Monday, April 30, 2012

Solutions sought to manage trafficking of Rohingya T

Thai officials were involved in human trafficking and took advantage of stateless Rohingya, an ethnic group from Myanmar, a recent seminar revealed, amid calls for reforms of the immigration act and justice procedures.


The Lawyers Council Of Thailand and other groups joined a seminar on Thursday titled "Rohingya: the uncertain fate, empty future and the Thai government's handling of them" at the Thai Journalists Association.
Surapong Kongchantuk, vice-chair of the council's Human Rights Subcommittee on Ethnic Minorities, the Stateless, Migrant Workers and Displaced Persons, said the government was not tackling the Rohingya immigration issue seriously, despite greater awareness and immigration strategies. Thailand saw itself as a passageway for the minority to go to Malaysia, so officials only pushed the Rohingya back (to sea) and did not proceed with any legal processing.
Middlemen were paid about Bt60,000 to get the Rohingya on a boat and when it ran out of gas in Thai waters, officials - reportedly involved in all steps - rounded them up and pushed them back without any legal processing. This occurred amid claims the country has no place to detain them.

Surapong said if the Rohingya underwent a national identification process they could get Bangladeshi or Myanmar nationality. He urged the government to give the Rohingya, who are currently refugees here, a chance to prove their nationality and apply for visas. He urged the government to deal with Rohingya set to illegally enter Thailand according to the legal process, to seriously tackle the problem.

Another subcommittee member, Nassir Artwarin, said the Rohingya were taken advantage of, especially sexually. Some 100,000 kyat (Bt3,700) could buy a girl, while Thai officials also "sucked them dry". He urged Thailand to provide protection to the Rohingya to let the truth come out because these people were ready to testify about officials involved in human trafficking.

Department of Special Investigation (DSI) human-trafficking investigator Jatuporn Arunreukthawil said the Rohingya wanted to go to Malaysia but had to pass through Thai waters so Thai officials should provide fuel for their boats, if needed, so they could get to their destination. Because, if they were stranded in Thailand, it could cause problems with issues such as document forgery, drugs, terrorism and human-trafficking.

He cited a report from Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 that more Rohingya were sneaking in every year until 2009, when the number dropped from thousands to just 93 people, partly because middlemen in Bangladesh and Myanmar were arrested. He said the number of Rohingya being trafficked had risen again with more women and children. He said their journey should be supported, because if they were rounded up and pushed back, the middlemen would take them at the border and auction them as if they were cars.

He said the government should have a policy to ensure that arrests do not violate human rights. He called for amendment of section 55 of the Thai Immigration Act in regard to the arrest procedure so officials were not in a dilemma on whether to arrest or to help the Rohingya.

Dr Sriprapa Petcharamesree of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights agreed the law should be amended so that officials would not push the Rohingya back into danger or expose them to victimisation by human-traffickers. She thought the issue should be discussed officially by Asean.

A Rohingya representative, Abdul Kalam, urged all to view his brethren as humans and solve the problem legally. "These days, we, the Rohingya, just want a piece of paper [nationality] so we can survive … now our children were born in Thailand, we cannot leave them, so we have to live here and we want to stay legalised," he said.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

India's tragic Rohingyas

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Aung San Suu Kyi will take her seat in Burma's parliament for the first time on Monday.

The first steps towards democratic reform has seen a number of countries, including the US and Australia, ease sanctions.

But conditions for ethnic minorities have improved little and activists say closer ties with the military junta should be conditional on an improvement in their human rights.

Our India correspondent Richard Lindell reports from a refugee camp in New Delhi.

RICHARD LINDELL: I'm here in the middle of a makeshift refugee camp in one of the capital's most exclusive suburbs.

Vasant Vihar is home to some of Delhi's richest people, as well as diplomats and embassies.

But over the past two weeks, a growing number of Burmese Muslim asylum seekers, known as Rohingyas, have also moved in.

The headquarters of the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), is also here right in front of me and 700 people are crammed into this alley to protest against their treatment.

Conditions are miserable.

Flies outnumber people by a big margin and there's no water or sanitation.

Many people here are sick and as I step in and around the mass of people, I hear the raking coughs of tuberculosis.

(Child coughing)

As I walk I meet Jamila sobbing and distressed. Her husband and two of her three children have TB.

(Jamila speaking)

"My husband is vomiting blood" she says. "I have been begging around for help, even for 1 rupee, because my husband is suffering."

As she tells me about her escape from Burma a year ago, I see tears well up in the men and women around me.

For this is her story, but the tales of rape, torture and abuse are also theirs.

