Friday, April 29, 2011

Govt turns down $33m UN Rohingya project

Syful Islam

The government has turned down a US$33 million United Nations (UN) project aimed at reducing poverty in Cox's Bazar after it alleged that the scheme mainly targeted at the rehabilitation of Rohingya refugees in the country.

Four United Nations agencies - United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) - initiated the project to cut poverty of the people living in Cox's Bazar's southern most sub-districts of Ukhia and Teknaf.

The sub-districts are home to more than 26,000 recognised and another 200,000 unrecognised Muslim Rohingya refugees who took shelter after fleeing decades-long persecution in northern Rakhine state of Myanmar.

Officials said the Ministry of Finance has rejected the UN development scheme, touted as the largest of its kinds for the region, after they found that the project was undertaken with "mala fide intention".

"The finance ministry has rejected the scheme because the actual aim of the UN initiative is to rehabilitate refugees in Cox's Bazar district under the pretext of poverty reduction for locals", an official told the FE.

"The UN agencies have taken the project as part of its long campaign to get the Rohingyas rehabilitated in Teknaf and Ukhia. The project has been undertaken as a cover for development of the region," he said.

The UN agencies could not be contacted for comments.

But according to the UN project outline, the multi-year-long scheme would reduce poverty by five percentage points in the region and improve the socio-economic status of nearly 300,000 people.

The project has four major components: improving service delivery, improving livelihoods, reducing food insecurity, and improving governance and institutional development.

"The UNJI (United Nations Joint Initiative) is based on a more equitable and inclusive development approach to benefit mainly the host population and any refugees in the operational communities," said the project memo.

But the finance ministry officials said UN has "overstepped its authority" in taking up the project in the sensitive region where the locals harbour deep animosity against the Rohingya refugees.

An inter-ministerial meeting on the project last week made it clear that only the government can take up development projects for the region not the UN or any international charities, officials said.

"Instead of helping cut poverty in the region, the UN project would only increase tension between the Rohingyas and the locals. No doubt, it will infuriate the local people," said the official
Teknaf and Ukhia are two of the country's most poverty-infested regions. Fertility rates of the sub-districts are comparatively high and people suffer from poor access to water and sanitation and health care facilities.

According to the UN memo, part of the project fund would be spent to build schools since people in the region lack basic education facilities and have little choice but to study in Islamic seminaries, or madrasas.

The UNJI had also planned to support local government institutes, build awareness on biodiversity management and environmental conservation and sustainable eco-tourism activities.

The world's largest unbroken beach is located in Cox's Bazar district, whose hills and hillocks are also home to some of the country's rare floras and faunas.

The project set a target to provide a food grant of 30 kilogram of rice or wheat per month each of the poor women residing in the two sub-districts, support poor households through food for work, and food for training.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Ref: 2011/005
Date: April 27, 2011
For Immediate Release
Appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

It is obvious that since the year 2009, office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia has been adjourned to deal with perfect Rohingya Refugee organizations, which have been trying their level best to have appointment with the agency.

We at the Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee (RARC), Malaysia believe that the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Malaysia is being monopolized by some kinds of influential quarters whether application of power or high amount of under table payment. Otherwise, UNHCR would not keep silent to 10 (ten) official letters in last 4 months from January to April 2011.

This silence resulted to serious dilemma towards tens of thousands of Rohingya undocumented refugees and asylum seekers. They have to pass life in sub-human condition as no protection mechanism is introduced for them.

At the same time, various kinds of non-refugees and opportunist economic migrants are trying to tarnish the fate of Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers, persuading to join in different types of working sectors, with baseless hopes to UNHCR registration and Malaysian Identification Card in order to enjoy percentage benefits.

Our organization has come to indentify that such kinds of people are bring defamations of both UN Refugee Agency and the Government of Malaysia through out misguiding the Rohingya refugees, while these people do not have any experience on the difficulties and suffering of refugees in their lives.

In these regards, we appeal to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR) and other refugee concerned quarters to immediately convene talks with genuine Rohingya refugee communities in order to ensure the protection and other facilities for the Rohingya refugee victims in the country.

We also appeal to the UNHCR to repeal all kinds of discriminations against the Rohingya refugees in getting registration, protection, assistance, resettlement and other facilities of refugees which were setforth by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Human Rights Mechanism, Human Rights standards and UN Refugee Convention of 1951 together with its additional protocol of 1967.

Coordinating Council
Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee (RARC)

For further information:
Mohammad Sadek
Program Coordinator, RARC,
Tel: +60 163094599

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Earnest Request to

Dear friend,

We on behalf of the poor and persecuted Rohingya refugees would like to request you to kindly provide us all possible details of which were taken over by your good self.

We would be highly appreciated, if you kindly do favor in this regards,


Friday, April 22, 2011

Rohingyas Endure Desperate Situation in Bangladesh

By LALIT K JHA Friday, April 22, 2011

WASHINGTON— Noting that Rohingya refugees face a desperate situation in Bangladesh, a Washington-based non-profit organization has urged Australia, Canada, the US and Britain to work with the Bangladeshi government to strengthen protection and humanitarian assistance and reduce sexual and gender-based violence.

“The situation is desperate for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh,” said Lynn Yoshikawa, of Refugees International.

In its report, “Bangladesh: The Silent Crisis,” Refugees International said hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled repression in Burma have no protection from abuse, starvation and detention in Bangladesh because of a lack of documentation.

