Thursday 30 June 2016

Why Myanmar is urging foreigners to avoid using the historical term 'Rohingya'

Source Scroll, 27 June

The country's fledgling democracy is marred by denying rights to a Muslim minority.

Why Myanmar is urging foreigners to avoid using the historical term 'Rohingya' 
by Azeem Ibrahim

The government in Myanmar, trying to rewrite history in defining its identity, is engaging in ethnic cleansing. The target are the Rohingya, a people the United Nations and Amnesty International call "the most persecuted refugees in the world".

Myanmar is home to a large and diverse number of ethnic and religious groups: 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by the current constitution of Myanmar plus the Rohingya, the only Muslims, who are excluded. For nationalist extremists, the Rohingya are not an independent ethnic group with ties to the land in the state of Arakan where they live. Instead, the nationalists insist the Rohingya migrated to Arakan after Burma was progressively absorbed into British India from 1824 onwards. The nationalists view Rohingya as an illegitimate colonial import, not in keeping with the Buddhist Tibeto-Burman character, and refer to them as "Bengalis."

The US Embassy in Myanmar refuses to go along. On April 19, a boat carrying a number of Rohingya capsized and 40 people drowned. The group was trying to reach a nearby town with a hospital, a market and access to other services severely restricted inside the camps for internally displaced persons, where some 140,000 Rohingya live after four years of sporadic inter-communal violence.

In issuing a statement of condolences to the families of the victims, the US embassy referred to the dead as "Rohingya." The nationalists find that name more threatening than direct criticism of the "apartheid-like" conditions which these people endure. To a Western reader, this may seem odd. Surely an accusation that a state and many of its people engage in ethnic cleansing bordering on genocide should be vehemently denied. But this is how far the situation has gone in Myanmar: The perpetrators of the oppression against the Rohingya – extremist nationalists and Buddhist monks aided and abated by many elements of the police, military and border agency – fully acknowledge the violence and indeed, think it is justified.

The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar bubbles to the surface a few times every year and then tends to be forgotten once the 24-hour news cycle moves on to the next calamity. What lingers is "direct state complicity in ethnic cleansing and severe human rights abuses, blocking of humanitarian aid and incitement of anti-Muslim violence, constituting ominous warning signs of genocide," as described by United to End Genocide, a non-profit in Washington headed by former US Congressman Tom Andrews. 
A humanitarian crisis emerged from the way Myanmar has defined its national identity.At the core is the way in which the country has sought to define its national identity after gaining independence from Britain in 1948. Upon independence, Myanmar became a multi-party parliamentary democracy. But that did not last. The borders of the state were defined by convention on the borders of the pre-colonial Burmese empire of King Bodawpaya, prior to the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826). The conflicts between some of these groups and the central government led to the military takeover of the government from 1962 effectively until last year. Even now, the military establishment retains veto powers over the new civilian government.

Throughout this period of military administration, the central government has worked at building a nation out of the many ethnic groups in terms of religion, Theravada Buddhism, and race, fair-skinned Tibeto-Burman. The Rohingya are dark-skinned, South Asian Muslims. And so, they have been regarded as the definitive enemy within and "threat to the national purity" of the country for all these decades.

Nationalists defy international law with support for removing the Rohingya from Myanmar.The nationalists support removing the aliens from Myanmar for deportation to Bangladesh. Never mind universal human rights and international law that prohibits denial of citizenship – rendering those born in a nation's territory stateless – or any suggestion that after two centuries a people might claim a right to land.

The United States and the international community recognize that "communities anywhere have the ability to decide what they should be called," insists US Ambassador Scot Marciel. "And normally when that happens we would call them what they want to be called. It's not a political decision; it's just a normal practice." Myanmar's new de facto leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, rebuked the US ambassador for such high-mindedness and sides with the nationalists.

What's in a name?

The word "Rohingya" wields power because it carries the torch of historical truth that dissolves the impossibly contrived case for ethnic cleansing, linking the Rohingya with the British Raj. This is why those who would carry out ethnic cleansing in Myanmar fear it.

The nationalists' narrative is historically baseless. The state of Arakan has not traditionally been part of the Burmese political and cultural space. The emperor King Bodawpaya annexed Arakan in 1785, just 39 years before the nationalists' 1824 cut-off point for their "legitimate history." Arakan had been annexed by precursor Burmese empires, but was not held for extensive periods over the previous thousand years.

Between the state of Arakan and the Burmese heartlands in the basin of the Irrawaddy River there is a difficult-to-traverse mountain range whereas the Arakan coast is neatly on the Bay of Bengal. The area is a natural geographic extension of the Bengali political and cultural space, not the Burmese one. Ethnic and cultural affinities with the people of the Bengal are not surprising. And it is historically documented that the Burmese Rakhine ethnic group, from which most of the extremist elements are drawn, only arrived in the area around 1000 AD.