(Jamila speaking)

"There is a lot of persecution against us" she says. "Mothers and sisters have to endure atrocities from the military junta. We women are not safe there. When our kids walk to school, as young as 8-years-old, the military simply pick them off the streets to work as forced labour."

The Rohingyas were stripped of their citizenship by Burma's military junta 30 years ago.

Their land was seized and those that remain live in fear.

Faiz Ahmed and his wife fled Burma a year ago to the largely Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir in India's north.

They say they've been denied access to healthcare and education; basic rights afforded to all refugees in India.

Like everyone else here, Faiz blames the UN's peak refugee agency, the UNHCR.

(Faiz Ahmed speaking)

"I want to ask UNHCR why refugees from other countries get facilities but why we, the Burmese refugees, do not?"

Naina Bose from the UNHCR says camping and protesting here is not helping their cause.

NAINA BOSE: We just would like the people outside to go back to where they came from. I don't want them to put themselves through what they're going through. We have extreme weather conditions here, there are women and children in that group. And we will continue to dialoguing with them; but it's not possible with a crowd of 700 people outside.

RICHARD LINDELL: The UNHCR has classified the Rohingya as asylum seekers not refugees.

Naina Bose rejects the core allegation of discrimination made by the Rohingyas.

NAINA BOSE: This is a country where we do not have a national legal framework and India has not signed the convention. It is commonplace to treat different refugee groups differently.

For us the core issue remains protection; how best can we protect these people? So by registering them as asylum seekers we believe that we are fulfilling our core mandate of protection. By giving them asylum seeker cards they will not be arbitrarily deported or sent back.

RICHARD LINDELL: The issue for these people is not one of classification but of access.

Unlike the Afghan refugees of the north or the Sri Lankan Tamils of the south, Rohingyas have no cultural or historical ties to India.

So while the national government mandates healthcare and education to all, the Rohingyas are often turned away by providers because they have no one to champion their cause.

Kamal Mitra Chenoy, from the school of international studies at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University).

KAMAL MITRA CHENOY: It's basically a question of connections. If there are connections with the Progressive Schools Association, then they'll get schooling. If there are government schools, good government schools then there's a lot of pressure from Indian applicants to take their children.

Then it really depends on what leverage the Rohingyas have. And it's something that the UNHCR on its own is not equipped to do.

RICHARD LINDELL: The UNHCR has registered 1,800 Rohingyas as asylum seekers in India.

Hundreds of thousands more have fled to Bangladesh over the past three decades.

Conditions there are miserable and malnutrition is rife.

Kamal Mitra Chenoy again.

KAMAL MITRA CHENOY: They're almost a forgotten people. There is no public support for them because people don't know about them; the press doesn't write about them. So unless there is substantial international pressure, the liberalisation that has taken place because of Aung San Suu Kyi is because of her following and her reputation.

But the Rohingyas have no charismatic leader like that. So I don't expect there to be any substantial or significant improvement in their case until countries like the United States or the European Union and all take it up.

RICHARD LINDELL: The US, Australia and others are now relaxing sanctions on Burma; a reward for progress towards democratic reform.

The international community says it will continue to raise human rights issues, including the plight of minorities.

Back at the camp in New Delhi, the Rohingyas say that sanctions relief should be tied to human rights and citizenship in Burma for their people.

Otherwise they fear being condemned to a future as stateless people without rights and any hope of returning home.

This is Richard Lindell in New Delhi for Correspondents Report.

Source: ABC NEWS

Rohingya ‘camping out’ at UNHCR office

Friday, 20 April 2012 15:57 Mizzima News
(Mizzima) – Hundreds Rohingya men, women and children from Burma are living virtually on the doorstep of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at Vasant Vihar, India, seeking refugee status.
A Rohingya child lives in harsh conditions at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp, Teknaf, Cox’s bazar.  Photo: Mizzima
A Rohingya child lives in harsh conditions at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp, Teknaf, Cox’s bazar. Photo: Mizzima

Residents in the area complain that the U.N. should provide some sort of temporary solution to alleviate the congestion in the area, according to an article in The Times of India on Friday.

“We do sympathize with the poor people seeking refugee status, as it is hard for people to live in the country without support,” A. K. Seth, head of the homeopathy department at Ganga Ram Hospital, told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, Rohingya leaders are calling on international countries to find a solution to the Rohingyas’ plight before sanctions are lifted against Burma. The Rohingya refugee community, a predominantly Muslim group, claim they are persecuted in Burma, do not enjoy rights of citizenship and are abused by government authorities.