The plight of the Rohingyas was recently noted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech in Berlin early this month. “In Burma, ethnic Rohingya Muslims continue to be denied full citizenship and equal opportunities for education, employment and travel,” Clinton said at the Rathenau Prize ceremony in Berlin on April 15.

“They live in squalor and are forced to suffer a litany of abuses because the government doesn’t recognize them as refugees,” said Yoshikawa, who recently returned from visiting Rohingya camps in the region.

The report called on the international community to urge the Bangladeshi government to register undocumented refugees and improve protection for all vulnerable Rohingyas, adding that donor governments must also work to restart and increase resettlement of refugees to third countries and increase assistance for communities hosting refugees.

“Donor governments should rapidly mobilize US $2 million to meet the World Food Program’s funding gap to ensure the provision of full food rations in the official refugee camps this year,” it said.

According to the report, approximately 800,000 Rohingyas live in three townships in northern Arakan State in Burma. Rohingya children are three times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than other children in Burma, and malnutrition rates frequently exceed emergency levels, the report said.

The World Food Program reported that food security in the region had worsened over the past two years, with two-thirds of the population going hungry.

Giving a graphic description of the plight of the Rohingyas, Refugees International said Rohingyas there are often arrested while collecting firewood in the nearby national forest or while working.

If they are unable to pay a bribe or obtain a guarantee from a Bangladesh national for their immediate release, refugees are often charged with illegal entry and sent to jail. Refugees International said that detained Rohingyas routinely have to pay a bribe of between $110 and $400 for their release, forcing many families into heavy debt.

Over 100 Burmese Refugees Rounded up in Malaysia

22 April 2011: More than 100 'illegal' refugees from Burma are among an estimated 200 arrested in a midday raid carried out yesterday by local police in collaboration with Kuala Lumpur police in Puchong town off Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The raid took place in a small park behind a Puchong Tesco store, where scores of refugees from Burma, Indonesia and Bangladesh take shelter, according to a leader of Alliance of Arakan Refugees (AAR) in Kuala Lumpur.

"Many Arakan refugees are among those arrested yesterday. Malaysian police checked their identifications and some UNHCR card holders were released immediately while others having only a refugee card issued by their community were taken away in a lorry," said the Arakan leader.

"Some arrestees, mainly from Indonesia and Bangladesh, were caught holding 'fake' UNHCR cards," he added.

It is known that the arrestees were kept in the Puchong Detention Centre and that they may be transferred to Bukit Jalil Dentention Centre today.

The Alliance of Arakan Refugees is said to have written to the UNHCR in regards to the incident yesterday.
Puchong, a major town in the Petaling district of Selangor, is situated midway between Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's political capital, and Putrajaya, the administrative capital.

Van Biak Thang

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Arrested Refugees Demanded Money for Release in Malaysia

20 April 2011:

Malaysian RELA and police forcibly demanded money from Chin refugees arrested during their recent daylight raids on three separate occasions in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday and Monday.

"They [refugees] were loaded up into a lorry and driven away. Those refugees, who do not have the UNHCR registration card, were asked to pay between 300 and 500 Ringgits if they would like to be freed. But those having the UNHCR registration card were released later on the same day," a member of Chin refugee community in Kuala Lumpur told Chinland Guardian.

At least an estimated 60 Chin refugees, both 'unregistered' and registered by the UNHCR, including women were rounded up and arrested on the streets in Penting, Jalan Imbi and Shalam.

A Chin refugee woman arrested on Monday in Shalam off Kuala Lumpur was set free immediately after a ransom amount of 300 Ringgits was given to the Malaysian police, according to Seihnam newsletter.

Kuala Lumpur-based Chin refugee communities including CRC (Chin Refugee Committee) and ACR (Alliance of Chin Refugees) are said to have been engaged in trying to get those detained free in liaison with the UNHCR.

In recent days, a series of daylight raids have been reported being carried out by Malaysian police and RELA in different locations where the refugees are residing and working.

Van Biak Thang


Often I walk alone in empty streets
In the darkest of night, scared to wits
Looking for shelter all the corners
With a pair of slippers in tatters...

Often I walk alone in great despair
On the hottest of day, hard to bear
Searching for peace everywhere
With a pool of tears dried by air

Often I walk alone with fatigue
In the heaviest of rain, so savage
Seeking comfort in every place
With full of pains yet no solace

Still have no good answers come out
Only that I know life is only a struggle!
And I walk and walk on in solitude,
With a heart and hope for survival

Robert Ngun Sang
20 April 2011

Source: Chinland

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bangladesh: The Silent Crisis
Tue, 04/19/2011 - 00:00

The Rohingya ethnic minority of Burma are trapped between severe repression in their homeland and abuse in neighboring countries. Bangladesh has hosted hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fleeing persecution for more than three decades, but at least 200,000 Rohingya refugees have no legal rights there. They live in squalor, receive very limited aid and are subject to arrest, extortion and detention. Unregistered refugee women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual and physical attacks. The international community must urge the Bangladeshi government to register undocumented refugees and improve protection for all vulnerable Rohingyas. Donor governments must also work to restart and increase resettlement of refugees to a third country and increase assistance for communities hosting refugees.