But the most important reason for giving no ground to the extremists' revisionist history is that the word "Rohingya" is historically documented in the region prior to the British Raj. Muslims have lived in the region from the 7th century, alongside Hindus and Buddhists, according to an assessment by U.K. Min. Before 1824, the British referred to the region as Rohang and those who lived there as Rohingyas. Later reports from the 19th century, including the 1852 Account of the Burman Empire, Compiled from the Works of Colonel Symes, Major Canning, Captain Cox, Dr Leyden, Dr Buchanan, Calcutta, D'Rozario and Co, refer to how the local Muslims called themselves "Rovingaw" or "Rooinga." Likewise, a 1799 study of languages spoken in the Burmese area divides the natives of Arakan state between Yakain and Rooinga.

The Classical Journal of 1811 has a comparative list of numbers in many East and Central Asian languages, identifying three spoken in the "Burmah Empire," and distinguishes between the Rohingya and the Rakhine as the main ethnic groups in the region. Likewise, Rooinga is structurally different to Bengali. A German compendium of languages of the wider region once again mentions the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group and separate language in 1815.
This is the history that the ethnic cleansers and their apologists are trying to obscure. They claim that the "Bengalis" invented the term "Rohingya" to hide an illegitimate Bengali background. And this is why the term "Rohingya" posits a threat for them. The word is in the history books – the same books showing that the area gas been multi-ethnic and multi-confessional for well over a millennium. 

The history books also show that Burma has been most successful as an open, inclusive and outward-looking country – a lesson that should be welcomed by the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. And this is why the war over the word "Rohingya" must be fought, and won: The word looks to history but also charts a path for Myanmar with a future that's every bit the glorious, peaceful, creative and open country that it once was.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a fellow at Mansfield College University of Oxford and author of The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar's Hidden Genocide.
This article first appeared on YaleGlobal Online.
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Monday 27 June 2016

OIC Distributes Ramadan Aid to Rohingya Families in IDP Camps

Source oic, 26 June
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has distributed more than 550 bags of rice (50kg each) through the NGO HUMANiTi Malaysia during the month of Ramadan.

"More than 1100 families living in Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar, received aid," said Dr. Syed Hamid Albar, President of HUMANiTi Malaysia and OIC Special Envoy for Myanmar.

Syed Hamid said the OIC is determined to help IDPs and refugees living in the camps to get basic access to livelihood as well as to try to set up office in Myanmar to provide humanitarian assistance which will be of benefit to all refugees, regardless of ethnic background.
"Efforts are being intensified to ensure refugees welfare are being taken care of especially during The Holy Month of Ramadan," said a representative from HUMANiTi Malaysia. Four volunteers from HUMANiTi were involved in distributing the aid in various locations in Sittwe.
This aid effort is a part of the initiative launched by the OIC Secretary General Mr Iyad Ameen Madani to ensure basic needs and services, including medical attention and education areprovided to Rohingya IDP's. Earlier this month the Secretary General organized through HUMANiTi, a Ramdan iftar and aid distribution event for refugees in Malaysia.

Buddhist mob ransack mosque as violence flares in Myanmar

Source TRT, 24 June
Photo by: AFP

Photo by: AFP :A man walks inside the destroyed mosque at Thuye Tha Mein village in Bago province on June 24, 2016.

Buddhist mob attacks a man for constructing a religious school inside his house, before going on to ransack a mosque and an under-construction school.

A Buddhist mob destroyed a mosque in central Myanmar on Friday, forcing local Muslims to seek refuge overnight in a police station.

A dispute between neighbours over the building of a madrasa, a religious Islamic school, spilled into religious violence, officials and residents said. Police said that the mob attacked and injured a Muslim man and destroyed the under-construction madrasa.

Around 200 Buddhists then rampaged through the Muslim area of Thuye Tha Mein village in Bago province.

"It started when a Muslim man and a Buddhist women started to argue and then people came to fight him," Hla Tint, the village administrator, said.

"Parts of the mosque were destroyed... they also destroyed the fence of the Muslim cemetery," he added.

Ali Ahmed, secretary of the mosque, cries inside the destroyed mosque at Thuye Tha Mein village in Bago province on June 24, 2016.

A villager, Abdul Sharif, was accused of building a madrasa in his compound. In this village of 500 houses, 40 houses belong to Muslims.

"He was taken to a hospital in Waw," Htay Khaing, officer-in-charge at the police station in Waw Township said. Security has been provided for his family members, he added.

"For his safety, we will not disclose where he is being kept," he said.

"I do not understand why Abdul Sharif was attacked. He is a good man to neighbours," the victim's brother Abdul Shareek said while waiting at the police station to meet with his brother.

