Saturday, March 24, 2012

Signature Campaign to Save Irrawaddy

Target: President U Thein Sein, Union of Myanmar
Web site:
Background (Preamble):
In 2006, former military regime of Myanmar entered a US$20 billion contract with Chinese government to build 7 dams, largest one being Myitsone Dam, at the source of Irrawaddy river in northernmost area of Myanmar.

Irrawaddy river is the main artery of Myanmar upon which millions of Myanmar peoples' livelihood depend. Once this project is complete, the devastation to the ecosystem of entire country, it's invaluable rain forest and wild lives, the flora and fauna that thrives along Irrawaddy river is unimaginable. Current President of Myanmar, U Thein Sen, has put this project on hold until the end of his term in 2015.

Please sign the petition to Myanmar President U Thein Sein urging him to cancel this entire project permanently.
Honourable President U Thein Sein,

We the undersigned concerned Myanmar Diaspora living abroad, in due exercise of our liberty and in unison, hereby respectfully voice our following urgent concerns regarding the situations inside our motherland.

We would like to draw your attention to the projects funded by Chinese government inside Myanmar. They are namely: Myitsone Dam project, Shwe Gas Pipeline project. All spell disaster inside our motherland.

The independent Environmental Impact Report has clearly stated that the Myitsone Dam project will affect not only the millions of people whose livelihood depends on the Irrawaddy River, but it will also have an unimaginable devastating effect on flora and fauna that thrives along the Irrawaddy River as well as Myanma’s ecosystem, its invaluable rain forest and wild life.

The Shwe Gas pipeline and Oil pipeline projects will cause irreparable damage to the entire pristine coastline along Myanmar’s Rakhine (Arakan) State as well as the areas where these pipelines cross if any accident should happen along these pipelines and the oil tankers that carry crude oil from abroad to our shores.

Furthermore, the Myanmar people receive no benefit at all from these projects. The Chinese government provides all the labor, equipment and materials to these projects. As the Chinese are self-sustainable, the Chinese laborers don’t even need to buy and food locally. These projects provide zero to no job opportunities to the Myanmar people.

We are therefore, hereby, urge you to cancel the entire Myitsone Dam project and pipeline projects completely, permanently and immediately. We also urge you to strive to maintain the sustainability of the environment in the entire Southeast Asia region by cooperating with and living in peace and harmony among Myanmar’s neighbors. We pledge to support you and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the efforts to rebuild our motherland to become a prosperous and true democratic country which would become a model to the modern world.

Save Irrawaddy – San Francisco Bay Area – United States of America
The Save Irrawaddy petition to President U Thein Sein, Union of Myanmar was written by U Myat Htoo and is in the category Environment at GoPetition. Contact author here. Petition tags:, ,
Source: BADA

Friday, March 23, 2012

Is Burma really changing?

Is Burma really changing?

Friday, March 23rd, 2012
Mark Hallam beside the Irrawaddy river near Mandalay, Myanmar.
You could be forgiven for asking what is going on in Burma. Is the country really starting to change since a nominally civilian Government came to power in March

2011? Can refugees on the Thai Burma border safely return back to their country after decades of repression by a brutal military regime? During this time, approximately 3 million Burmese have fled to neighbouring countries. The displaced include an estimated 800,000 Rohingya (Muslims) in Western Burma and an estimated 500,000 in eastern Burma. Fighting along the border regions still continues, as do ‘black’ areas where tourists are not allowed to visit.

Certainly there are some positive signs of change in Burma, with more tourists and foreign media entering the country and Aung San Suu kyi being able to run for elections. However, even if she wins her seat at this election, the majority of the Government will still be military, so real change is not assured.

In late January, we visited Burma, after being invited by a very successful Burmese ex-refugee sponsored and settled by Sanctuary 14 years ago, living in Coffs Harbour, NSW. We were part of a group traveling together.