The Rohingya ethnic minority of Burma is one of the most persecuted groups in the world. Stripped of their citizenship by the Burmese government in 1982 and forced to flee through violent military campaigns and sustained persecution, over one million Rohingyas now live in exile in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Inside Burma, approximately 800,000 Rohingyas live in three townships in Northern Rakhine State, a densely populated region and the poorest part of an already impoverished country. Rohingya children are three times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than other children in Burma and malnutrition rates frequently exceed emergency levels. The World Food Program reported that the food security in the region has worsened over the past two years, with two-thirds of the population hungry.

The Rohingya in Northern Rakhine State are subject to particularly severe violations of their human rights, including systematic violence and discrimination by the Burmese border military, known as the NaSaKa. The 1982 citizenship law left them stateless and rendered them illegal migrants in their own country. They are the only ethnic group in Burma restricted from marriage, traveling beyond their village or building or maintaining religious structures. In addition, they are subject to frequent forced labor, arbitrary taxation, sexual violence and land confiscations by the NaSaKa.

Family lists, the basic registration system in Burma, include the names of all residents of each household. For Rohingyas, the lists also include a tally of livestock, and are checked by the NaSaKa on a regular basis. If a resident is not present during a family list check, their name is struck off and the resident is not allowed to return unless an exorbitant tax is paid. Rohingyas in Bangladesh told Refugees International (RI) that even if they could survive in their homeland, they could not sleep at night due to the deep-seated fear of arrest and abuse by the NaSaKa.

Violent Burmese military campaigns have been waged against the Rohingya leading to mass influxes into eastern Bangladesh in 1978 and 1991-1992, the vast majority of whom were forcibly repatriated. Today, only 28,000 are recognized as refugees with the Government of Bangladesh and live in Kutupalong and Nayapara camps. Registered refugees receive basic health services, primary education and food rations but about 5,000 of the camp residents were not properly registered and are barred from receiving food rations. At least 200,000 Rohingyas, which include new arrivals and those who had returned after being repatriated, live in unofficial refugee settlements and local villages, mainly in Cox’s Bazar district. The Government only allows the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and NGOs to work with refugees living in the official camps and even lifesaving activities targeting unregistered refugees are not authorized.

Develop a Refugee Policy Based on Tolerance

The central government has conducted a review of its policy on Rohingya refugees in the past year, but the cabinet has repeatedly delayed its finalization. Pending this finalization, the Government of Bangladesh has increased restrictions on aid agencies and centralized all decision-making pertaining to both the registered and unregistered refugees at the Dhaka-level, significantly delaying aid operations. Despite reports of global acute malnutrition rates of 30% in Kutupalong makeshift camp, which is double the emergency threshold, the Government has denied permits for aid agencies to assist unregistered refugees and host communities. Shelters are falling apart and are unlikely to resist the upcoming monsoons. In the official camps, government officials abruptly halted refugee resettlement and have closed all income-generating activities, including small shops and tailoring, stating that skills were provided to only help refugees upon their return to Burma.

Enhancing the protection and self-sufficiency of all refugees would improve Bangladesh’s internal security and rule of law, in addition to its record on refugee rights. Keeping hundreds of thousands of people undocumented limits adequate government oversight of activities on its territory and creates an environment permissive to criminality, including trafficking, corruption and exploitation. Furthermore, a new comprehensive aid package for Cox’s Bazar, would help the district meet the Millennium Development Goals, which is unlikely to occur on its current track. Providing refugees with the right to work would reduce tensions over job competition, stabilize local wages and ensure that Bangladesh workers are not put at a disadvantage.

Register the Unprotected

The Government of Bangladesh should work closely with UNHCR to establish a system to register vulnerable and undocumented refugees in order to provide urgent humanitarian aid protection against arrest and deportation and ensure access to justice. There are an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 unregistered Rohingyas living in Bangladesh. While some Rohingyas have been able to gain legal status or integrate into local communities, which share the same language, customs and religion, a significant number have no documentation and are subject to arrest, detention and a litany of abuses, including rape, starvation and indefinite detention and no recourse to justice when they suffer physical or sexual assaults.

Refugees are often arrested while collecting firewood in the nearby national forest or while working. If they are unable to pay a bribe or obtain a guarantee from a Bangladesh national for their immediate release, refugees are often charged with illegal entry and sent to jail. Refugees told RI that a bribe between $110 to $400 is required for release, forcing many families into heavy debt. One man interviewed by RI spent over five years in jail waiting for his family to pay a $300 bribe. Over 300 Rohingyas are estimated to be in severely overcrowded conditions in Cox’s Bazar jail, which houses about 3,000 prisoners in a space meant for 800. Fifty-eight Rohingyas in jail have completed their sentence, some more than a decade ago, but they have no family or relatives to pay a bribe and the Burmese authorities refuse to allow them back in Burma, leaving them in indefinite detention.

The 2008 national elections have exacerbated the vulnerability of unregistered Rohingyas. During the voter registration drive, thousands of undocumented Rohingyas were evicted from the villages where they had been living, often for more than a decade. They were driven to the precarious hillsides surrounding the Kutupalong official camp where they set up crude shelters and have since been struggling to survive. In 2009 and 2010, the government launched brutal crackdowns on Rohingyas in Bandarban and Cox’s Bazar districts and the population of the Kutupalong makeshift camp peaked from 4,000 in 2008 to over 34,000 refugees in early 2010 - outnumbering those in the official camp. UNCHR was denied access and no aid agencies were officially permitted to provide assistance. Refugees feared leaving the camps to find jobs or food due to the intense campaign of arrests and violence, resulting in alarming malnutrition rates.