He said that Abdul Sharif was building a new religious school at his house compound as an older madrasa in the mosque compound was unusable.

The villagers also destroyed the fence of a Muslim cemetery.

The violence coincides with a rise in tensions over how to refer to the Rohingya, a 1.1-million group of Muslims living in fear miserable condition in Rakhine since an outbreak of violence in 2012.

Pages torn from Quran lie on the floor inside the destroyed mosque at Thuye Tha Mein village in Bago province on June 24, 2016.

Around 70 Muslims, including children, were forced to seek shelter in a police station overnight on Thursday, he said. Police and the secretary of the mosque confirmed the damage, while a Muslim resident said that his community of around 150 people was now living in fear.

"We had to hide as some people were threatening to kill Muslims. The situation has never been like this before," Tin Shwe OO, 29, said, adding his family stayed at the small police station overnight.

"I do not dare to stay at my house. For the safety of my family, I want to stay somewhere else for about a week or so."

Outbreaks of deadly violence have become a threat for the country's nascent democratic gains since the army began loosening its stranglehold on the Myanmar in 2011.

The worst violence struck central Myanmar and western Rakhine State. Tens of thousands of Rohingya still languish in displacement camps after rioting. Buddhist nationalists vigorously oppose moves to recognise the Rohingya as an official minority group, instead labelling them "Bengali" -- shorthand for illegal migrants from the border with Bangladesh.

A Buddhists mob ransacked a mosque and a madrasa at Thuye Tha Mein village in Bago province on June 24, 2016.

Democracy champion Suu Kyi, who is currently visiting Thailand, has come under fire for her failure to speak up for the Rohingya. She recently caused uproar by using the incendiary term during a visit to Myanmar by America's top diplomat.

Religious tensions pose a challenge to the new government and to Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate once garlanded for her fight for rights for all.

Her party is dominated by ethnic Bamar Buddhists and did not field any Muslim MPs in the election last year that drove it to power.

Hardline monks -- known as the Ma Ba Tha -- are accused of stoking violence and tensions with hate speech.

TRTWorld and agencies

UN Rapporteur Meets Muslim and Buddhist Communities in Sittwe

Source Irrawaddy, 24 June

UN rapporteur on human rights in Burma Yanghee Lee meets with Muslim residents of Sittwe's Aung Mingalar ward on Tuesday. (Photo: Phoe Thiha / The Irrawaddy)


UN rapporteur on human rights in Burma Yanghee Lee meets with Muslim residents of Sittwe's Aung Mingalar ward on Tuesday. (Photo: Phoe Thiha / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Yanghee Lee, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, met on Thursday with Muslim community leaders of Aung Mingalar quarter in Sittwe, the Arakan State capital.

Aung Mingalar is the last Muslim enclave in Sittwe, after most of the town's sizeable Muslim population fled sectarian violence in 2012. However, it functions effectively as an internment camp, with access in and out restricted by heavily armed police, and the total segregation of the Muslim community from the town's Buddhist majority.

The meeting took place at the Ma Dar Hsa Arabic School at 10 a.m. and lasted around 10 minutes. A dozen community leaders attended.

Yanghee Lee asked the Muslim residents, many of whom identity strongly as Rohingya, for their views on the new, purportedly "neutral" term for the Rohingya—"Muslim community in Arakan State"—floated by the government at a recent session of the UN Human Rights Council. She also sought their thoughts on the government's recently resumed citizenship verification drive targeted at stateless Muslims in Arakan State.

The Muslim community leaders responded that they did not accept the government's new term for them, and said they still hoped to gain official recognition from the government as Rohingya, according to Zaw Zaw, a Rohingya resident who was present at the meeting.

Muslim residents also expressed distrust towards the government's citizenship verification drive. This has involved the handing out of "national verification cards" to those who will later be assessed for citizenship eligibility under the 1982 Citizenship Law, which discriminates heavily against the Rohingya as a "non-recognized" ethnic group in Burma.

Yanghee Lee then asked which they considered to be a greater priority: gaining citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law, by whatever means, or continuing to fight for the official recognition of their identity as Rohingya.

"We told her that if the Rohingya are designated as one of the [officially recognized] ethnic minorities of Burma, we will automatically become citizens," said Zaw Zaw.

He said that Yanghee Lee also enquired about their current situation and their experiences over the last four years. The Muslim community leaders stressed that material conditions had improved for them, but the high level of police surveillance had not changed.

"[Beforehand] we were not allowed to go to markets but now we can go everyday with police guards. That's a small change", said Zaw Zaw.

The Muslim residents of Aung Mingalar were not entirely satisfied with the meeting, however, because the UN rapporteur did not make any commitments towards them on behalf of the UN and merely took notes, according to Zaw Zaw.