“Many of our people are either begging for money in India or working as rag-pickers. If we do not get refugee status, we want the government to send us to another country where we can live as refugees,” said one homeless Rohingya.
      
 Dr. Wakar Uddin, chairman of the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America, has urged the U.S. State Department, the Senate foreign relations committee and the House of Representatives human rights commission to coordinate efforts to address the Rohingya refugees situation in Burma, India and Bangladesh, according to a story in International Business Times (IBT) on Friday.
      
“If somehow the Burmese government [manages] to get sanctions lifted and the Rohingya issue is not resolved, we are finished,” Uddin was quoted by the BBC. "There is no hope because they will not revisit this. Whatever needs to be done about the Rohingya, it has to be done before the sanctions are lifted.”

In December 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly discussed the Rohingyas’ status during her meeting with Burmese President Thein Sein in Rangoon.

According to the Burmese government, Rohingya are migrants from India who are not eligible for citizenship. Western nations, the United Nations and India assert the Rohingya are indigenous to Burma. In Burma’s northern Rakhine State, some 800,000 stateless Muslims, mostly Rohingya, account for 90 percent of the region’s population.

Uddin told the newspaper that the Rohingyas’ situation “has gotten worse since the [Burmese] election.”

“The government is trying to show the West that they are dealing with the Karen [another aggrieved ethnic group] and other groups by giving rights and making a truce. But they are showing the carrot in one hand and the stick for us [the Rohingya] in the other. It's a distraction and a diversionary tactic,” he was quoted as saying.

Recently, the IRIN news agency reported that Nurul Islam, president of the London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organization, said, “There is no change of attitude of the new civilian government of… Thein Sein towards Rohingya people; there is no sign of change in the human rights situation of Rohingya people. Persecution against them is actually greater than before.”

Source: Mizzima

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dr. Wakar Uddin, the Chairman of BRANA faced interview with VOA

Recently, the Chairman of Burmese Rohingya Association in North America (BRANA) faced interview with the Voice of America (VOA) on Rohingya issue.

video

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rohingya minority group presses US on Burmese sanctions

A Rohingya refugee prays in Friday prayers  
Last year, Indonesia picked up 130 starving, dehydrated Rohingyas from a boat in its waters
 
A prominent member of Burma's persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority has urged the US to limit any plan to lift sanctions against the country until the group's human rights can be guaranteed.

This week Dr Wakar Uddin, chairman of the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America, met officials of the US state department, members of the Senate foreign relations committee and members of the House of Representatives human rights commission to urge caution.

His plea comes in the wake of the election to parliament of dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, and as the US reconsiders some of its two-decades-old suite of sanctions against the South-East Asian country.

In the meetings, Dr Uddin also called for the release of Rohingya leaders imprisoned since the 2010 election that brought President Thein Sein to power.

"If somehow the Burmese government manage to get sanctions lifted and the Rohingya issue is not resolved, we are finished," Dr Uddin told the BBC.

"There is no hope because they will not revisit this. Whatever needs to be done about the Rohingya, it has to be done before the sanctions are lifted."
 
'Some positive steps'
In response, the US state department says it is concerned about human rights violations in ethnic minority areas, including restrictions and discrimination imposed against the Rohingya.
Dr Wakar Uddin  
Dr Wakar Uddin is one of only a few hundred Rohingya refugees in the US

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the issue during her meeting with Mr Thein in December.

In a statement, the US state department called on the Burmese government to take "concrete steps" to formalise the Rohingyas' legal status and to "immediately end human rights abuses" directed at them.

The United Nations describes the Rohingya as an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority from western Burma.
But the Burmese government says they are relatively recent migrants from the Indian sub-continent. As a result, the country's constitution does not include them among indigenous groups qualifying for citizenship.

The UN and other advocacy groups say their lack of legal status has led to systematic human rights abuses including rape, torture, abduction, forced labour, land confiscation. They are also forbidden to marry and to travel outside their villages without official permission.

The BBC approached the Burmese embassy in Washington DC for comment, but has received no response.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 1978 and the early 1990s. Twenty-eight thousand are sheltered in UN refugee camps, but the majority live in informal camps where they suffer from malnutrition and have little access to healthcare and education.

The United Nations Refugee Agency describes their plight as one of the world's most enduring refugee crises.
'Carrot and stick'

Jennifer Quigley, of the US Campaign for Burma, an advocacy group, says: "The US and the international community need to make citizenship and the treatment of the Rohingya a benchmark for lifting sanctions.

"The US is giving too much too fast. It doesn't give any incentive to keep the reform process going."

