as they are meant to stay at home to care for their children. "As a Rohingya woman, you have to be very brave to be wanting to access education", Amina said.

From the Rakhine State, Amina traveled to Rangoon illegally. She subsequently headed south, initially by bus, then by train. She reached Malaysia thanks to the help of an "agent" [a smuggler]. "I knew this was very risky for me, but I had no option. I have to support my family back in Myanmar. They can't work because, as Rohingya people, they lack recognition of their right to employment. And my older brother is paralyzed. He needs help and medical care." Amina reported that she had to pay 2500 Malaysian Ringgit (approximately 600 USD) for her trip from Thailand to Malaysia. "I borrowed the money from my cousin. I don't regret it. Although the government of Malaysia still does not officially recognize refugees, life in Malaysia is much better than in Myanmar", she added.

Amina's grandmother also left her home country. "She was sick and needed medical treatment. So she initially went to Rangoon. Eventually she decided to head south, to Thailand, where her son was living, and ended up staying there for three years. When she realized she would have never obtained the necessary papers to live legally in Thailand, she decided to come to Malaysia to apply for refugee status with UNHCR." Amina explained that her grandmother, aged 83, hired an "agent" in Thailand to help her get to Malaysia. Amina continued: "My grandmother left Thailand by bus, then was embarked on a small canoe through the river at night, and ended up on a motorbike through the jungle. During the whole trip, I kept calling her "agent", begging him to bring my grandmother alive to Malaysia, reassuring him that I had enough money to pay."

Amina's grandmother finally managed to reach Malaysia and to obtain refugee status. Due to her deteriorating medical conditions, UNHCR soon referred her for resettlement to the United States. "At the age of 85, she will be flying to the United States on 9 March 2016 to start a new life there", Amina said with excitement. When asked about her grandmother's feelings about this resettlement opportunity, Amina replied: "She is confused. She is old, and it is difficult for her to leave all her family behind. But she realizes that this is the only option for her to get the medical treatments she needs."

"My parents also have medical problems, and they are getting old. I worry so much that I won't be able to see them anymore. I realize that the only chance for me to see them again is by resettling to a third country and getting citizenship, so that I can travel back to Myanmar as a tourist. I also worry that if something happens to me, they won't be able to survive, as I am the only person in the family earning an income", Amira explained.

She added that she was glad that she could help her parents financially, but – as a stateless person with no legal status  – it is challenging for her to regularly send money back to them. "I can't go to an official bank, because they'd ask me for an identity card and I don't have one. I have to go through private agencies to send remittances back home".

Amina currently works for other NGOs in Malaysia, as an interpreter and a community outreach trainer. "I work very hard here in Malaysia, doing different jobs seven days a week, because I need to sustain my whole family back in Myanmar. I feel like I don't have a private life. Yet, even though I have been working hard for several years now and I have been contributing to society through work, I am still seen as an irregular migrant here", she said with a sad voice.

As part of her work, Amina reaches out to Rohingya people who have suffered from persecution and abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence. "I am glad that I now have the opportunity to help my own people. However, I feel like I have not fulfilled my potential. I can do more. I have many dreams, but my wings are tied because I am a stateless person. I cannot fly as high as I would like to."

Amina explained that she would like to be more involved in the humanitarian field and help women fight for their rights. "Women - not only Rohingya, but also women from Syria, Somalia, and other warn-torn countries – are in need of protection and support. They need support to raise their voices. Women can be more than mothers or wives. They are capable of making better communities, significantly contributing to society, and making this world a better place."

  * The name was changed to protect the identity of the person.

  Related videos

 video International Women's Day 2016: Amina's message

Watch Amina's message to women worldwide:

Wednesday 9 March 2016

India: Refugee ID for 2 Myanmarese girls likely

Source Assamtribune, 6 Mar

 GUWAHATI, March 6 - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has accepted the application filed by two Myanmarese Rohingya Muslim minor girls seeking refugee status, and is considering giving 'refugee identity card' to the duo currently housed at an observation home in Guwahati.

The two 'persecuted' Rohingya Muslim girls, who were convicted for illegally entering India by the Juvenile Justice Board, Guwahati on February 26, have expressed reluctance to get repatriated to Myanmar citing threat to their lives, and instead want to live in Jammu and Kashmir.

"They had expressed their desire to stay in Jammu and Kashmir. They had stated that some of their relatives have already fled Myanmar and are staying in Jammu and Kashmir as refugees," official sources told this reporter, adding that the fate of the two girls should be clear by the end of this month.

The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) in Guwahati at the instance of the UNHCR has already done the necessary documentation in this regard and is in touch with the UNHCR in New Delhi.