According to state government sources, Yanghee Lee visited only one other place in Sittwe, Ming Gan quarter, where Buddhist Arakanese displaced by the 2012 violence have been settled.

Arakan State government spokesman Min Aung confirmed that Yanghee Lee did not visit any further displaced communities or camps around Sittwe. He said she would return to Rangoon on Thursday evening.

Yesterday, according to state government sources, she visited Pa Nyar Wa camp in Kyauktaw Township, which is sheltering members of non-Muslim ethnic minority groups—including the Mro and Daingnet—displaced by fighting in recent months between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army.

State government spokesman Min Aung expressed his thanks towards the local Arakanese community for not staging any protest rallies, as they had done in previous years.

Thar Pwint, a local Arakanese resident, said, "This is not the time to protest against Yanghee Lee. This is the time to protest against the government. Yanghee Lee is not our guest. She is the guest of the Union government."

He expressed suspicion over the timing of the deployment of the government's new term—"Muslim community in Arakan State"—to coincide with the UN rapporteur's visit, suggesting it was a move to placate the international community. He objected to the term strongly, because it suggested that "Bengali" Muslims "originated in Arakan State."

This reflects a widely held view among Arakanese Buddhists, and the Burmese public more generally, that the Rohingya are illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Yanghee Lee intended to consult with civil society groups and political parties drawn from the Arakanese Buddhist majority, but they refused to meet with her. The Arakan National Party, which holds the largest number of seats in the Arakan State parliament, released a statement to that effect on Wednesday.

According to local sources, Arakanese nationalist groups in the state are planning to stage demonstrations against the government's recent use of "Muslim community in Arakan State."

Thursday 23 June 2016

Suu Kyi visit brings harsh crackdown on Rohingya, advocates in Thailand

source Bangkokpost, 23 june

Rohingya illegal immigrants and human trafficking victims are held in a number of detention centres around the country, such as this one in Pathum Thani province. (File photo by Apichit Jinakul)

Police on Thursday forced cancellation of a press conference and presentation at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on the problems of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

Unconfirmed reports said police arrested Haji Ismail, the secretary-general of an activist organisation, the Rohingya Thailand Group, who had arranged to hire the FCCT premises for the event.

The arrival of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday has thrown a political blanket over discussion of the much-discriminated group. Mrs Suu Kyi's office has forbidden even the use of the word "Rohingya".

In Myanmar, the Muslim group is officially called Bengali immigrants. There are an unknown number of Rohingya "boat people" in Thai detention centres.

Mr Ismail released a lengthy statement to the media that he had planned to deliver at Thursday's now-cancelled presentation at the FCCT premises.

It is highly critical of the Myanmar authorities, whom Mr Ismail blames for last year's disastrous outpouring of boat people from western Myanmar.

In a reference to Mrs Suu Kyi, the statement said, "All our hopes in the leadership of democratic statesmen have faded away. Indeed we did not hope this sort of harsh and negative political stance and undemocratic rhetoric from our noble peace laureate."

He also released the text of a letter addressed to Mrs Suu Kyi from the Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP). It recommended changes to Myanmar law to provide Rohingya with citizenship and full civil rights.

"Stop discriminating against the ethnic minorities in Myanmar and consider acceding to international human rights treaties," it said.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Aung San Suu Kyi tells UN that the term 'Rohingya' will be avoided

Source theguardian, 20 June

Myanmar leader reiterates her stance that the word, used to describe a persecuted Muslim minority, is 'controversial' and her government won't use it

A mother – in a camp for Rohingya in Sittwe – Myanmar, holds onto her twins, both of whom suffer from malnutrition.Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has told the UN special rapporteur on human rights that the government will avoid using the term "Rohingya" to describe a persecuted Muslim minority in the country's north-west.

The statement came as the top UN human rights official issued a report saying the Rohingya had been deprived of nationality and undergone systematic discrimination and severe restrictions on movements. They had also suffered executions and torture that together may amount to crimes against humanity, the report said.

Concerns grow that Buddhist extremism may flourish unless country's new democratic leaders counter discrimination against minorities

Members of the group of about 1.1 million people, who identify themselves by the term Rohingya, are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The term is a divisive issue.

The UN human rights investigator, Yanghee Lee, met Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital Naypyitaw on her first trip to Myanmar since the Nobel Peace Prize winner took power in April.

"At their meeting here this morning, our foreign minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi explained our stance on this issue that the controversial terms should be avoided," said Aung Lin, the permanent secretary at the ministry of foreign affairs.

Aung San Suu Kyi is banned from presidency by the military-drafted constitution because her children have British citizenship. She holds offices of the state counsellor and the minister for foreign affairs, but is the de facto leader of the administration.

