Sunday, November 11, 2012

World urges access to Myanmar displaced

YANGON  - The United States, Britain and other countries called Friday for Myanmar to ensure unhindered humanitarian access to tens of thousands of people displaced by sectarian unrest in western Rakhine state.In a joint statement, nine embassies in Yangon urged "all parties to work together to bring an immediate end to the violence".They appealed for "a full, transparent and independent investigation" to determine the roots of the Buddhist-Muslim clashes."We further encourage the government to enable safe, timely, and unhindered humanitarian access across Rakhine State to all persons in need," according to the statement, which was also signed by the embassies of Australia, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.More than 100,000 people have been displaced and about 180 killed since clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims erupted in June, followed by another outbreak of violence in October.A foreign diplomat in Yangon who did not want to be named said that although Myanmar was showing "a real willingness to cooperate" in aid efforts, security concerns in certain areas were a hurdle to deliveries.The UN Refugee Agency has warned that the influx of internal refugees has pushed the Rakhine camps "beyond capacity in terms of space, shelter and basic supplies such as food and water".Doctors Without Borders said earlier this week its teams were struggling to reach most communities affected by the violence owing to "antagonism generated by deep ethnic divisions".Most of the displaced are stateless Rohingya, considered by the UN to be among the most persecuted minorities in the world.Some ethnic Rakhine leaders have campaigned against international aid agencies in recent months, arguing they favour the Rohingya.Meanwhile, the UN human rights chief called on Myanmar Friday to allow Muslim Rohingya to become citizens after deadly sectarian violence in recent months in the western state of Rakhine.The group's statelessness is at the heart of two major outbreaks of unrest between Buddhist and Muslim communities that has left 180 dead and forced more than 110,000, mainly Rohingya, into makeshift camps since June.The Rohingya have no legal status, with the government and many Burmese regarding them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added her voice to calls for the problem to be resolved and urged a change in the law, saying the Rohingya had been excluded from the reform process."This should include a review of the citizenship law to ensure that Rohingya have equal access to citizenship," Pillay told AFP at the Bali Democracy Forum in Indonesia.She also warned that the violence could hinder Myanmar's much-heralded reform drive."While we can positively commend the government for the progress made towards democratic transition and national reconciliation, the communal violence, if not resolved, can undermine the reform process," she said.Local authorities in Rakhine told AFP Wednesday they had begun a process of verifying the nationality of all the state's Muslims, amid widespread calls for those deemed "illegal" to be sent to another country.The precise goal of the survey was unclear.The 800,000 Rohingya in the state are considered by the UN to be one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.Separately, Pillay said she pressed Myanmar's Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw at the Bali meeting to secure the release of a local UN refugee agency employee detained in Myanmar for almost five months. He gave her no response."If the government detains UN people carrying out their professional functions, it doesn't sit very well with their reform agenda," she said.Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told AFP that the agency had asked Myanmar for details of the charges but received no response.Other UN aid workers were detained earlier this year over their alleged roles in the sectarian unrest, but have since been released.

Myanmar released 3 aid workers

Hong Kong (CNN) – Myanmar has released three aid workers, including two U.N. employees, who received prison sentences after being detained amid sectarian clashes that killed scores of people in the west of the country in June, a U.N. spokesman said Wednesday.
A court in the town of Maungdaw in Rakhine State sentenced the three local aid workers to time in prison on Friday.
But they have now been released after President Thein Sein issued a statement on his website late Tuesday pardoning them, said Aye Win, the spokesman for the United Nations in Myanmar.
One of the aid workers is from the U.N. refugee agency, one is from the U.N. World Food Program and the other is from a non-governmental organization affiliated with the refugee agency, according to Aye Win.
The United Nations had struggled to obtain details on the lengthf the prison sentences and the charges the workers were convicted of because it didn’t have access to the courtroom, he said. It had been unable to meet with them after they were taken into custody.
The United Nations said in July that about 10 aid workers had been detained for “questioning” by the authorities in Rakhine, where violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims caused havoc in June. The detained workers included employees of the United Nations and the aid group Doctors Without Borders.
Some of those being held were released, the United Nations said last week. But it noted that some workers remained in detention.
The communal violence in Rakhine resulted in the destruction of hundreds of homes and the displacement of tens of thousands of people, many of them members of the Rohingya, a stateless ethnic Muslim minority.
Rakhine is home for the Rohingya, who say they have been persecuted by the Myanmar military during its decades of authoritarian rule.
Many of them have fled into neighboring Bangladesh over the years. But the Bangladeshi government tried to prevent fleeing Rohingya from crossing the border from Myanmar during the recent outbreak of violence, saying it already had too many to deal with.
The Myanmar government declared a state of emergency in Rakhine at the time of the unrest, bringing in the military to help restore order.
Human rights advocates have accused the Myanmar authorities of cracking down particularly harshly on the Rohingya in the response to the unrest.
Aye Win of the United Nations declined to disclose the identities of the detained U.N. workers.