When we arrived at Yangon airport, straight away one could see corruption, as we, with our monk friends were able to walk easily through the diplomatic section without even having our baggage checked, while tourists stood in line watching as we quickly passed by.

We traveled by bus and stayed at monasteries in Yangon and Mandalay. Looking out of the bus window, there essentially seemed to be three groups of people within the country – monks, military personnel and the poor.
Burmese Children
Many Burmese Children suffer in dire poverty, without the chance to go to School.
One could not help but feel that the military and some of the monasteries had a working relationship. We passed through squalid villages with open sewers and grass huts and then entered the Moby Monastery compound to see carefully manicured gardens, many elegant buildings housing monks quarters, including a library, computer rooms and a hospital….a stark contrast to the desperately poor villages outside. While there, we were interviewed by Burmese television, who asked us questions about our gifts to the monks. These gifts included cash and ipads, which were made to look like they came from us but were actually from (we assume) the man we were travelling with.

After staying in the monastery near Yangon, we headed north by mini bus over very rough roads, driving for many hours. Driving in Burma is a life threatening experience, with virtually no road rules, and we had several near death experiences! Government minders kept track of us in a lead vehicle.

The bus drove through the new capital Napyidor, and suddenly the landscape changed; modern four lane roads and expensive hotels appeared. Nobody knows why the capital was moved to this remote location other than for possible security reasons. It’s unbelievable to witness such investment in an area while the rest of the country is in such poverty and dilapidation.

The beauty of areas like Sagain and Bagan were astounding and the people are so friendly.

We returned to Yangon and then went on to Karen state. There we stayed in a town called Phan, where a ceasefire agreement had been signed not less than a week earlier. Later when we visited a monastery, we were asked by a monk how they could tell if a ceasefire was legitimate. As we continued to talk about this, suddenly a man entered the room and we were hushed by an older lady in the room. The Military General for the whole of Karen state sat down beside us, before asking how we liked Burma, to which we enthusiastically replied that it was a great place.

Following our visit to Burma we flew into Bangkok, where we met with city dwelling Asylum seekers from the Congo, Burundi and Iran. It was a shock to see small children having to be locked all day inside a room with their parents for fear of being arrested and put into detention if caught outside. Thanks to the Jesuit Refugee Service they are at least provided with a place to stay and food to eat.
Secretary of SAF Mark Hallam, CEO of SAF Peter Hallam with Asylum seekers in Bangkok.
Mark Hallam (Secretary) and Peter Hallam (CEO) with Asylum seekers in Bangkok.

Unfortunately during the trip we became so ill that we were not able to continue to Mae Sot refugee camp as we had originally intended. All members of our group became ill at some point, and suffered from lack of toilet facilities and clean water.

Fighting continues inside Burma, and just today I am reading in the newspapers about the Burmese government blocking aid to tens of thousands of displaced civilians along the Chinese Burma border, including the displacement of 75,000 Kachin, 45,000 of whom have sought refugee in camps. Soldiers are still threatening and torturing civilians, raping women, and using children as soldiers.

Just by the mere fact that we were allowed into Burma, shows there are winds of change, but whether this will translate as real long term change for the people of Burma, or is just a trick to attract investment from the west, is another matter.

Burmese people are now full of hope for the future, but we can only hope it is justified. In the meantime Sanctuary will continue to try and assist the refugees who continue to suffer after many long years in the camps.

Treatment of Muslim World towards Muslim Rohingya Refugees

Famine - Rohingya Refugee Camp, Bangladesh

A severely malnourished boy is held by his mother while waiting in line at a medical feeding center in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.  The refugees are not given legal status and it is illegal for them to work, so many go hungry.  Despite the hunger they prefer to live without the fear of revenge killings, something many face that return to Myanmar (Burma.)

Amnesty International Produced Refugee Advocacy Film

Recently, the Amnesty International Produced Refugee Advocacy Film, which was send to us by the AI Malaysia office to take necessary step for the service of refugees.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Myanmar Alinn Highlighted the Rohingya problems

Myanmar Alinn Highlighted the Rohingya problems at page number 8, column 3.