The upcoming roll-out of national ID cards may exacerbate the exclusion of unregistered refugees by further depriving them of access to jobs and services, making the registration of all refugees even more urgent. Since the voter registration drive, unregistered Rohingya children can no longer attend government schools due to requirements to show documentation of both parents and children. Contrary to its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Government of Bangladesh does not register Rohingya children born on its territory unless both parents can prove Bangladeshi nationality. This perpetuates Rohingyas’ statelessness and lack of identity. Aid agencies also report increasing pressure from local authorities to ensure that aid beneficiaries present identification to access nutrition programs and micro-credit schemes. Job opportunities could also become restricted to ID card holders.

Increase Security for Women and Girls

Without any legal rights for unregistered refugee women, a climate of fear and impunity pervades the unofficial settlements reinforced by the lack of accountability and oversight. Since last year’s crackdown, reports of sexual violence against unregistered refugees have increased, yet services remain at a bare minimum. The registration of refugees should guarantee access to justice and humanitarian assistance, so that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) can be adequately prevented and addressed. Despite existing obstacles to addressing SGBV in Bangladesh, UNHCR has been able to make progress with registered refugees by raising awareness, increasing women’s leadership roles and supporting legal cases. Nonetheless, UNHCR staff say their efforts are “only the tip of the iceberg” given the scale of abuses. For unregistered refugees, these crimes remain invisible yet the deep mental and social trauma on survivors and their communities remain untreated.

Sexual violence, early and forced marriages and domestic violence are endemic in both the host and refugee communities, but the stressful living conditions and the lack of access to the police or justice system and stressful living conditions for refugee women increase the risk of abuses. There are a high number of widows and women-headed households among Rohingya communities – estimated as high as 44% in Kutupalong makeshift camp – due to frequent arrests and work migration of male family members. Without a breadwinner, many women are forced to engage in begging and sex work and children are sometimes trafficked for domestic work in order to survive. Women are often reluctant to report sexual violence and need permission from their husband and local leaders to seek healthcare in the conservative, male-dominated society, which also severely limits the ability to provide much-needed support and raise awareness.

Donor governments and UNHCR should work with local authorities to increase refugee participation in the security patrols, organize protection for women collecting firewood and water and improve the safety of latrine areas to prevent sexual violence against women. Residents from Kutupalong and Leda unofficial sites told RI that there is no security and women are frequently attacked and raped when they go to latrines or to the forest to collect firewood. Kutupalong makeshift camp has no formal security arrangement. Leda site is patrolled by local Bangladeshi volunteers and border forces organized by an NGO, but they do little to protect refugees against a network of powerful locals. One refugee woman said, “We never feel safe. The villagers come in whenever they want and they do whatever they want.” RI was told that refugees are routinely charged by locals at the gate for leaving the camp and are often robbed when they return.

Government restrictions on aid projects targeting unregistered refugees and host communities should be immediately lifted to reduce local resentment of refugees. In 2008, RI noted tensions between the impoverished local communities and the refugees in Leda over scarce water and fuel resources and now the situation is spiraling downward. During RI’s March visit, no water was available for one week because of threats by a powerful local against those responsible for trucking it in. Primarily women and children were forced to collect water from wells in nearby villages but faced regular attacks, including rape, from locals. Three women interviewed by RI were attacked by a villager with a stick that morning and their families had to go without water. One woman said, “Anywhere is better for us. Even the fire, the sea or desert. It’s better even to kill us,” a sentiment echoed by other refugees.

To mitigate SGBV against registered refugee women, UNHCR should urge the Government to switch to individual ration cards, as the current system disadvantages women. The current family-based ration cards are usually in the name and control of the male head of household, making it difficult for women to separate from abusive husbands without losing their ration. Furthermore, UNHCR should urgently address its frequent fuel pipeline breaks, which place refugees, particularly women and girls, in danger of arrests, rapes and attacks as they are forced to collect firewood outside the camp. Expansion of sustainable sources, like biogas, and improved budget planning by UNHCR would help avoid the cuts to fuel rations.

Increase Aid for Communities Hosting Refugees

Communities hosting refugees are long overdue for increased development aid. Cox’s Bazar, bordering Burma and hosting the bulk of refugees, is one of the poorest districts in Bangladesh and is in economic decline, at an annual rate of 3%. The socio-economic indicators of local residents are well-below the national averages and only marginally better than refugees. These factors led five UN agencies to develop the Joint Initiative for Cox’s Bazar, a two-year, $33 million development plan to strengthen education, health, livelihood and governance programs, but it failed to gain the Government’s approval. Government officials said that the improving conditions in Bangladesh would create pull factors for Rohingyas in Burma and instead, the program should be implemented in other poor districts.

While the rejection of the Joint Initiative is deeply disappointing for both aid agencies and local Bangladeshis, donor governments should continue to leverage their aid efforts and increase aid to Cox’s Bazar. They should urge the Government of Bangladesh to ensure national programs operate on a non-discriminatory basis and allow joint projects for both unregistered refugees and host communities. Such joint programs were promoted in the past year on a small-scale and have reduced tensions with locals. If expanded, these initiatives could help Cox’s Bazar indicators catch up with the rest of the country to the meet the Millennium Development Goals. One villager said, “We are poor and they are poor. It’s better if NGOs help us all.” Such a program would also recognize the generosity of impoverished host communities over the past three decades.