‘Myanmar refugees given voting authority’ – UNHCR alert

KUALA LUMPUR – The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed its concern over news reports which claim that its ongoing exercise to register Myanmar asylum-seekers in Malaysia is actually a front for registering ‘foreign voters’ for the upcoming general election.
The international aid body has reacted with alarm over the reports, which allege, among others, that more than 10,000 Myanmar nationals at the KLFA Stadium in Cheras were being registered as Malaysians, on the condition that they were Muslim.
The same reports claim that the thousands of asylum-seekers were not only being given Permanent Resident (PR) status but permanent citizenship by the Malaysian government, thus enabling them to vote in the general elections.
This was the gist of the reports published by pro-Opposition news portals Harakah Daily and Keadilan Daily.
UNHCR representatives in Malaysia have denied the reports, and stressed that the data-gathering process is part of the aid body’s ongoing effort to register the asylum seekers in the country.
WAITING: Asylum-seekers seen loitering at the area outside the gathering hall. Some were seen trying to enter the hall but was turned away due to overcrowding.UNHCR spokesperson Yante Ismail said that they were alerted to the reports and moved quickly to issue a statement clarifying the issue.
“We have already sent the statement to Harakah andKeadilan Daily, but it amazes me that they did not choose to carry the statement. We sent it and asked them to rectify it (their reports) but they did not bother to correct it,” she told Malaysian Digest.
Yanti said she was taken aback at the reports, as the claims have no basis whatsoever.
“I was alarmed at this and I hope that this can be corrected,” she said.
Yanti had earlier explained that UNHCR was conducting a data-gathering exercise of unregistered asylum-seekers from the Rohingya, Myanmar Muslim, and Myanmar Tamil groups from Myanmar.
During the exercise, UNHCR would be gathering basic biodata and contact information of these communities.
“This is to assist UNHCR in our future programmatic planning, including future registration exercises. For planning purposes, UNHCR needs to know who the unregistered asylum-seekers are in the country, and data-gathering exercises such as this helps us to know this.
She said while there are some 100,000 refugees and asylum-seekers already registered with UNHCR, they estimate that around 10,000 or more asylum-seekers have not yet registered.
“This exercise aims to provide us a clearer idea of how many unregistered Rohingyas, Myanmar Muslims and Myanmar Tamils there are in Malaysia. Since we started last week, we have seen a few thousand people, but this has also included persons not from the three ethnic groups mentioned.
DETERMINED: Many refugees were seen lingering around the stadium’s parking area, waiting for the entrance to be re-opened for the data-collection exercise.“We will have a better picture once this exercise is over and we have a chance to analyse our data,” she said.
On Tuesday, Harakah Daily and Keadilan Daily had reported that the KLFA Stadium in Cheras was playing host to a mass registration exercise for Myanmar nationals, and offering them Malaysian citizenship.
Both portals had quoted a Facebook posting by a user, Shirley Gabriella, whom via her Nov 2 entry, claimed that she had on that same day witnessed more than 10,000 Myanmar nationals waiting to be registered as permanent citizens.
“However, there was one requirement. They have (sic) to be a Muslim. The person who approved the citizenship today actually registered each individual to declare if they are Muslim.
“If the answer is yes, then they must prove it by saying some prayer quote from the Quran bible (sic),” the user wrote in her posting.
The post was picked up and reproduced by the two portals. Keadilan Daily, in its report headlined ‘Almost 10,000 Myanmar Nationals Get ICs To Become BN Voters?’, raised a poser on why was it necessary to provide citizenship to foreigners.
“Is Malaysia so short of citizens until it needs to give citizenship to foreigners? Will these thousands of Myanmar nationals be allowed to vote in the general election to ensure victory for Barisan Nasional?
“This expose will most likely unravel the incidences where Myanmar settlements in Pekan, Pahang, were given citizenship to save (Prime Minister Datuk Seri) Najib Razak’s political career,” the report stated.
Harakah Daily had published an almost identical report, but attributed it to a pro-Opposition blog,
Efforts by Malaysian Digest to contact the Facebook users were unsuccessful to date.
This is not the first time that Keadilan Daily has come under scrutiny for a misleading news report. On Sept 25, the portal had produced an article which claimed that 1Malaysia exercise books, bearing the PM’s face on the cover, were being distributed in schools nationwide.
The article had quoted Parti Keadilan Rakyat leaders slamming Najib’s ‘desperate move’ in targeting schools to further the government’s political agenda.
Malaysian Digest later revealed that the books were part of an independent art project. The creator of the books, June Low and Adila Abdul Malik, slammed the portal for using their material as political propaganda.
They demanded an apology and retraction from the portal. Keadilan Dailyresponded with an apology and clarification soon after.  - MD

Rohingya refugees streaming to Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - When 27-year-old Najumul Haq took to sea for the first time, he left behind all that he had ever known.
Najumul is a Rohingya, born in Myanmar. For years, his family had run a sundry shop in the town of Maungdaw, on the country's western coast close to the border with Bangladesh.
"As soon as I got on board, the brokers took away my money and my phone … anything valuable."
- Najumul Haq, Rohingya refugee
But after the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman in June triggered a new wave of violence against the minority Rohingya - who are denied citizenship by Myanmar's government and have suffered decades of discrimination - the store was ransacked and Najumul's two brothers were detained. Fearing for his life, he fled.
Travelling first to nearby Bangladesh, and then to a rendezvous with a boat carrying more than 230 other people, it took Najumul nearly a month to get to Malaysia. He and his family paid the brokers who control the escape routes nearly $2,200.
"As soon as I got on board, the brokers took away my money and my phone … anything valuable," he told Al Jazeera in Kuala Lumpur. "All we had to eat was dried noodles, and if we moved the broker would beat us." The only shelter from the rain and choppy seas was a tarpaulin.
Najumul arrived in Malaysia two weeks ago, just as another outbreak of Buddhist verses Muslim Rohingya violence in his homeland began. More than 150 people have been killed since June.

Rohingya on the margins

Najumul joined tens of thousands of Rohingya who've made their homes in Malaysia in the past few decades, eking out a living on the margins of society, unable to get a proper job or give their children an education because they don't have legal status in the country.
Like many of Myanmar's immediate neighbours, Malaysia hasn't signed the UN Convention on Refugees. That means that those who arrive in the country are, as far as the government is concerned, illegal migrants.
"Malaysia has no law to protect refugees," said Chris Lewa, a director of the Bangkok-based Arakan Project, who's been working on Rohingya issues for more than a decade. "They allow the UNHCR [United Nations High Commission for Refugees] to register people, but that's only an informal protection."
The UNHCR says there are 24,370 Rohingya registered in Malaysia, but the numbers actually living in the country are much higher. At a recent "data registration exercise" in Kuala Lumpur, thousands of unregistered Rohingya, Myanmar Muslims and Myanmar Tamils queued to give their details to the agency officials. While some were recent arrivals, many had been in Malaysia for years.
Ajim, who goes by one name, arrived in Malaysia two months ago after his community of fishermen decided to use one of their boats to escape the violence. Activists in Myanmar say government policy has helped fuel ethnic tension, but even in the safety of Malaysia, 18-year-old Ajim feels little sense of security.
"I don't see any future here in Malaysia," he told Al Jazeera at a community centre run by other Rohingya refugees. "I have no documents and without documents it's very difficult to get a job. It's hopeless."
Most Rohingya find work through community networks - Nujumul works in a small shop catering to other Myanmar migrants - or take poorly paid jobs that have little appeal to others.