To read detail, please click

Cambodia: waiting for a country to call home

Thursday, March 01, 2012

For Rohingya refugees, profits earned selling roti bread on the street are barely enough to meet basic needs. Cambodia. (Tess O'Brien/JRS)
Phnom Penh, 1 March 2012 – My name is Mohammad and I'm a Rohingya from Arakan state. Before I fled Burma, the authorities often stopped me on my way to school and sent me to work in military camps. They made me cook, clean, carry heavy building materials and things like that, and punished me if they were unhappy with my work.

We were targeted by the authorities for being Muslim; when they heard about our plans to build another classroom, our madrasa (Islamic school) was closed. On several occasions, my brother, father and I were all arrested and beaten.

One night I was offered an opportunity to go to Thailand with my uncle. I didn't have any time to tell my family, but I couldn't let this opportunity to escape slip by. At around midnight, 29 of us – all Rohingya – left by boat on what would be an 18-day journey. After three days, we ran out of drinking water and were forced to drink seawater which made us very sick.

We arrived into Thailand late at night. Unsure of where we were and scared to continue travelling over land, we hid in the jungle near the coast and waited until morning. As the sun rose, we were arrested and sent back to the Thai border city of Mae Sot where I would spend the next six months in immigration detention.

A lot of people were arrested around Mae Sot when I was there. I was terrified of being sent back to Burma, beaten and left to die as my father was. I escaped, and with my little remaining money I was able to cross into Cambodia and apply for asylum.

Every day I think about my future. Every day I worry about what will happen to me tomorrow. I just want to work and live peacefully and look after my family. I want the same things as everyone else.

JRS and the Rohingya

Mohammad is one of the many Muslim Rohingya refugees forced to flee their homes in western Burma. The Rohingya were made stateless after the 1982 Citizenship Act only recognised the national 'races' present in Arakan state prior to British colonisation in 1823.

Denied legal documentation, the Rohingya people are frequently oppressed by the Burmese authorities. Forced labour, land confiscation, restrictions on freedom of movement and religious expression are common features of their lives. Excluded from accessing public health and education services and prevented from taking up employment, they are forced to live in destitution.

The Rohingya have fled far afield – Bangladesh, India, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia – and in late 2009 they started arriving in Cambodia. In 2010, continued arrivals coincided with the implementation of the new refugee procedures, transferring responsibility for status determination from the UN refugee agency to the government.

The Cambodian government has not yet resolved any applications from Rohingya asylum seekers. Regrettably, the new framework does not afford any formal rights to asylum seekers, leaving them in legal limbo, and at the mercy of government officials turning a blind eye to their employment in the informal labour market.

With the help of JRS, many Rohingya have started their own businesses selling roti bread on mobile carts; but it is a daily struggle as profits barely meet the most rudimentary shelter and food costs.

As the Rohingya await the outcome of their asylum applications, JRS workers seek to help them deal with the day-to-day hardships. Perhaps the hardest part is knowing that even if their applications are accepted, their daily lives will not substantially change.

Trying to manage expectations is a challenge, as is encouraging them to make friends and learn the Khmer language and about its culture. But there is little hope they will be resettled to a third, wealthier, country. They face the daunting prospect of integration into Cambodian society, one which struggles, and often fails, to meet the needs of its own nationals.

Denise Coghlan RSM, JRS Cambodia Director

For a theological reflection on this story, click here

Please click here for Praying with Refugees in Cambodia
Source: JRS Asia Pacific 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Traumatized Rohingya flee squalid life in Bangladesh

By Mark McDonald,Published: Sunday, February 15, 2009

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh — It's there in their faces, in the dark night of their eyes and in the sag and slump of their shoulders. It's unmistakable, the despair of the Rohingya, the fear for departed husbands and fathers, the daily abrasions of poverty, sadness and the world's indifference.