Feted in the west for her role as champion of Myanmar's democratic opposition during long years of military rule and house arrest, Suu Kyi has been criticised overseas, and by some in Myanmar, for saying little about the abuses faced by the Rohingya.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights said in the report the Rohingya were excluded from a number of professions and needed special paperwork to access hospitals, which has resulted in delays and deaths of babies and their mothers during childbirth.

It was the first time Zeid said these and other long-standing violations could add up to crimes against humanity, an international crime. Crimes against humanity are serious, widespread and systematic violations.

Some 120,000 Rohingya remain displaced in squalid camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine State between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012. Thousands have fled persecution and poverty.

"The new Government has inherited a situation where laws and policies are in place that are designed to deny fundamental rights to minorities, and where impunity for serious violations against such communities has encouraged further violence against them," Zeid said.

Reversing such discrimination must be a priority for the new government "to halt ongoing violations and prevent further ones taking place against Myanmar's ethnic and religious minorities," Zeid said.

Aung San Suu Kyi has formed a committee to "bring peace and development" to the state in May, but its plans are not clear.

As the country prepares for crucial polls, millions of Muslims are being denied the chance to vote for the candidates of their choice

Aung San Suu Kyi said during a visit by US secretary of state John Kerry last month that the country needed "space" to deal with the Rohingya issue and cautioned against the use of "emotive terms" that she said were making the situation more difficult.

The previous military-linked government of former junta General Thein Sein referred to the group as "Bengalis", implying they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.

Don’t ignore Rohingya’s rights, Syed Hamid tells Asean

Source Freemalaysiatoday, 20 June

Southeast-Asian grouping needs to be flexible in its non-inteference policy to discuss and manage refugee issue, says former foreign minister.

KUALA LUMPUR: Former foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar said Asean countries need to be more flexible in their non-interference policy, especially in tackling refugee issues.

"Asean countries respect the sovereignty and the non-interference policy adopted by member countries. Due to that, it's a sensitive issue.

"But the spillover of refugees is no longer a domestic issue in Myanmar. It is a violation of human rights."

He was speaking to reporters after delivering a keynote address at the UNHCR Expert roundtable discussion, titled "Employing Refugees in Malaysia: A Win-Win for All?".

Syed Hamid said the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had tried to set up office in Myanmar to look into the root cause of the problem between the people of Myanmar and the Rohingya community.

"But there was strong opposition from extreme groups there."

He urged Myanmar's Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi to look into the issue and pleaded with her not to neglect the issue which has since evolved into a humanitarian crisis.

"The Rohingya community are deprived of education and medical benefits. They live in deplorable conditions."

Last year, thousands of Rohingyas fled Myanmar to Malaysia and Indonesia to seek better lives after years of persecution in their homeland.

Syed Hamid then praised the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) move to re-issue enhanced identity cards with biometric safety features to refugees and prepare proper documentation of refugees in Malaysia.

The initiative is meant to stop the spread of fake documents after media reports exposed syndicates issuing such cards to illegal immigrants.

Syed Hamid, who also heads HumaniTi Malaysia, an NGO which supports education and humanitarian issues, said he will meet government officials here to allow genuine refugees to work in Malaysia, once the documentation is completed.

"Instead of hiring foreigners, use the existing manpower who are registered with UNHCR to work in sectors Malaysians are not interested in.

"It is a good way of solving labour shortage," he said, adding that this method will ensure that refugees would not be exploited.

Syed Hamid also said this could allay fears that allowing refugees to work in the country would lead to an influx.

Asean is a 10-member grouping of Southeast-Asian nations comprising Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Timor Leste is the only Southeast-Asian nation yet to gain full membership in Asean.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Rohingya's in Delhi: "Had I Not Escaped I Would Have Been Killed"

Source thecitizen, 15 june


"Had I Not Escaped I Would Have Been Killed"

NEW DELHI: In a rubbish dump on the outskirts of Delhi a crack of lightning illuminates an ominous sky. Rains begin to lash down and people run for cover. Squeezed between piles of sorted trash, makeshift huts of tarpaulin and bamboo begin to shake in the wind. A group of men quickly repair a roof in a hopeless attempt to keep the rain out. 

These hovels are more than just homes. They are their residents' sole possessions, fragile markers of their otherwise evidenceless existence. They offer an imperfect asylum not just from the weather, but from the murder, violence and persecution of their homeland. 

The Rohingya of west Myanmar are some of the most persecuted people on the planet. Decades of discrimination and state-sponsored oppression have rendered them stateless and right-less. 

In previous years, reports of Rohingya refugees drowning as they fled to South East Asia, shocked the world. But what rarely reached the media were the stories of Rohingyas fleeing west, and the lives they made for themselves outside Myanmar. This is the untold story of Delhi's Rohingya refugees and their daily fight for a better life.