Schooling is more difficult. The Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation in partnership with the UNHCR runs seven schools for migrants from Myanmar, including three specifically for Rohingya.
The children, aged 6-11, don’t follow a full curriculum but do get lessons in English, Malay, maths and science. Their parents pay about $1 a month for classes. They’re eager to learn and, like many children, have ambitions for the future.
Umairah Begum, 11, left Sittwe - capital of Myanmar’s western Rakhine state - for Malaysia three years ago. She says she loves going to school and dreams of becoming a doctor. "I want to save people’s lives," Umairah says in fluent Malay that’s she’s picked up.
The former UN special envoy to Myanmar, Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, has called on the Malaysian government to make life "easier" for the Rohingya in Malaysia.
It seems officials may be listening. In the past week, key agencies have met to discuss Rohingyas’ access to education. Jobs may also be on the agenda.
"Whatever happens to them is going to affect this country," Nazri Aziz of the Prime Minister’s Department told Al Jazeera. "If we don’t take action to help them, we’re going to create a group of people in society who may be considered as laggards. They’re going nowhere, they’re going to be here."
Official estimates put the number of people displaced in this year’s ethnic violence in Rakhine at more than 110,000 people. Some 36,400 people were forced from the homes in October, many of them into squalid camps. Hundreds of thousands more are in Bangladesh. Activists expect that as the weather improves in the Bay of Bengal, more Rohingya may be tempted to make the trip to Malaysia.
Diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the ethnic violence in Myanmar have made little progress. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has called on the country’s now quasi-democratic leaders to grant the Rohingya citizenship.
Worried the situation could radicalise Rohingya and create tension throughout the region, Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan has offered ASEAN’s help, but Myanmar rejected the offer, insisting the dispute is a domestic issue. Despite recent reforms, not everyone’s surprised.
"I don’t think the junta is particularly interested in anything that ASEAN has to say," said Joshua Snider, assistant professor at the School of Politics, History & International Relations at the University of Nottingham Malaysia.
"I think they are playing their own game. Now that Myanmar is no longer a pariah, the question is whether the international community is willing to put its foot down and say that all the aid that’s pouring in could be withdrawn unless something is done."
For now, the Rohingya in Malaysia see little chance that international action will give them the chance to return home, or an opportunity to settle permanently elsewhere. They will continue to spend their days worrying about the future, but mostly about those they’ve left behind.
The tears well up in Nujumul’s eyes as he recounts his last conversation with his family.
"My two sisters and my mother have become homeless," he said. "Whatever we have has been looted. I worry about my family every second of every day and every second of every night."

Authorities arrest 90 illegal foreign workers

KUCHING: Ninety illegal foreign workers were apprehended in an operation by the Immigration Department yesterday.
Codenamed Ops Bersepadu, 50 personnel, including those from Rela and Civil Defence Department, swooped on three construction sites in Jalan Pending here.
The illegal workers were aged between 20 and 40. Fifty were arrested at the first site while nine were roped in from the second.
Authorities later arrested 31 illegal workers at the third site.
Pending Immigration deputy assistant Ramli Mohd Saleh, said the workers had no permits.
“Some of them only have social passes and some don’t even have passports. Those with social passes are not supposed to work. They will be detained at Simunja Depo for further investigation.
“At the moment, we are investigating the case under the Immigration Act,” said Ramli.
The foreigners will be detained for 14 days.
Ramli said the operation would be ongoing and employers would have their statements taken.
Authorities also arrested two illegal workers at a coffee shop in Kota Samarahan on Wednesday.



The immigration department rounded up 77 illegal immigrants during an operation at Jalan Klang Lama, Kuala Lumpur early this morning.
During the raid, most of them were sleeping but tried to escape when they realized the presence of the authorities.
60 Indonesians, 3 Bangladeshis and Myanmar nationals were among the 232 foreign workers aged 20 and 40, arrested in the spot-check.
Initial investigations showed the housing area was mainly populated by locals but have now turned into a nest rented to mostly foreign workers.
The joint operation involved some 92 officers from the immigration department, the Malaysian Civil Department JPAM, RELA and the Home Ministry.
Those arrested were sent to the Jalan Duta immigration detention depot for further questioning.


Suu Kyi Finally Calls for Troop Surge to End Myanmar Unrest

Yangon. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the government to send more troops to western Myanmar to restore peace to a region convulsed by communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims.

The Nobel laureate, who has been criticized for failing specifically to condemn the treatment of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims, called for an end to the unrest in Rakhine state that has left at least 180 people dead and 110,000 displaced since June.

"Everyone is responsible for respecting human rights, without discriminating between majority and minority, ethnicity and religion," she said in a statement released with lawmakers from ethnic minority parties on Wednesday.

The democracy champion said more security forces must be sent to bring "peace, stability and the rule of law" to Rakhine, where renewed conflict last month involving ethnic Rakhine and Muslims, mainly the Rohingya, killed scores.

The statement followed a meeting of the parliamentary committee on the Rule of Law and Stability, which Suu Kyi chairs.

It did not mention the Rohingya by name but it directly addressed the "concerns" of ethnic Rakhine.

The unrest pivots on the Rohingya's lack of legal status in Myanmar, where they are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

In rare comments touching on the incendiary topic, Suu Kyi said the government must "inform the public clearly how it will handle the citizenship issue."