Improve Conditions in the Official Refugee Camps

In order to better support Rohingyas in the two official refugee camps, donor governments should increase funding for food and expand resettlement and education programs. First, donor governments must immediately mobilize $2 million for the World Food Program (WFP) to avoid a humanitarian crisis. The U.S. and Canadian governments have already contributed cash and in-kind aid but without additional funds, the food pipeline could break in May. The funding gap has forced WFP to cut rations, which no longer meet the daily nutritional needs. The current global acute malnutrition rate of 14.6.% in the official camps is almost at the emergency threshold - just months before the beginning of the seasonal hunger season. The situation is serious. With restrictions to livelihood activities and frequent sharing of rations with unregistered refugees in the makeshift camp, traditional coping mechanisms have already been degraded.

In February, the Government of Bangladesh requested large-scale resettlement of 28,000 registered refugees from the official camps and this should move forward. First and foremost, the Government must lift its hold on resettlement processing imposed in October 2010 in order for resettlement countries to seriously consider the request. The U.S. government launched a successful resettlement program for more than 90,000 Burmese refugees from Thailand and Malaysia, but less than 100 Rohingyas have been resettled from Bangladesh. The U.S. government should work with other resettlement countries – such as Canada, the UK, Australia, Sweden and Norway – to accept more Rohingya refugees, while finding durable solutions with Bangladesh for those who do not want or are unable to resettle.

In addition, the Government of Bangladesh and UNHCR should expand secondary education programs, as previously agreed, to provide opportunities and hope for the large number of children in the camp. UNICEF only focuses on primary education and is expected to withdraw from the camp next year. UNHCR should be funded to bring in a new partner, strengthen the education program and expand secondary education opportunities.

Policy recommendations

Key donor governments, particularly Australia, Canada, the U.S. and the UK, should work with the Bangladeshi government and UNHCR to register undocumented Rohingya refugees in order to strengthen protection and humanitarian assistance and reduce sexual and gender-based violence.
Key donor governments should develop a large-scale, needs-based assistance program to assist impoverished local communities hosting Rohingya refugees.
The U.S government, together with other recipient countries should initiate large-scale resettlement programs for registered Rohingya refugees.
Donor governments should rapidly mobilize $2 million to meet the World Food Program’s funding gap to ensure the provision of full food rations in the official refugee camps this year.

Lynn Yoshikawa and Melanie Teff assessed the plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh in March 2011.

Refugees International Field Report : Malaysia

Malaysia: Invest in Solutions for Refugees

April 19, 2011
Malaysia has taken significant steps forward in improving refugee rights. In the past year, there have been no reported attempts to deport Burmese refugees to the border with Thailand and a decrease in immigration raids and arrests of registered refugees. But these advances have not yet been codified into written government policy, leaving refugees considered “illegal migrants” and subject to arrest and detention. The Government of Malaysia should build on this progress by setting up a system of residence and work permits for refugees. The international community should mobilize additional funds for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and non-governmental agencies to leverage this opportunity to improve refugee rights.

Grant refugees residence and work permits

Malaysia is host to over two million migrant workers, out of a total population of 28 million. The number of registered refugees in the country is over 80,000 and the Government has not yet set up a legal or administrative framework for the refugees to distinguish them from other migrants in the country. They do not recognize the fact that unlike other migrants, these refugees are not able to return to their countries of origin. Over ninety percent of the refugees in Malaysia come from Burma where ethnic minorities, such as the Chin, Rohingya and Karen, are subject to systematic human rights abuses.

Although refugees are not legally permitted to work in Malaysia, in practice they are doing unskilled, low-paid jobs that Malaysian citizens do not want to do. Refugees International (RI) interviewed many Rohingya refugees, a Muslim Burmese minority group which is also stateless, who spoke of their frustrations at being unable to get better jobs and earn more for their families. Employers are worried about hiring them because of their illegal status or employers exploit them because they know that they will not have recourse to justice. Their illegal status forces them into taking irregular day laboring jobs, and does not permit them to get insurance, so they cannot claim compensation if they are injured at work.

Despite a significant reduction in immigration raids and detention over the past year and an increase in respect by police for UNHCR refugee cards, RI interviewed many registered refugees who had still been stopped by police and forced to pay bribes to avoid being arrested. As one Rohingya man said: “The only document we have is a UNHCR refugee card, but it does not cover working here. I have to support nine family members, but I can’t work permanently in one place. Without documents we can’t do good jobs.” A Rohingya woman told RI that UNHCR offered her micro-credit to set up a small sewing business but she turned the money down. She said: “If we are not legally allowed to move freely and to sell our products, how can we repay a loan? We would have to risk being arrested to pay it back.” These types of dilemmas face all refugees in Malaysia currently.

It is in the interests of the Government of Malaysia to implement a residence and work permit scheme for refugees. Malaysian employers seek migrant workers from abroad, but there is already a source of workers from the refugee community in the country. Setting up residence and work permit schemes that include a path to permanent residence for refugees would solve many of Malaysia’s labor needs and would allow for the government to benefit economically from taxation and money transfer fees. The current situation encourages corruption by officials and exploitation by employers, but a new system would reduce people-trafficking and smuggling, enhance Malaysia’s security, enable the government to know who is on its territory, and improve Malaysia’s image with the international community.