Like many of the refugees here in Delhi's Kanchan Kunj, Sohain fled Myanmar in 2012 following a programme of mass violence and land grabbing. "In Myanmar I had a good life, I owned a number of shops and some land" he explained. "One day the government took them. I was not allowed on my land anymore." 

When he objected, he was kidnapped by a Buddhist political group. "They took me and tied my hands and legs. Then they beat me. I was lucky not to die. When they let me go, they told me to pay ₹300,000 or they would kill me." 

At this point Sohain decided to flee Myanmar. With the help of a Buddhist friend, he was able to get to Bangladesh with his family, and then, to India. "Had I not escaped I would have been killed." 

Zakir fled Myanmar in 2008 after his father was murdered in front of him. "In Myanmar I had my own house, and lots of land," he said. "It was all stolen by the government." 

"Ramadan used to be a joyous time. We would take the whole month off work and celebrate. Now I am fasting but I have no happy feeling for it. There is no celebration here." 

Many of the refugees had hoped to build new lives for themselves in Delhi, but with no government or UNHCR support they feel abandoned. "The government gives us a one-year extendable visa but the process is very difficult and expensive" said Sohain. "They are giving us no support. Even the UNHCR just registers us and that is all."


Because India is not party to the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the UNHCR's mandate here is pitifully limited. Sohain showed us his small UNHCR registration card which,as a stateless person, is his only proof of existence. A token gift from an organisation that otherwise does almost nothing for the Rohingya. 

"I have no regular work. How am I supposed to support my family?" Asked Zakir, father of three. "Sometimes I work as a labourer, other times as a rag picker. When I can find work, I get paid ₹100-150 a day. My life has totally changed, before I could afford to live, now I struggle to survive." 

"The police also cause problems for us. Every day they are coming and threatening us" Sohain said. "I don't know why they torment us." 

The Zakat Foundation is the only thing that provides a ray of hope for the Rohingyas here. "They own this land and pay for our children to go to private school," Sohain explained. "70 children are currently enrolled. The best children are given scholarships to a better school. This year 10 were given scholarships." 

But life in Kanchan Kunj remains dire. "You can see we have only bamboo and plastic sheeting to shelter us," explained Sohain. Just minutes after the rain had begun, three inches of water had already covered the narrow pathways between the houses and was threatening to fill their homes. "When it rains our houses flood, when it is not raining, the heat inside is unbearable. Conditions here are too bad. We have no electricity or running water." 

Sohain draws back a curtain that acts as a door for one of the huts. It's a tiny one-room house with earth floors, no windows and no light. The ceiling is so low the people inside cannot stand. "Eight people live in here," Sohain explains. "We are living like this for three or four years now. We are 210 people in total."


"The conditions here are very bad, but at least I am free," says Sohain. "In Myanmar I was always worried about my family and I could not travel anywhere without taking permission from the government. I might not have much here, but at least I have my freedom." 

Others though, are less optimistic. "Why would I not want to return?" Sadaq asks. "Half of my family is living there, my mother and sister are there, I have my heart there. Why would I not want to go back? But if I return I will be killed right away. I am powerless." 

Zakir also wants to return. "My family is living there in miserable conditions. My heart is with them and I long to see them again." 

As a stateless people, atomised and unrepresented, ignored by governments and neglected by aid agencies, the Rohingya face an uncertain future. In Myanmar the programme of ethnic cleansing shows no sign of stopping, despite the election of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. 

In India there is also little sign of improvement. The Rohingya live unseen by the media, the government and the world. Draconian citizenship laws make it impossible for them to become citizens, even those born here are ineligible. The government pretends to not see the Rohingya. It is almost as if these desperate but determined people mean as much to them as the rubbish among which they live.

Let us hope that the inspirational courage and unrelenting determination of this remarkable community defies the odds. As we leave, Sohain's parting comment is one of hope. "In India we have our freedom and our security. There is a future here for us." Behind him, rising from the rubbish, a newly built mosque is a symbol of hope and development in this otherwise fragile, transient settlement. 

(NB: Names have been changed to maintain the anonymity of our sources. There are other more established Rohingya communities elsewhere in Delhi.)

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Turkish Foreign Minister Visits Burma, Offers Assistance to Arakan State

Source Irrawaddy, 1 June

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with his Burmese counterpart Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw, June 13, 2016. (Photo: Burma Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Facebook)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with his Burmese counterpart Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw, June 13, 2016. (Photo: Burma Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Facebook)

RANGOON — Visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu thanked the Burmese government on Monday for its efforts to quell racial and sectarian violence in Arakan State, expressing a desire for mutual cooperation to resolve the issue.

"We would like to cooperate with the Union government to solve this problem, and we will support the actions of the Union government," the Turkish foreign minister said at a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw.