A 1982 law enshrines the citizenship of Myanmar's officially-recognized ethnic groups but the Rohingya were excluded, despite their claims to have met the criteria by having ancestors in the country some 160 years before.

With around 800,000 stateless Rohingya in Rakhine, the reformist government is under international pressure to give them a legal status, with warnings that the conflict threatens its democratic transition.

Acknowledging the "very profound and sensitive" nature of the unrest, Suu Kyi also said the issue "is not the responsibility of a single country," in comments likely to refer to Bangladesh.

The Rohingya are considered by the United Nations to be one of the most persecuted minorities on the planet.

Tens of thousands languish in squalid makeshift camps across Rakhine state after their homes were torched, while many others have tried to flee the restive region in rickety boats.

Bangladeshi rescuers on Thursday searched for 50 people missing after a boat carrying Rohingya heading for Malaysia capsized.

Agence France-Presse

Chin people clamour for presidential visit

The people of Chin state are expecting a visit from the country’s President, so that he can see for himself their poor living conditions.
“Chin state is the most backward state in the country and the President has not been able to visit the state. He should come and witness our poverty,” said a parent from Matupi town.
Meanwhile, a member of the state Parliament said, “The President has often visited other states and regions, but has never been to Chin state. It makes us feel that he does not like representing the people of Chin state.”
The Chin people and local parliament members are disappointed that they do not have proper access to information regarding Chin state. A chosen few like the township administrators and some leaders of the USD party can access information from Naypitaw.
When people started applying for loans for elephant yam (locally called “Wau”) plantations, in order to eradicate poverty in Chin state, the township administrator of Thantlang, gave priority to a select few. Those people, who had submitted copies of their applications to USDP, (Union Solidarity and Development Party), were given preference.
“Although we are aware that the Division Officer and the local commander of the military were present, we were not informed officially. For these reasons, the President should pay a field visit,” a Member of Parliament for Chin state said.
Simultaneously, the Chin state government has not had regular parliament sessions for nine months and it cannot discuss the proposals which have been pending for two years.
Besides, the government is responsible for poor law and order situation in the state and is also not transparent about the annual budget for the Chin people, aid for the health sector to the tune of USD 6 million from India, agricultural aid of 9900 million Kyat from JICA, (Japan) and for electricity and education departments to the tune of 220 lakh Kyat from U Win Thun, Union Forest Minister and Chairman for eradicating poverty in Chin state.

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BANGLADESH-MYANMAR: More Rohingya boat people set to flee violence

Mohammad Johar wants to leave for Malaysia soon
BANGKOK, 6 November 2012 (IRIN) - Thousands of Rohingya - whether currently in Myanmar or Bangladesh - may take to the high seas and head to Malaysia after last month’s deadly sectarian violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, activists warn.

“The risk factor is certainly there,” Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an advocacy organization for the Rohingya, told IRIN. “Many simply feel they have no other choice. Bangladesh has closed its borders so there is no other escape.”

“More people are getting on boats to get to Malaysia,” Phil Robertson, the deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said. “This year might be one of the largest sailing seasons [of Rohingya refugees going to Malaysia from the two countries].”

According to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are more than 24,000 Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia today.

Close to 110,000 mostly Rohingya residents are displaced in Myanmar following inter-communal violence between Muslim Rohingya and ethnic (mainly Buddhist) Rakhine residents, and need humanitarian assistance, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on 5 November.

On 21 October, more than 35,000 people were displaced across eight Rakhine townships (Kyaukpyu, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Myebon, Pauktaw, Ramree and Rathedaung) after a wave of inter-communal violence resulted in 89 deaths and the destruction of more than 5,000 homes and buildings.

In earlier violence in June, dozens were killed and some 75,000 Rohingyas were displaced following the alleged rape of a Rakhine woman by a group of Muslim men in May. Most of the displaced are staying in nine overcrowded camps in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State.

Despite the presence of thousands of soldiers and police, security across Rakhine remains tense, while access for aid workers is increasingly proving problematic.

OCHA says more displacements are likely. "The situation is still very, very volatile, it's very tense. The government is doing its very best to keep the situation under control, but it's still very fragile,” said Jens Laerke, an OCHA spokesman.

Bangladesh responded to the June violence by enforcing its “closed door” policy more strictly, leaving the Rohingyas in Rakhine State - described by the UN as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world - in an even tighter spot.

Bangladesh is already home to more than 200,000, mostly undocumented Rohingya refugees, and Dhaka insists it is in no position to accept any more.

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh live in dire conditions  
A dangerous voyage

Thousands could well seek shelter in Malaysia, an escape that requires undertaking a dangerous voyage across the Indian Ocean often in rickety, and overcrowded boats ill-equipped to make the journey, said Maung Kyaw Nu, president of the Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand.

“Whether they are able to get to Malaysia is another issue,” he said. Many of those getting on the boats are desperate enough to shell out more than US$1,500 for the passage, he added.

Many think the risk is worth it. Mohammad Johar, an undocumented Rohingya in the town of Teknaf in southeastern Bangladesh bordering Rakhine State, is already plotting his escape after saving up money for almost a year, and motivated by his longstanding fear of life back in Myanmar.

“Many things can go wrong. The boat’s motor can stop working. The authorities can try to stop you, since what we’re doing is illegal,” the 23-year-old said.

Groups of 20-30 passengers are typically picked up in the dead of night from various areas in Chittagong, Cox’s Bazaar, and Teknaf in southeastern Bangladesh, he explained, from where they are transferred to larger boats at sea.

On 31 October, one such boat on its way to Malaysia reportedly sank. Some 130 Rohingyas on board are believed to have drowned.

“I have learned that last year perhaps as many as 50 percent of all boat refugees died,” said Maung Kyaw Nu.