Nandita Deka of HRLN, when contacted, said, "We have done all the necessary documentation work that was required to be done by us as per the norms. It is now the prerogative of the UNCHR to take a call on the issue. If required, we would facilitate them further."

Although the JJB, Guwahati convicted the duo, it however in its judgement had reserved repatriation initiatives for the girls for the time being and had even written to the Ministry of External Affairs, the Myanmarese embassy and also to the State government to facilitate the right atmosphere.

It had also set off the remand period for both the minors, meaning that the period of stay at the observation home (Children's Home, Jalukbari) since their arrest would be treated as the total remand period and hence, they would not be subjected to any further remand.

The Rohingya girls were detained at the Guwahati Railway Station by the Government Railway Police (under the Foreigners' Act and Passport Act) on June 6, 2015 when they were about to board a train to travel to Jammu & Kashmir, which reportedly has the highest number of persecuted Rohingya Muslims in India.

The minor girls had claimed that their parents were killed by miscreants and they somehow managed to sneak into India through Tripura.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Myanmar’s Dissident Ex-Monk (millions of Muslims disenfranchised, subjected to crimes against humanity in Rakhine state on the west coast of the country.)

Source thedailybeast, 7 Mar

Myanmar's Dissident Ex-Monk

The Saffron Revolution was supposed to make the Southeast Asian country a democracy. Tell that to U Gambira.

Emanuel Stokes

Around nine years ago, U Gambira was condemned by the courts of Myanmar's former Junta to more thansix decades in jail for offenses associated with free speech and protest activity. This extreme sentence, while lawful, was in truth a punishment for having led the most important protest movement in a generation.

The pro-democracy demonstrations, dubbed the"Saffron Revolution" in the West, were a rare moment of hope in the dark days of Myanmar's military dictatorship; one that would soon becrushed with extreme brutality

As the face of this act of rebellion, Gambira would be singled out for particular cruelty once he was in the hands of the state—over the next four years he would bemoved from prison to prison, enduring an assortment of tortures at various locations across the country. By his own account, he was most damaged by the months in which he was chained to the floor in solitary confinement and the routine beatings which caused him to suffer from fits.

Not long after Gambira's arrest, partly in response to its spiking unpopularity, the regime decided it would at last bestow democracy on its captive population, but on its own terms. Within months it finalized its drafting of a long-promised constitution the provisions of which allowed for a clipped version of civilian rule to be established. However, the document also reserved enormous powers for the Armed Forces: among them, the right to control the state's most important ministries—including those that govern the police.

The charter was approved in arigged referendum in 2008 and followed by afraudulent general election in 2010 which propelled Thein Sein, a former general, into the presidency. 

Shortly afterwards, the new leader would begin to release political prisoners in highly-publicized general amnesties, a decision that won him plaudits and the lifting of international sanctions. In one such move in 2012, Gambira was pardoned.

Later that year, he would be given a front row seat at a speech by President Obama, hosted by Yangon University; the former monk's presence at the event was intended to be a symbol of how far the country had come. Not long after Obama's departure, however, Gambira was arrested yet again.

At the present time, as Myanmar awaits the inauguration of a new president, Gambira sits in a cell once more. This time, his plight barely noticed by the global press, he has come to symbolize how little some things have changed in the "world's newest democracy."

The authorities have accused the former monk of entering the country from Thailand illegally, an allegation that even police representatives have admitted they have seen no evidence for. The relevant law, an "emergency" edict dating from 1947, carries with it a maximum sentence of five years; Amnesty International have called the charges "contrived, arbitrary and politically motivated."

Gambira has never fully recovered from the trauma of his torture. While he is sustained by his Buddhist faith, his mental state is nonetheless extremely fragile; his partner, Marie Siochana, told me recently that he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. A trauma specialist who treated him in Thailand hasexpressed the view that his "imprisonment will have retraumatized Gambira and he will have already experienced unbearable amounts of psychological suffering since being arrested."

Rights groups believe Gambira has been targeted because of his past. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch told The Daily Beast that he sees the former monk's arrest as "politically motivated pay-back for the years of his activism against the past military governments of [Myanmar]."

"I'm sure the authorities know that Gambira has a mental disability from his years of detention in Burma for which he was treated while in Thailand, and now that they have him again in their clutches, they are making him suffer," he added.

Gambira has been repeatedly denied bail; he is due to be sentenced this week.

If he is condemned to another jail term, his name will be added to a long list of prisoners of conscience unjustly sentenced by the courts. Campaigners have documentedhundreds of such cases, many of them added to the list after amnesties had temporarily reduced their numbers. Among those incarcerated are human rights activists, anti-land confiscation campaigners, journalists and students, some of whom havereportedly been tortured.