There have been previous residence and work permit schemes for specific foreign groups in Malaysia, such as Indonesians and Filipinos, and in 2006 there was an attempt to set up such a system for Rohingya refugees. The Government of Malaysia has recently commissioned a study to consider setting up a residence and work permit scheme for Rohingya refugees, which should be established promptly and extended beyond just the Rohingya refugee community. The Government of Malaysia should seek the technical assistance of UNHCR to avoid difficulties that have beset some previous attempts.

Increase UNHCR funding to invest in solutions for refugees

Over the past two years UNHCR has registered 35,000 more refugees in Malaysia, increasing the total number from 45,000 to over 80,000. Further, they have registered more than 11,000 asylum-seekers. Yet, despite doubling their beneficiary caseload, UNHCR has had no increase in funding. UNHCR’s operating budget remains at US$7.5 million, despite its Global Needs Assessment showing a requirement of US$16 million. At a time when the Malaysian government is progressive in its approach towards refugees, the lack of adequate financial support to UNHCR represents a serious missed opportunity. Investment at this time is a cost-effective way of finding actual solutions to refugee protection problems.

Australian funding permitted a mobile registration campaign for a large group of refugees in a relatively short period. Those resources have now been exhausted. UNHCR plans to conduct 18,000 registration interviews for Burmese cases in 2011 but lacks funding for more. RI met with refugees who had recently arrived in Malaysia, but UNHCR could not interview and register them until 2012 due to the growing backlog. r Only family reunification and particularly urgent cases are being fast-tracked for registration. Possession of UNHCR registration cards is the only protection that refugees have against arrest and detention, and lack of staffing to carry out faster registration interviews due to funding shortages needs to be addressed.

Asylum seekers told RI that it was very difficult to reach UNHCR staff and that guards and junior staff at the gate of the UNHCR compound did not allow them in. One vulnerable asylum seeker living outside of Kuala Lumpur told RI that he had tried to set up an appointment three times but had not succeeded. During RI’s visit, it was clear that UNHCR staff was overwhelmed with hundreds of visitors on a daily basis and there was a need for well-trained staff and translators.

UNHCR in Malaysia only has an office in Kuala Lumpur and their staff rarely travel to visit refugees living outside the capital. UNHCR proposed setting up an office in Penang, where many refugees and asylum seekers are living, but they have not had the funding to achieve this.

UNHCR staff also intervene when refugees are detained for immigration offenses. Given the government’s recent policy of recognizing UNHCR refugee cards and not detaining registered refugees, UNHCR is usually successful in obtaining refugees’ release. They also interview asylum-seekers held in detention. But lack of staffing and the need to cover eleven immigration detention centers around the country means that it usually takes around two months before they secure the refugee’s release. Increased UNHCR staffing or a legal aid program in the detention center would reduce the amount of suffering by detainees and their families, and also reduce overcrowding and unnecessary costs to the Malaysian detention system.

Since refugees have not been permitted to access most government services, UNHCR has had to provide assistance to the most vulnerable. In the past few years, they have supported refugee community schools, assisted families with chronic or serious medical needs, and helped survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Beneficiary numbers have now doubled, and this means that previously inadequate funding now has to be stretched even further.

Refugees in Malaysia do not live in camps, but instead in urban and rural settings, which make it more challenging for UNHCR to reach out to the most vulnerable. Nonetheless, UNHCR has increased its outreach through refugee community committees to communicate with refugees. This innovative practice could be replicated in other urban refugee settings to advance UNHCR’s work globally under its new urban refugee policy. For example, in 2010 they set up the Social Protection Fund (SPF), which provides small grants for refugee community-led projects, such as skills trainings, language classes and income-generation projects. Unfortunately, the lack of funding has meant that, despite its many successes, the SPF has had to be cut in half in its second year. Projects like these empower refugee communities and are much more cost-effective than those run through NGOs, yet funding cuts will reduce their impact this year.

Allow equal access to government schools and health facilities

Refugee children should be allowed to attend government schools. Currently they are only allowed to attend refugee community schools, which have a much poorer standard of education and which do not equip them for successful futures, whether in Malaysia or in another country. Many Rohingya refugee children told RI that in their schools they are only studying religion and English. There are some NGO-run schools for refugee children that cover more subjects, but these lack resources and qualified teachers.

Many of the refugee community schools are a significant distance from where the refugees live, and this creates problems with transport, particularly in a situation where people are afraid they could be stopped by the police. There is a problem with retention of Rohingya children in the refugee community schools. Many Rohingya families do not allow their daughters to attend school after they reach puberty. Their fear for their daughters’ safety and reputation is exacerbated by the need to travel long distances. Many boys have to drop out of school to make money, particularly since children are less likely to be arrested than their parents. UNHCR is hoping to launch a youth education program, but funding is currently lacking.

Given the precarious legal and economic situation of refugees in Malaysia, most cannot afford access to the medical system. The government has provided refugees with discounted fees for medical care recently, but foreigners, including asylum seekers, still have to pay a much higher rate in government facilities than Malaysians. The US Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration (PRM) funds an NGO-run clinic that assists refugees, including those who are not yet registered, which is a vital service that needs continued funding.