Survivor of refugee boat sinking 'swam for twenty hours' before rescue

Rohingya refugee boats Burma
A man who survived after a refugee boat sank while fleeing Burma for Bangladesh said he swam for twenty hours before being picked up by a fishing boat. Above, a Muslim Rohingya man rest on his boat in a Burmese refugee camp. Source: AFP
A SURVIVOR from a boat that sank off Bangladesh while carrying Rohingya refugees to Malaysia told how he had been rescued by a passing fishing boat after swimming towards land for 20 hours.
As many as 135 passengers, mostly Muslim Rohingya refugees who had fled unrest in neighbouring Burma, are believed to have drowned on October 28 when their boat went down off the Bay of Bengal.
Only around half a dozen made it to safety.
Talking to AFP by phone from his home village of Sabrang in Bangladesh's southeastern Cox's Bazaar district, 24-year old Abu Bakar told how he had paid 20,000 taka ($250) for a place on the ramshackle vessel.
The boat had set sail after midnight in a bid to evade detection and had only been sailing for around four hours when it went down in a matter of minutes after hitting rough seas.
Mr Bakar said he found himself and five others, floating in the water in the dark, after disaster struck.

"Everyone was crying and praying to Allah as the boat was bobbing heavily in the water and it sank quickly." said Mr Bakar.
"There was no sign of the boat (after it sank) and I can't say what happened to the other passengers.
"After sunrise we tried to work out where the Bangladesh coast was and started to swim eastwards.
"We swam at least 20 hours - those hours were the longest in my life.
"It was after midnight and I was hungry, thirsty, totally exhausted and was thinking that my life was at an end, when a Bangladeshi fishing boat rescued us."
Most were Rohingyas who had fled Burma and were hoping to start a new life in relatively prosperous Malaysia. Mr Bakar himself is a Bangladeshi labourer who also wanted to earn more money abroad.
He said the middlemen whom he had paid for a berth had promised to get him on much larger vessel.
"The brokers told us that we would be taken to Malaysia by a big ship. But actually we were crammed into a relatively larger wooden fishing boat which was anchored far from the shore," Mr Bakar said.
Mr Bakar said three companions from his village were among those who drowned.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled Burma in past decades to escape persecution, often heading to neighbouring Bangladesh, and recent unrest has triggered another exodus.
Since the unrest erupted, Bangladesh has been turning away boatloads of fleeing Rohingya. The policy has been criticised by the United Nations but Bangladesh said it was already burdened with an estimated 300,000 Rohingya.
Burma's 800,000 stateless Rohingya, described by the United Nations as among the world's most persecuted minorities, are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

'Missing' Chin Refugees Feared Dead in Malaysia

Chin refugee communities are worried that at least two Chin refugees who have been reported 'missing' in Malaysia for weeks might be dead.
A 10-year-old boy named Thang Tung Mang, who is waiting for his UNHCR refugee registration card, remains missing while another refugee called Do Khan Dal, 32, has disappeared since 27 April 2012.
"We have made as much effort as possible to find out about them. But we haven't got any update whatsoever until today. We are still trying our best," said one of the Chin community leaders in Malaysia.
A 'missing person' advert has been distributed online and placed several times on the newsletter published by ACR (Alliance of Chin Refugees), a community-based umbrella organization tasked with providing social services to refugees in Malaysia.
A letter sent to the UNHCR, ICRC (Red Cross) and Malaysian authorities indicated that Mr. Do Khan Dal, originally from Mualbem village, Tedim Township of Chin State, Burma, did not come home from his work at a restaurant in Cheras of Kuala Lumpur.
Mr. Khai Boih, of Mualbem village, said he was still talking with Mr. Do Khan Dal on 26 April 2012.
"Over the past few months, we had different situation where Chin refugees were kidnapped by some sorts of gang groups, who demanded a ransom in exchange," a Chin community leader told Chinland Guardian.
Late last month, 40 Chin refugees including children, held in an abandoned warehouse near the Thai-Malay border by members of human trafficking, were rescued by Malaysian police. Source: Chinland Guardian

Europe urges end to Myanmar killings, pledges aid

A boy, displaced by the recent violence in Pauktaw stands in the field near Owntaw refugee camp for Muslims outside Sittwe early November 1, 2012. U.N. human rights investigators called on Myanmar on Wednesday to halt deadly sectarian violence and warned it not to use the conflict as a pretext to remove Rohingya minority Muslims. Some 89 people have been killed in clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingyas in western Myanmar in the past 10 days, according to the latest official toll. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called on Saturday for an end to sectarian killings in Myanmar, following talks with the president of the nation which is emerging from decades of brutal military rule.
In western Myanmar, 89 people have been killed in clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingyas, according to the latest official toll covering the last 10 days of October. Many thousands more have been displaced by the violence.
"We are deeply concerned by these events and by the consequences for the reforms and democratization of the country. We hope that all religious leaders will call for restraint," Barroso said in a speech, a copy of which was released in Brussels.
"The EU stands ready to mobilize 4 million euros ($5.14 million) for immediate humanitarian needs, provided access to the affected areas is guaranteed," Barroso added.
He was speaking in Myanmar at a newly established peace center designed to aid dialogue between all parties in Myanmar's peace process. During his visit to the country he also held talks with President Thein Sein.
The European Union, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, has contributed 700,000 euros to starting up the peace center, to be followed by further funds.
In 2013, the bloc will contribute 30 million euros to Myanmar's ethnic peace process, a Commission statement said.
After five decades of brutal junta rule, Myanmar has stunned the world with rapid economic and democratic change, which has led to an easing of sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union to encourage further reforms. ($1 = 0.7785 euros)
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Stephen Powell)