Their arrests have taken place against a backdrop of even more serious rights abuses: since the advent of reform, reporters have been murdered with impunity,millions of Muslims disenfranchised, with others subjected to crimes against humanity in Rakhine state on the west coast of the country. In addition to this, the military have allegedlycommitted war crimes against ethnic rebels and civilians alike in the northeast. 

With such abuses taking place one would expect the west, having been such a fierce critic of the former regime, to do something meaningful to halt them. Not so. While statements of concern are frequently issued from diplomats and embassies, meaningful pressure has been in short supply.

Such complacency has been consequential, Laura Haigh, Amnesty International's Myanmar researcher told me last week. "There has been a marked increase in repression over the past years as international pressure on human rights has subsided," she observed.

Arguably, western laxity may endanger further reform. The issue of political prisoners is a case in point: while the victorious opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD),has pledged to make their release a priority, it will be largely powerless to stop the accumulation of fresh detainees.

With a raft of unamended Junta-era laws still in place, enforced by a Judiciary known for its corruptionand links to the military, one should expect more political prisoners in the NLD era. In the event that the party attempts to change repressive laws favored by the security forces, they would likely be locked in a struggle that could destabilize the country; the Military retain ultimate leverage over Parliament given that they dominate the National Defense and Security Council which can suspend democracy in times of "national emergency."

This is where western, particularly American, pressure can play a key role: unlike the European Union, the US still maintains some sanctions against parts of the old guard; threats to the financial interests of retired and serving generals will be taken very seriously. The military will act only if feels it is in own interests; diplomatic statements mean very little to them.

But Washington has largely opted not to bolster rights. This approach seems to be rooted in its desire to maintain good relations with both the deep state and civilian government ofstrategically-important, China-bordering Myanmar. A key prize in its ongoing struggle for influence in Southeast Asia, Washington evidently does not feel that challenging the brazen activities of the military, and the agencies it governs, is a priority.

Yet if there is to be more reform the Army has to be pressured, not appeased. At the present time, interested parties have a unique opportunity to signal their intent to stand up for human rights at this critical juncture in Myanmar's history. A stronger stance, though likely to elicit a firm response from Myanmar's hardline military men, would set the tone for a new relationship.

While Myanmar has undergone remarkable change, people like Gambira should not be abandoned in the name of pragmatism. Human rights matter most in those circumstances where they are hardest to defend.

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Bangladesh releases French activist helping Rohingyas

Source Aljazeera, 1 Mar

Moussa Tchantchiung granted bail after arrest in Bangladesh for 'suspicious activities' and 'criminal breach of trust'.

A campaign had been launched demanding Bangladesh to release Tchantchiung [Photo courtesy of BarakaCity]A campaign had been launched demanding Bangladesh to release Tchantchiung [Photo courtesy of BarakaCity]

Bangladesh has released a French aid worker months after he was arrested for allegedly helping Myanmar's Rohingya refugees.

Moussa Tchantchuing, also known as Moussa Ibn Yacoub, was released on Tuesday after being granted bail by the high court, the AFP news agency reported.

French embassy press attache Shakhawat Hossain said that he was freed "after 70 days in jail on condition that he cannot leave Bangladesh territory without the prior permission of the judge".

On December 19 last year, Tchantchuing was arrested on charges of "suspicious activities". He was later also accused of a "criminal breach of trust, cheating by personation and abetment".

Tchantchuing came to Bangladesh and neighbouring Myanmar to help the Rohingyas, according to the non-governmental organsiation he worked for, BarakaCity. 

READ MORE: The case of a French aid worker arrested in Bangladesh 

The Rohingyas are a mostly Muslim minority in Bhuddist majority Myanmar.

In recent years, they have fled violence and persecution in Myamar's Rakhine province for Bangladesh's south eastern district Cox's Bazar and other South East Asian nations.

Amnesty describes the Rohingyas as the "most persecuted refugees in the world".

BarakaCity confirmed the release of Tchantchuing on Twitter and the move came after a petition was launched demanding he be set free.

Earlier in January, Tchantchuing was granted bail but his release was stopped after authorities found that he was using a name different to the one registered in his passport.

Exclusive: Myanmar state agents triggered violence

Bangladesh shares a long border with Myanmar, and has discouraged local and international charities from aiding hundreds of thousands of unregistered Rohingya who have taken refuge in the country's south eastern resort district of Cox Bazar.

In August 2012, the French aid agencies Doctors Without Borders and Action Against Hunger and the British agency Muslim Aid were told to stop aid to the Rohingya people. The French charities were later allowed to carry on their work.

Bangladesh recognises some 30,000 Rohingya as refugees, but the total number of those who have crossed the border is estimated at around 300,000.