"As a result, there will certainly be peace and development [in Arakan State]," he said, adding that he admired, in particular, the citizenship verification process for Muslims in Arakan State, although some Rohingya Muslims have rejected this new verification exercise on the grounds that it omitted their ethnicity and religion.

"To solve the problems in Arakan State, the Burmese government should also work with international agencies like the UN, without discriminating on the basis of creed and color," Cavusoglu said.

Cavusoglu and other Turkish officials were scheduled to arrive in Arakan State at noon on Monday and to meet with leaders of both Muslim and Buddhist groups at Sittwe Airport. Cavusoglu was also to join Muslims from the region in prayer.

"The Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency [TICA] has been giving assistance without discrimination [in Arakan State]. TICA has offered new projects to local authorities, and it will give assistance to open clinics and fulfill other requirements. The Turkish government will extend similar assistance at the request of the Union government and the Arakan State government," the foreign minister told reporters.

"We are working to improve the situation in Arakan State. I am thankful that Your Excellency [Cavusoglu] understands our delicate situation," Suu Kyi said.

The Turkish foreign minister also invited Suu Kyi to visit Turkey to share his country's experiences in the health, education, infrastructure and tourism sectors.

Cavusoglu said that his government expects to boost its trade value with Burma, which currently stands at US$38 million, highlighting an ambition to fly Turkish Airlines to Burma.

He also urged the Burmese government to open an embassy in Turkey, seeing as how the latter opened a Turkish embassy in Rangoon four years ago.

Suu Kyi said that Burma will make efforts to improve international diplomatic relations with Turkey and move toward relaxing entry visa regulations for Turkish nationals.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko. 

Monday 13 June 2016

Azeem Ibrahim -- Sanctions, democracy and tolerance in Myanmar

Source Asianikki, 11 June

People gather around Baw Du Pa camp for stateless Rohingya people in western Rakhine state, Myanmar, on May 3, 2016. A fire left 440 families homeless. © AP

The U.S. in late May eased but did not remove sanctions against Myanmar -- sending a signal that summed up the view among many Western governments of the situation in the once closed and repressive country. Myanmar has made progress toward democratizing in recent years, including electing its first civilian government since 1962 in November last year, when the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, stormed to power by winning absolute majorities in both chambers of Myanmar's parliament.

But on some other measures the country has been slipping backward. On humanitarian issues, the move toward democracy has been accompanied not by an opening of society and increased rights and protections for all the citizens of the country, but quite the contrary. As the majority of the population is finding its political voice after decades of repression, radical nationalists from the Buddhist majority are using that voice to abuse the country's minorities -- particularly the Muslim Rohingya, who account for an estimated 1 million to 1.3 million people of the total population of 53 million or more.

How are we in the West to make sense of this conundrum? How can we approach a country where an increase in democracy does not correlate with an increase in the other social values we hold dear, but where humanitarian concerns and democracy are pulling in different directions? And how can we approach sanctions policy in these circumstances?

Myanmar is perhaps one of the toughest nuts to crack in international diplomacy. Since it gained independence from Britain in 1948, it has largely withdrawn from the international community. Between 1962 and 2011 it was governed by a reclusive, xenophobic military establishment -- so much so that its closest allies during this time were China and North Korea.

But in the last decade, things have changed dramatically. Growing unrest in the country in 2007, topped off by the government's disastrous response to Cyclone Nargis, which killed an estimated 140,000 people in 2008, have seriously undermined the position of the once all-powerful military establishment. From this came the country's bold step toward the democratic civilian administration it has today.

This movement toward democracy has been matched by increasing rapprochement with the international community, not least with the U.S., the European Union and the U.K. Long-standing sanctions have been eased, new trade and investment deals have been struck, U.S. President Barack Obama visited the country in 2012 and 2014, while British Prime Minister David Cameron called for the lifting of sanctions against Myanmar as early as 2012.

Clearly we want to encourage Myanmar to continue to make progress on this metric. We want it to become a full member of the international community, and we want its citizens to become full citizens of the world. And we want to trade with them and help the country develop economically, as well as politically.

But as things stand, it is difficult to figure out how to reward the progress they have made, without also seeming to tolerate the human rights abuses in the country. In this regard, even Suu Kyi is making things much more difficult for us than they should be.

Stateless Rohingya

The Rohingya, the people at the center of this problem, are a Muslim minority in a country that is Buddhist by law and constitution, and have been denied citizenship as a group since 1982, rendering them one of the world's largest stateless populations. They have suffered repeated attempts at what some claim is a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing, and United Nations agencies and international nongovernmental organizations have described them as "the most oppressed people on Earth."

Some international agencies estimate that there are roughly 2 million Rohingya from Myanmar, and that nearly half have been driven out of the country over recent decades. Many are languishing in refugee camps in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, or have been forced into the slave trade in Thailand and elsewhere.