In Comer, refugees apply old traditions

COMER, Ga. (AP) — Refugees living in camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border heard cock crows each morning.
Refugees living in apartments in DeKalb County hear the siren crow of cops and ambulances all night long.
Eh Kaw Htoo's family, refugees from Myanmar living now in Comer, wake to the rumble of the CSX line that rolls through town just two blocks from their front door.
"Train crow," Eh Kaw calls the locomotive horn blasts.
On a weekend morning, Eh Kaw's children watch cartoons on a 20-inch TV, slurping up rice and vegetable broth prepared by their mother, Pa Saw Paw, 31, who is washing metal bowls with her mother.
Pa Saw places a fly-deterring plastic cover over leftovers sitting on the 2-foot-tall circular table they often sup around. Although she mounds clean cookware onto a drying rack, Pa Saw offers breakfast to whomever enters her kitchen. She met Eh Kaw when she was 9, but said she didn't fall in love until 2000, the same year they married. Two of her children, the oldest boys, were born in refugee camps in Thailand. They are citizens of no country. Jessica, the youngest daughter, was born in Georgia.
If everything goes according to plan, Eh Kaw, Pa Saw and their children will become American citizens early next year.
For someone who calls himself "stateless," finally attaching a nation, a name, to his identity is life-changing. Without "United States Citizen" printed across his official papers, "they will call us refugees always," Eh Kaw said.
For Pa Saw, citizenship means earning her GED and eventually becoming a nurse. A jobless life in the camps, she said, was frustrating. But "the hardest part is that I worried for my kids," she said. How can a mother support, educate and maintain her children's health when she is waiting in line for bowls of rice? Now Eh Kaw works double shifts at Pilgrim's Pride, and Pa Saw stays home to raise the kids. Life in America eases her fears.
Students at Comer Elementary School, Jubilee, Jack and Jessica are becoming American, preferring pizza and hamburgers to the turmeric-heavy Karen diet. But Pa Saw hopes they'll keep the Karen culture close to their heart.
"I want them to be good Americans," she said, "but still remember their people."
The community that Pa Saw, her family and friends are building in Madison and Oglethorpe counties is so distinctly Karen, Pa Saw's children stand a strong chance of cementing their ethnic identity while growing up in Comer.
Pa Saw's in-laws live just a 20-minute drive from Comer deep into the unpaved parts of Oglethorpe County. There, Eh Kaw's mother, father and two brothers live in trailers separated by less than 50 yards of forest. Independent structures built from downed pine trees and deconstructed chicken coops interconnect each family's trailer. Near Eh Kaw's youngest brother's trailer, an arbor of skinny pines stands erect for squash vines to grow up and through. Handmade rabbit and squirrel traps segment a 2-foot-tall fence that runs along a clearing.
Built without power tools, save for the odd chainsaw cut, and seemingly without fasteners, the constructions employ skills the Karen people learned in their childhoods.
"Everyone knows how," Eh Kaw said.
Even deeper into the forest, nearing a tract of land owned by a member of the Baptist church Eh Kaw's family attends, a cinderblock foundation is under way for another structure to be built using felled pines and chicken shack parts. Soon, the Karen church, currently in the basement of Vesta Baptist Church, will relocate here.
Eh Kaw said the church's construction will not cut ties to their fellow American worshippers in Vesta. He envisions a place to keep the Karen language and culture alive — on their terms.
Just 1 mile from Eh Kaw and Pa Saw's home, foods common in Karen cuisine grow at The Neighbor's Field, just off the gravel road that leads to Jubilee Partner's Christian community.
Walking through the field, Eh Kaw explains each crop planted there. Bitter melon. Chinese okra. Asian eggplant. Roselle greens. A reporter jokes that the Karen are even cultivating pokeweed, pointing to a lone plant sticking up near a gate. Eh Kaw, like any smart naturalist, knows he can cook pokeweed's young greens. He bends down, picking a micro-grass just sprouting out of the soil, one most people would've stepped on. He'd cook it, too.
Karens know how to forage, Eh Kaw said. Back in Myanmar and Thailand, the Karen people also are known to spread seed along the forest floor, leaving food for the next wave of refugees fleeing their villages.
Eh Kaw urges the Karens he knows in Clarkston, the DeKalb county city that's home to refugees from many nations, to drive to Comer to harvest fresh instead of imported food. And he hopes they'll stay.
"I try to encourage my folks to move out of the city," he said.
"In America, if you choose to live in the city, it can feel like prison. You don't own anything. You have no freedom. I prefer the countryside. It is freedom."
Jubilee Partners, the intentional Christian community that owns the land where the refugees farm, helped give Eh Kaw his first taste of American-style freedom.
In 2008, Eh Kaw and his family spent a few months living at Jubilee before returning to Clarkston.
After living off others in rural camps, long-term Jubilee staff member Russ Dyck said refugees arrive in urban settings where they don't speak the language.
The effect is isolating.
Refugees often are settled with their own people, which is good, Dyck said, but that makes it hard to befriend North Americans and learn the culture.
Refugees come to Jubilee through the International Rescue Committee and Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta. Through Jubilee's rural pace and intensive English language education, refugees get a glimpse of America that's easier to digest, Dyck said.
"The land is a place where refugees are teachers," Dyck said, noting all the shepherding and agricultural skills he's learned from Myanmar refugees. "My hope is that this is a place of healing. It's been amazing to see how Karen and other refugees connect with this piece of land."
At Jubilee, refugees garden, raise and kill goats and practice other traditional skills. Dyck can't count how many times he's heard guests say, "This place reminds me of my village."
From Comer, the typical Jubilee graduate, after a stay of two months or so, returns to Atlanta to live in an apartment and find a job.
Atypical is how he describes Eh Kaw and his brood moving to Comer in 2009.
Eh Kaw and his brother, Eh Kae Doh, have spearheaded the Karen's integration into the Northeast Georgia community. Eh Kaw possesses strong language skills, making him a valuable go-between with English speakers. Eh Kae pioneered the Karen's employment at Pilgrim's Pride in January of this year, which has led to many jobs for Karen who live in Madison County and metro Atlanta. Eh Kaw plays cultural historian for his new bosses, teaching anyone willing to listen about a refugee's struggle.
The U.S. has everything, Eh Kaw said. You can work hard and get it. But its people lack the "fruit of the spirit," he said. They are kind, they know the world, but not their neighbors.
"We are very blessed from God," he said. "We have a lot of American friends."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fear, hunger stalk crowded Myanmar camps

 By MSN 

Crammed into squalid camps, thousands of people who fled communal violence in Myanmar face a deepening humanitarian crisis with critical shortages of food, water and medicine, aid workers say. 