UNHCR used to “fast-track” cases of pregnant refugee women to get them registered quickly, so that they would be able to access medical care using the refugees’ discounted rate. UNHCR has stopped this practice because their statistics suggested that desperation to get registered quickly was leading women to seek getting pregnant for this purpose. This change in UNHCR policy has resulted in difficulties for some pregnant women to access medical care, which again underscores the urgency for refugees to gain access to Malaysian health facilities.

Support projects that address refugee women’s needs

Most refugee community organizations are male-dominated, making it difficult for refugee women to gain access to female translators and staff of NGOs or UNHCR. There is a need to increase female staff in these roles, and to ensure that all staff are trained to be aware of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). A refugee woman told RI that she had only been able to seek help to escape serious violence by her husband because “a UNHCR officer was approachable and asked me the right question at the right time in the right way.” She urged UNHCR staff to find a way to ask refugee women separately from their husbands if there is anything happening in their family life that is putting them at risk.

UNHCR responds to cases of SGBV that come to its attention, but they are limited in their ability to conduct outreach and need greater capacity for providing shelter and community reporting mechanisms. PRM is funding a NGO to provide a community outreach program for refugee women on SGBV, a relatively new approach in urban refugee settings, which needs to be developed further. Refugee women often have limited freedom of movement, due to fears of arrest, and many Rohingya women have to seek their husband’s permission to leave the home at all. Further, they cannot access the police and legal assistance because of their own illegal status in the country, making community outreach even more important. There is also a need to involve men in SGBV programs and to seek out community and religious leaders who would be willing to raise awareness with men of the negative impacts of SGBV on communities.

There is a common perception that the Rohingya community in Malaysia is almost exclusively male. In fact, the demographics of the Rohingya community in Malaysia have been changing, and there are increasing numbers of Rohingya women arriving in Malaysia to join their husbands or to be married. The Rohingya have tended to be a very traditional Muslim community. RI interviewed many Rohingya women, who said they wished to have access to skills and language trainings with a view to take on income-generating activities within the home. Some also said they would like to participate in a Rohingya women’s group, and that they hoped that UNHCR could give the impetus for such a group to start.

Many Burmese refugee women have suffered sexual violence in their country of origin as the Burmese government has used this as a tactic against ethnic minority communities. Refugees in Malaysia, both male and female, have also suffered many other horrific human rights abuses, creating a need for mental health support. PRM is funding an NGO to provide mental health services to refugees, and this type of funding needs to continue.

UNHCR cannot cover all of the services that are needed by the refugee community, and there is a need for more funding for NGOs to carry out these types of essential services for refugees, particularly for refugee women.

Improve immigration detention conditions

Refugees who had been held in both immigration detention and in jail told RI that conditions in immigration detention centers are significantly worse than conditions in jail. Previously detained refugees told RI that food and water are inadequate and unhygienic in the centers. Last year eight people died at KLIA center after a bacterial outbreak due to rats’ urine in the water supply. Former detainees told RI that guards beat or kicked them. They also complained of extreme heat during the day, cold at night without appropriate clothing, and no mosquito netting. This resulted in many sicknesses, as well as skin diseases such as scabies. One former detainee told RI of a little girl dying in the room she was held in due to the heat. Guards reportedly choose at whim which detainees receive help when doctors are visiting and often, the sickest detainees are not brought forward.

Conditions must be improved, and the practice of detaining refugees for immigration offenses and of sentencing refugees to caning must be stopped. Legal assistance and representation for refugees would help reduce or avoid imprisonment and caning of refugees and avoid deportation of trafficking victims.

Government recognition of UNHCR refugee cards is improving, but there are still many refugees held in immigration detention centers in Malaysia. Access by UNHCR and by NGOs to the immigration detention centers is limited. NGOs are only permitted to visit two of the detention centers. If refugees have no family or friends to inform UNHCR of their detention, they are unlikely to receive support due to the limited access by UNHCR and NGOs. One refugee committee reported that in some cases detainees must pay a bribe for officials to notify UNHCR of their presence.

Malaysia’s image as a modern country is severely damaged by the state of its immigration detention centers. Overcrowding is the primary reason for the inhuman conditions. Yet, this would be reduced if the government stopped detaining refugees for immigration offenses.

The U.S., Australia and other key donor governments should urge the Government of Malaysia:
o to work with UNHCR to provide refugees with the legal right to residence and employment in Malaysia,
o to allow refugee and asylum-seeker children access to government schools,
o to allow refugees and asylum-seekers to pay the same fees as citizens for health care,
o to improve the conditions in immigration detention centers and allow UNHCR and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) full access to detainees.
UNHCR headquarters should allocate increased funding to its Malaysia operation.
The U.S. and other key donor governments should increase funding to UNHCR and to local NGOs to enable them to increase support for refugees, including legal assistance, medical care and gender-based violence programs.

Melanie Teff and Lynn Yoshikawa assessed the plight of Burmese refugees in Malaysia in March 2011.
Source: Refugees International

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thailand in talks to deport Burmese refugees

Thailand says it is having talks with Burma about the repatriation of more than 100,000 refugees.

An official in Bangkok says he cannot say when it will happen, but the intention is to close down the refugee camps.

He says Burmese refugees have been in Thailand for more than 20 years and taking care of them is a burden.