Since 2012, repeated waves of violence, instigated by Buddhist extremists in their native state of Rakhine (formerly known as Arakan), and aided and abetted by elements in the police, military and border agencies, have corralled as many as 120,000 to 140,000 Rohingya into makeshift camps for internally displaced people, where they are routinely denied medical care, education and adequate food, to say nothing of work or other economic opportunities.

For her part, Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi, the de facto (if not de jure) leader of Myanmar's new democratic civilian administration and the longtime hope of most voters who swept her party to power in elections last November, has been disappointingly slow to address this issue.

Some claim she has decided that political expediency trumps human decency, showing herself open to doing deals with extremist Buddhist monks linked to abuses and the radical Rakhine nationalists who have been instigating and carrying out the violence.

Along with those extremists who wear ethnic cleansing as a badge of patriotic honor, she has refused to even acknowledge the existence of the group. Just the other week she reprimanded the U.S. ambassador to Myanmar for having the temerity to use the word Rohingya in a letter expressing his condolences to the families of the victims of a boat accident in which some 30 Rohingya died, along with members of other minority groups. They had been trying to get from their camp to the nearby town to visit the hospital and the market -- amenities they are denied in the camp.

Suu Kyi does, however, seem to understand the frustration of United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations with the situation of the Rohingya. She will be heading a new, 27-strong committee just set up for the "implementation of peace, stability and development in Rakhine state." But there are reasons to be skeptical about how much this committee will achieve -- the Rohingya will not be represented on it, while officials from Rakhine state who were in office at the height of the violence will be part of the committee.

This will be one of the biggest tests for Suu Kyi's government, and for her international reputation. But until there is tangible progress, can the West really provide sanctions relief in good conscience? Perhaps not, but I believe we must not take it off the agenda. We should not, of course, punish the majority of Myanmar's population for the abuses of an extremist minority, however sizable and violent and it may be. If we want to welcome the people of Myanmar into the 21st century, we cannot do so without dangling a carrot in front of them.

Yet, it is equally obvious that we still need to wave the stick. We must attach conditions to sanctions relief not only on the metric of progress toward democratization, but we should put at least as much emphasis on the way Myanmar treats the Rohingya and other oppressed minorities.

Any further exemptions and licenses to trade from the U.S. and other allies should be strictly regulated to make sure no individual, company or community that contributes to oppression is rewarded. Individuals, organizations and institutions that are known to be pushing for ethnic cleansing, enabling it, or acquiescing to it should be targeted and should see tightening sanctions. And the legal framework for sanctions we currently have in place should remain in force in perpetuity until such time as all those born in Myanmar are granted equal citizenship and full protections of all their rights, irrespective of ethnicity or religion.

Azeem Ibrahim is a fellow at Mansfield College at the University of Oxford and author of "The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar's Hidden Genocide."

Thursday 9 June 2016

UNHCR: Release Roghingya refugees from detention

source thestar, 8 June

A pic of Rohingya refugees passing food supplies dropped by a Thai army helicopter to others aboard a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. AFPA pic of Rohingya refugees passing food supplies dropped by a Thai army helicopter to others aboard a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. AFP

KUALA LUMPUR: The Rohingya refugees who arrived in Malaysia after being stranded in the Bay of Bengal a year ago must be released from detention, says United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

UNHCR Malaysia representative Richard Towle said the refugees needed to be looked after properly and this could not be done effectively or fairly in the immigration detention system.

"That's why after the Bay of Bengal crisis we have been saying give us access, let them out of detention and we will look after them," Towle told reporters after the launch of Odysseys: A Photographic Exhibition of the Asia and Europe refugee crises by Agence France-Presse (AFP) here on Wednesday.

In May last year, over 1,000 people from Bangladesh and Myanmar had arrived by boat after being stranded in the Bay of Bengal.

They were abandoned by human trafficking syndicates following the discovery of mass graves and detention camps in Thailand and Malaysia.

Of the 371 Rohingya refugees accepted into Malaysia last year, 36 have been resettled to the United States and the rest still languishing in detention centres.

Towle said there have been no major boat arrivals of refugees from the Rakhine state in Myanmar in the past year, but warned that the situation could happen again.

He acknowledged that some of the governments in the region were trying to put in place cooperation arrangements to be better prepared of future incidents.

The Rohingya are considered by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, often subjected to arbitrary violence and forced labour in Myanmar.

They come mainly from the Rakhine state in Myanmar, which borders Bangladesh.

To escape persecution, they take long and arduous journeys by boat to other countries in the region.

As of April this year, there are 53,410 Rohingya refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia.

The exhibition will run until June 18 at Whitebox@Publika. Admission is Free.