More than 100,000 people have been displaced since June in two major spasms of violence in western Rakhine State, where renewed clashes last month between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims uprooted about 30,000 people.
Dozens were killed on both sides and thousands of homes were torched.
Even in the camps near the state capital Sittwe housing ethnic Rakhine Buddhists -- who have freedom of movement and are able to work if they can find employment -- people are going hungry.
"We don't have enough to eat," said Phyu Ma Thein, 33. "The abbot gave us a bowl of rice but we have no pots, no plates. We have nothing. We're just trying to survive."
The situation is likely to deteriorate, the UN Refugee Agency warned this week, as a new influx of refugees pushes the camps "beyond capacity in terms of space, shelter and basic supplies such as food and water".
"Food prices in the area have doubled and there are not enough doctors to treat the sick and wounded," it added.
Most of the displaced are Rohingya, described by the UN as among the world's most persecuted minorities.
Seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, Myanmar's 800,000 stateless Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination, according to rights groups.
Their displacement camps are at crisis point, according to Refugees International (RI) which estimates that even before last month's flare-up nearly a quarter of children in the squalid facilities were malnourished.
"Conditions in these camps are as bad if not worse than ones in Eastern Congo or Sudan," Melanie Teff, a researcher with the charity who visited Sittwe in September, told AFP from London.
"Child malnutrition rates are startlingly high. There's an urgent need for clean water and food. If further aid does not come through there will be some unnecessary deaths," she said.
With tens of thousands of Rohingya in outlying villages struggling to make a living since security collapsed after June's unrest, Teff fears official camps could be overwhelmed by a new wave of refugees over the coming months.
Myanmar, which is opening up after decades of secretive junta rule, has said it has to accept aid from Muslim countries or face an international backlash.
That concession by President Thein Sein last month came despite a series of angry protests by Myanmar Buddhists against efforts by a world Islamic body to help Muslims affected by the violence in Rakhine.
But the flow of aid is still sluggish to the tinderbox province.
In Baw Du Pha relief camp, where several thousand Rohingya refugees from Sittwe live cheek-by-jowl, surviving on rations and severely short of medical care, a mother-of-four told AFP Friday of her family's desperation.
"I cannot give my baby rice when she needs it. We are suffering," said Laila, 20. "When my daughter gets sick we have no money for medicine."
Compounding the immediate need for essentials such as rice, water and oil, aid workers say refugees are facing a mounting psychological toll with terrified children bearing the brunt.
"They lost their houses in the fires. Children cannot be left alone like before. So they're depressed," said Moe Thadar, a local Red Cross worker.
With tensions still at boiling point despite beefed-up security, the relief effort is in jeopardy and the outlook for peace is grim unless the two communities can somehow reconcile, according to Teff.
"As it stands there is a total lack of hope for the Rohingya. They have been rejected by many countries. They have suffered all around," she said. "The only way out is for the international community to act on the current situation."
The UNHCR said the recent bloodshed spurred several thousand Rohingya to take to rickety boats this week in the hope of finding shelter at camps on the coast near the outskirts of Sittwe or escaping the country altogether.
But tragedy awaits even in flight, as around 130 people went missing after one boat sank off the coast near Bangladesh's border with Myanmar while carrying Rohingya refugees heading for Malaysia.
Dozens of other boats were repelled by nervous Myanmar security forces near Sittwe, leaving them with no choice but to dock on the barren shoreline, according to an AFP reporter who visited the scene this week.
"Humans need shelter, a place to sleep and eat," said Myint Oo, a displaced Muslim who has lost his house and fishing business. "If you cannot eat and sleep, it's worse than dying."

We still need to fight for human rights in Burma

When I was just 14 years old, the Burmese Army attacked my village with mortar bombs and air strikes. There was no warning. We fled for our lives. My family ran, carrying what we could on our backs, leaving our home and everything behind. As we hid in the jungle, homeless and afraid, a British trade delegation dined in Rangoon, making business deals with the regime that had just slaughtered my people.
We escaped to Thailand, and I had my first experience of living in a refugee camp. But even the camps weren’t safe. The Burmese Army crossed into Thailand and attacked the camp. My family snuck back into Burma, and moved to a village in the mountains, where we hoped we would be safe.
Again, when I was 16 years old the Burmese Army attacked us without warning. One minute I was sitting at home doing my homework, the next minute mortar bombs were exploding around me. The air was thick with dust from people running in panic. Everyone was screaming, children and babies crying. The explosions were so powerful that they threw me off my feet as I ran for my life. I was scared of being killed and I was scared of what would happen if I was caught. Everyone knew Burmese Army soldiers raped women they caught. After fleeing through the jungle all night long, I ended up in a refugee camp in Thailand again.
If the Burmese Army had been mortar bombing an area of Rangoon, it would have made international headlines. But I lived in Karen State, eastern Burma. Our village was attacked because we were from the Karen ethnic group. The international community pays little attention to attacks against Burma’s many ethnic groups.
When I lived in Burma I didn’t know who Aung San Suu Kyi was. When I left Burma, I found everyone seemed to know who she was, but no-one seemed to know about what was happening to the Karen or other ethnic people. I wrote my autobiography, Little Daughter to try to draw more attention to what was and is still going on in Burma.
For decades the Burmese Army has been carrying out attacks where they deliberately target civilians. Thousands of villages were burned, hundreds of thousands were used as slave labour, and even human mine-sweepers. So many women have been raped and gang-raped, many mutilated or killed afterwards, farmers were shot in their fields, babies thrown into burning homes. Yet the international community took no action to stop these attacks.
I was lucky that I managed to come to the UK to study. I started working with the human rights group Burma Campaign UK, raising awareness of the war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by the Burmese Army. In early 2011 we seemed finally to be making real progress, with 16 governments, including the UK, supporting a UN Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma. Then came the reforms introduced by Burma’s new President, Thein Sein, and suddenly the international community lost interest.
Many people now tell me how happy I must be about the changes in my country. ‘What will you do now,’ they ask?  The sad truth is, I am doing exactly the same as I did before.
Yes, there have been some welcome reforms in Burma, but not one democratic reform which genuinely gives more rights to the people. There are more civil liberties in the cities, but this isn’t happening in ethnic areas of Burma. There is one truth about Burma that no world leader who has praised Thein Sein has been prepared to say; since Thein Sein became President, human rights abuses in Burma have increased.
While in Karen State there is now a temporary ceasefire and fewer human rights abuses, further north in Kachin State the government broke a ceasefire, and the full horror of the Burmese Army has been unleashed against the people. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee attacks, villages destroyed, women gang-raped and killed, farmers tortured and shot, and aid is blocked. It’s a repeat of what happened to me as a child.
And history repeats itself in other ways, with the international community not only ignoring what is going on, but even dropping sanctions as Burmese Army soldiers rape and kill Kachin women. The UK re-opened its trade office on the day President Thein Sein proposed what amounts to ethnic cleansing of another ethnic group, the Rohingya, asking for international help in deporting all 800,000 of them.
A few top down and skin deep reforms have been enough to persuade the international community to drop sanctions imposed over the past decades. It is back to business as usual with the military-backed government. It is business as usual for the Burmese Army in Kachin State as well, attacking villages, raping, looting and killing. And so it is business as usual for me as well, working to raise awareness about what is going on, campaigning for action to stop Burmese Army attacks, to stop the increase in rape of ethnic women by the Burmese Army, and campaigning for the release of all political prisoners.
Zoya Phan is the Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. 