While evidence of abuse is anecdotal and hard to verify because of restricted access to the region, Dr Uddin, a biologist at Pennsylvania State University, says his sources tell him that the Burmese government has stepped up oppressive action.

"The Rohingya situation - the human rights situation - has gotten worse since the election," he says.

But the state department says it has no "substantive evidence" the Burmese government has launched a co-ordinated crackdown against the Rohingya. According to a spokesman, some aid groups say conditions have even eased, with Rohingyas being granted more freedom of movement inside townships.

However, Dr Uddin fears the West is being distracted by apparent reforms elsewhere in Burma and wants an independent team of international observers to monitor the situation in Arakan State where the Rohingya live.

In January the government signed a ceasefire deal with Karen rebels who had waged a battle for greater autonomy for more than six decades. Western governments demand an end to the conflict before they will lift sanctions.

"The government is trying to show the West that they are dealing with the Karen and other groups by giving rights and making a truce," he said.

"But they are showing the carrot in one hand and the stick for us [the Rohingya] in the other. It's a distraction and a diversionary tactic."

Source: BBC

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Caucus calls for Asean to raise Burmese human rights issue


The Asean Inter Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), while noting allegations of irregularities and widespread electoral violations, on Tuesday welcomed the results of the Burmese by-elections held on 1 April, but called on Asean to raise the issue of ongoing violence and conflict in Burma’s ethnic areas during Asean Summit on Wednesday and Thursday in Phnom Penh.

“While the elections in Myanmar this Sunday can be seen as a step in the right direction, we must not forget that they have been overshadowed not only by widespread and well documented allegations of electoral improprieties, but also the continued violence and human rights abuses taking place in the ethnic areas,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, Indonesian MP and AIPMC president.

“We congratulate Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi on this historic day for her and her party and we stand by her in her continued efforts to bring human rights, justice and democracy to the people of Myanmar. But the hard work is still to come and we must not be distracted too long by this election,” she said. “The serious issue of continued conflict and human rights abuses in the ethnic areas must be brought to the forefront, as the human toll of these conflicts continues to be too high for any of us to ignore.”

AIPMC called on Asean to monitor closely the situation of human rights, in particular, the continued violent conflict in ethnic areas. UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, reiterated in his latest report in March that the legal institutions were not capable of investigating and bringing human rights cases to legal process. He also expressed concern over the breakdown of ceasefire agreements between government and armed ethnic groups and reports of allegations of serious human rights violations, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, internal displacement, land confiscations, the use of human shields, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour and portering.

The caucus said it recognizes the reforms undertaken by the government to date, but maintains that key minimum benchmarks remain unsatisfied.

“It is still unclear whether this government sees itself as a transitional government or the real representatives of the people of Burma. We must not hold back until real and substantive reforms have been enacted and the army is neutralized as a political force,” said Son Chhay, Cambodian MP and AIPMC vice president.

“We can take a moment to celebrate the election victory for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who continues to be an inspiration to us all, but the hard work for her and her country is still to come. And it is our responsibility as fellow members of the Asean community to stand by her and the Burmese people as they continue to strive for genuine change in their country. We will continue to impress upon our parliaments how important this issue is,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people remain internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands more are living in refugee camps outside of the country, it said. Of particular concern is the plight of the Rohingya population, who are continually persecuted at home and abroad, and the ongoing conflict in Kachin State, where reports of serious human rights abuses continue, the group said.

While Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy Party have done a valiant job, their small percentage of seats in Parliament leaves them with little constitutional power, said the group.  “They, along with reformers in the government, will need the continued support and backing of the international community and Asean to ensure that Myanmar’s transition to democracy will be both enduring and peaceful,” it said.

“As we have seen across the region, we cannot always rely on individuals, no matter how well meaning they may seem. We have to have the laws that protect us, as people can be changed and turned by power. When you change to a new political system, there will necessarily be many legal loopholes, and these holes must be plugged as quickly as possible. You must strengthen the systems and you have to neutralize the power of the army.”

AIPMC also called on Asean leaders to pressure the government of Burma to move swiftly towards conducting a comprehensive and transparent review of the 2008 Constitution and all national legislation. The review should be fully participatory, involving political opposition, civil society, and ethnic nationalities, and be carried out with the aim of amending, repealing or replacing laws that are inconsistent with international human rights and democratic standards, it said.

The Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) is a network formed by parliamentarians from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries. It advocates for human rights and democratic reform in Burma.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Myanmar: What next for the Rohingyas?