In Burma, authorities have detained 146 people dumped on a beach by traffickers who allegedly told the group they were in Thailand.

A Burmese Government official told AFP newsagency they were found in late March.

He says they claim paid to be taken to Bangkok and were told they had arrived near the Thai capital.The 146 people will be charged under the Immigration Act.

More than 80 people who are Rohingya will be sent back to Rakhine State in western Burma, while the remainder will be sent to Bangladesh.

Source: Australia Network News

Monday, April 11, 2011

Myanmar detains 146 boat people: official

YANGON — Myanmar has detained 146 boat people from Bangladesh after they were dumped on a beach by traffickers who told them they were in Thailand, an official said Monday. "They are in the Irrawaddy region under investigation," said the Myanmar government official, who asked not to be named. He said more than 80 of the detainees were Rohingyas, a Muslim group living primarily in Myanmar's western Rakhine state who are described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities. The group, found on a beach in late March, said they had paid to be taken from Bangladesh by boat to Bangkok and were told they had arrived in the Thai capital, he said. "They will be charged under the immigration act. For the Rohingya they will be sent back to Maungdaw in Rakhine State. The others will be sent back to Bangladesh," the official said. As many as 300,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they live in "primitive and squalid conditions" in both official and makeshift refugee camps, according to US-based Human Rights Watch. The rights group said in a February report that authorities in Myanmar have "systematically persecuted" the Rohingya for more than three decades. In the past human rights activists have condemned the Thai navy for sending Rohingya asylum-seekers back to sea. The UN Refugee Agency in Bangkok said it had confirmed that more than 140 people had been put ashore in the Irrawaddy Delta and was trying find out more information about them. "Sometimes, the smugglers take people out in boats and sail them around and tell the people they have reached Thailand or Indonesia and these poor people find out they are in Myanmar," said spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey. Source: (AFP) –

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Statement on World Health Day

Ref: 2011/004

Date: April 7, 2011

Statement on World Health Day

We undersigned organizations warmly salute the World Health Day, which is widely observed in across the world on the 7th April in every year in order to improve health services by fighting against major killers, including Tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, pneumonia and diarrheal diseases.

We are sure that World Health Organization (WHO) is increasingly expanding service oriented system and facilities for every alive in across the globe.

But the health issues for the Rohingya Arakanese refugees from Burma in Malaysia are kept uncared at the expense of modern day slaves in hands of discriminating authorities on the basis of racial, religious, national and economic backgrounds, while the roles of the UN agencies remained unseen. Indeed, the Rohingya refugees are regarded as inhuman in every sector as they are recognized as citizen or ethnic for none and thus the representation of refugee status holders are ineligible in all quarters even at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and thus the Rohingya people are not welcomed in anywhere.

It is interested that the Rohingya refugees were never given chance to take part in UNHCR sponsored Community Health Worker Trainings in Malaysia, while non-Rohingya and anti-Rohingya workers and staffs are assigned to look into the matter of the Rohingya refugees’ health issues and other concerns, which disdained these downtrodden and vulnerable Rohingya refugees.

Currently, patients of cardiac, asthma, cancer, ulcer, diabetics, urology, gynecology, kedy, epilepsy, hypertension, psychiatry, paralysis, accident and undiagnosed diseases are very high among the Rohingya refugees who are unable to cover partial medical expenses in their marginalized situation. In many cases, hospital authorities forcefully take the Rohingya refugees to undergo for surgery and tests with a view to develop training manuals for fresh practitioners and graduates, so the death tools of Rohingya refugees are uncalculated.

Mention may be made here that free clinic, mobile clinic and charitable health services are available for most of non-Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. So, they can receive necessary treatments and medications on every health matter. But the Rohingya refugees are completely deprived from such facilities and thus passing their lives at risk of untimely dead.

By this statement on the occasion of the World Health Day, we appeal to the international community in conjunction with the United Nations Agencies, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and etc.:-

1. To unconditionally repeal discriminatory targets from the world most persecuted Rohingya refugees in Malaysia and to accept genuine refugees representation on refugees issues;

2. To immediately facilitate free clinic/mobile clinic services for the Rohingya refugees like others from different countries in order to ensure their health rights and to extend necessary assistance to the sick Rohingya refugees;

3. To urgently convene a working together mechanism with UNHCR in Malaysia in order to halt all those local staffs who are deeply involved in hegemony, conspiracy, corruption, discrimination against the Rohingya refugees and defamation against the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) under its own banner.

Endorsed by:

1. Arakan Rohingya Organization (JARO), Japan

2. Arakan Rohingya Ulama Council (RAUC), Malaysia

3. Burmese Rohingya Association in United Arab Emirates (BRA-UAE)

4. Burmese Rohingya Democratic Alliance (BRDA)

5. Ethnic Rohingya Committee of Arakan (ERCA), Malaysia

6. National Council for Rohingya (NCR), Malaysia

7. National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR) exile, HQ, USA

8. National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR) exile, Southeast Asia Regional Office, Malaysia

9. Rohingya Youth Development Forum (RYDF), Arakan-Burma

10. World Rohingya Congress (WRC), USA

11. Individual Activists, Human Rights Defenders and general refugees; and others

For media contact:

Mohammad Sadek, Tel: +60 163094599

Kyaw Soe Aung Te: +14147364273