She will be speaking in Leicester on 3rd November 2012, 1.00pm – 4.00pm at The Quaker Meeting House, 16 Queens Road, to promote her autobiography, ‘Little Daughter’, which is published by Simon and Schuster.

For more information about Burma Campaign visit

Myanmar's neighbours urged to let in refugees


Myanmar's neighbours should prepare to accept refugees from the country's Rohingya minority who may try to flee abroad to escape bloody communal violence, refugee organisations said Thursday.

Clashes in Myanmar's Rakhine state pitting Buddhists against members of the Muslim Rohingya minority have left at least 180 dead since violence broke out in June, swamped refugee camps and forced tens of thousands to flee the bloodshed.
Rohingya have for years trickled abroad to neighbouring Bangladesh and, increasingly, Muslim-majority Malaysia by boat. The violence has sparked warnings of a potential surge in refugees opting for the dangerous sea voyage.
"We are appealing to countries to keep borders open and to ensure safe access and whatever assistance they can provide," said Vivian Tan, Asia-Pacific spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
"The main thing is that they have a safe place to land," she said.
Tan said Myanmar's neighbours also should ensure that the UNHCR is granted access to any Rohingya who have legitimate claims to refugee status.
The Muslim minority, who speak a Bengali dialect in mainly Buddhist Myanmar, claim decades of persecution.
The government views the roughly 800,000 Rohingya in Rakhine as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.
Bangladeshi police say about 130 people are missing after a boat sank Sunday while carrying Rohingya refugees heading for Malaysia.
Decades-old animosity between Buddhists and Rohingya exploded in June after the apparent rape and murder of an ethnic Rakhine woman sparked a series of revenge attacks.
Human Rights Watch warned this week of a potential "dramatic increase in the number of Rohingya taking to the sea this year" in the wake of the unrest.
ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, meanwhile, has warned the bloodshed could leave the Rohingya minority "radicalised and the entire region could be destabilised, including the Malacca Straits", the vital shipping lane between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
He declined Thursday to further elaborate to AFP.
Aid and refugee agencies said the violence does not appear to have triggered a large-scale Rohingya exodus yet, but they urged nearby countries to prepare.
"Countries need to show their generosity and compassion at this time of crisis," said Sharuna Verghis, co-founder of Malaysian refugee help organisation Health Equity Initiative.
The UNHCR in Malaysia has registered some 24,000 Rohingyas as refugees but community leaders estimate actual numbers in the country could be double that.
Malaysia largely turns a blind eye, allowing them into the country but denying them any sort of legal status that would allow access to health care, education, jobs, and other services, activists say.
That leaves many Rohingya like Nur Jahan, 54, on society's margins.
Nur Jahan arrived from Rakhine state four months ago and she and her seven children have scraped out a tough existence scouring through trashbins on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur for scrap items they can sell.
Her husband is sick and going blind.
"Life is very difficult here... We cannot work because we don't have documents. How do we survive? I don't have any hope and I cannot hope to return (to Myanmar)," she told AFP through an interpreter.
Malaysia must prepare for more arrivals and provide access to basic services, said Verghis.
"It is a humanitarian crisis. That's why a regional solution is needed, and part of the solution must be that everyone does their bit," she said.

Myanmar's refugee crisis growing

BANGKOK, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- The collapse of a cease-fire agreement in Myanmar's northern state of Kachin left more than 75,000 people displaced, a U.N. agency said.
A cease-fire between the Myanmar government and the Kachin Independence Army collapsed last year, ending 17 years of peace. The United Nations' humanitarian news agency IRIN, citing U.N. reports from neighboring Thailand, said more than 75,000 people remain displaced in the wake of the truce breakdown.
More than half, IRIN reports, are in areas controlled by the Kachin army, making humanitarian assistance difficult. Most of the remaining refuges are scattered in refugee camps operated by the government.
Myanmar received praise from the international community for embracing democratic reforms, starting with general elections in 2010. The country was criticized, however, for its human rights record.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs this week said at least 76 people were killed, thousands of homes and religious sites were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were displaced as a result of fighting between Muslims and Buddhists in the region.
Mohammad Nawsim, secretary of the Rohingya Human Rights Association, a pro-Muslim group, told IRIN he was "begging" for international rights groups to visit Rakhine to get a firsthand account of the situation on the ground.