Title Myanmar: What next for the Rohingyas?
Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Country Myanmar
Publication Date 29 March 2012
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Myanmar: What next for the Rohingyas?, 29 March 2012, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4f7998b22.html [accessed 3 April 2012]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Myanmar: What next for the Rohingyas?

As Myanmar gears up for a by-election on 1 April, experts and community leaders are divided over what the ongoing reforms may hold for the Rohingya people, a stateless Muslim ethnic group living in the country’s Northern Rakhine State.

Candidate and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has highlighted ethnic conflicts as the country’s most urgent problem. In January the government signed a ceasefire with ethnic Karen rebels in southern Burma to halt one of the world’s longest running civil wars.

But to the frustration of Nurul Islam, president of the London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organization, “There is no change of attitude of the new civilian government of U Thein Sein towards Rohingya people; there is no sign of change in the human rights situation of Rohingya people. Persecution against them is actually greater than before.”

Statelessness

The Rohingya are not legally recognized in Myanmar and struggle with a lack of access to healthcare, food and education.

There are some 800,000 stateless Muslims, mostly Rohingyas, who form 90 percent of the population of northern Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh and includes the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung.

Known as Arakan State in British colonial times, in 1974 the ruling military junta changed its name to Rakhine State to reflect the dominant ethnic group, the Rakhine Buddhists. Communal violence between Muslims and Buddhists has led to periodic large-scale riots, forcing hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh.

The heavily populated (295 persons per square kilometre compared to 80 persons nationwide), primarily rural and disaster-prone zone suffers from a consistently high rate of global acute malnutrition that exceeds the World Health Organization emergency threshold of 15 percent, according to the European Community Humanitarian Office.

In early 2011, the UN World Food Programme reported 45 percent of surveyed households in Northern Rakhine State as “severely food insecure”, compared to 38 percent in 2009.

Some 200,000 Rohingya have fled west from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh. Almost 30,000 are documented and living in two government camps, assisted by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but hundreds of thousands more have been living illegally nearby since the Bangladeshi government stopped registering arrivals.

Recognition

Given the unprecedented pace of change in Myanmar, Eric Paulsen, co-founder of the Malaysia-based human rights and law reform NGO, Lawyers for Liberty, has advised Rohingyas to make the most of the current political opening.

Rohingya activists have long demanded recognition as a national ethnic group with full citizenship by birthright, but Paulsen thinks they should push for naturalization.

“Naturalized citizenship is not on a par with national ethnic group recognition, but at present it remains the most realistic and workable solution to their statelessness,” Paulsen recently wrote.

The Arakan Rohingya National Organization is pursuing full recognition and is unhappy about a perceived lack of support. “Obviously she [Aung San Suu Kyi] is ignoring the Rohingya problem, a key human rights issue in Burma,” said Islam. 

“However, still the Rohingyas have high expectations of her. Rather than avoiding the Rohingya people and their problem, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should take all measures to formally accommodate Rohingya into the family of the Union of Burma, with full ethnic and citizenship rights, as one of the many ethnic nationalities of the country.”

Tin Soe, the editor of the Bangladesh-based Rohingya newsgroup, Kaladan Press Network, noted that elections do not necessarily equate democracy, without which Rohingyas cannot gain legal recognition.

“We Rohingya will fight for our rights in the parliament if democracy comes to Burma,” Soe told IRIN. “Then we will lobby the parliament, hold demonstrations, show them the results of our fact finding. Now you basically have the armed forces still in power - with them you cannot do anything.”

Repatriation fears

Following Myanmar’s transition from military to a nominally civilian government in 2010, many Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh were briefly hopeful, but soon disappointed.

“After the 2010 election the Rohingya situation is going from worse to worse,” said Soe. Rohingyas were given voting rights in the 2010 elections and promised citizenship if they voted for the military regime’s representatives, he added.

“Citizenship is still not restored,” said Islam. “Killing, rape, harassment, torture and atrocious crimes of border security forces and armed forces have increased. The humiliating restrictions on their freedom of movement, education, marriage, trade and business still remain imposed.”

The Bangladeshi government has sought support for repatriating Rohingya refugees to Myanmar and according to Bangladeshi media, representatives of the Burmese government have said the country is ready to “take” them back.

“The refugees are against repatriation because conditions in Northern Rakhine State have not improved at all, so the announcement has created a new panic in the [Bangladeshi] camps,” said Chris Lewa, who monitors the Rohingya situation for the Arakan Project, an NGO advocating Rohingya issues in Myanmar.

“They don't know what will happen,” Lewa said. “The fear is there that harassment in the camps [to force repatriation] may happen again soon.”
 
Source: UNHCR