More than a quarter-million Rohingya - an ethnic Muslim minority from western Myanmar - have come here to southern Bangladesh to escape the hunger, humiliation and official brutalities in their homeland. Many have landed in a place called the Kutupalong Makeshift Camp.

It is an obscenity, this camp, a festering hell of lost hope and inhuman squalor. No water, power, schools or medicine. Occasional stoop-labor jobs carrying bricks or making salt. Huts made of leaves and branches. There is no music.

"The worst conditions you could imagine anywhere on earth," says a well-traveled international aid worker. "Total despair," says another.

These are the luxuries in the camp: a packet of cookies, a crayon, a new battery for an old radio, a small breeze on a sweltering night.

Difficult enough are their journeys from Myanmar to the camp. Even more dangerous are the attempts by thousands of Rohingya men and boys to emigrate each year, starting with perilous sea voyages to Thailand. After that comes an overland trek to Malaysia, a country that has become a kind of Muslim El Dorado for the Rohingya. There might be friends or family connections there, and perhaps jobs that allow for money to be sent to families back in the camps.

These trips often begin in leaky boats that are underpowered and overloaded. Hundreds of Rohingya die at sea each year, and hundreds more are rescued, adrift at sea, by navies in the region. And thousands are detained each year by the Thai authorities. Human rights groups were outraged recently when it became known that the Thai military had roughly detained several dozen Rohingya men on a remote island, then packed them into a boat with few provisions and towed them back out to sea.

"Pushbacks" is what aid workers are calling this tactic.

How to measure or comprehend the terror - or perhaps it's the love - that propels a man to leave his family, quite possibly forever, and climb penniless into a boat to find uncertain work a thousand miles away in a place where he knows he'll be both unwelcome and liable to arrest? For that matter, what hellish existence could send a family fleeing to a refugee camp where conditions resemble, charitably, the 12th century?

The Rohingya number about 750,000 in Myanmar. But the military junta does not recognize them as one of the 135 "national races" in the mostly Buddhist nation. And so, in the face of forced labor, arbitrary arrest, stolen land and even starvation, they flee to the makeshift camp. (An adjoining settlement of 20,000 residents has water, electricity and other basic services. Run by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, it is known as the official Kutupalong camp. Some Rohingya have lived there for more than a decade.)

Every day more Rohingya arrive at the Bangladeshi camps, stateless, sun-blasted refugees carrying their meager bundles. The newcomers, largely from Rakhine State in Myanmar, are often so traumatized that they're unable to tell aid workers what they have fled.

Another one million Rohingya are scattered about the world - there has been a major diaspora from South Asia in recent decades - and they have flung themselves from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan to Thailand to Indonesia. The men lay asphalt and pour cement in Riyadh. They haul fishing nets in the Andaman Sea. They pull rickshaws in Jakarta. The children, with their small hands, peel shrimp and weave carpets in Karachi.

But no country claims the Rohingya. No country welcomes them. For many, Islam is the only sanctuary left. "They still have faith," says an aid worker, "that Allah will protect them."

This article was reported by a reporter for the International Herald Tribune in Cox's Bazar and by Mark McDonald in Hong Kong. It was written by McDonald.

NGO Statement on Asia and the Pacific

                                                       STANDING COMMITTEE
53rd Meeting
13-15 March 2012

NGO Statement on Asia and the Pacific
Agenda Item 3. a) ii.

This statement has been drafted in consultation with, and is delivered on behalf of, a wide range of
NGOs and attempts to reflect the diversity of views within the NGO community.

NGOs are appalled that the new Government of Myanmar reaffirmed in Parliament existing policies
of exclusion and restrictions against the Rohingya, condemning them to continued statelessness and
subjecting them to the worst forms of discrimination.

Source: Reliefweb

Stateless Rohingya…Running on Empty

Supported by the Asian Resource Foundation (ARF) and the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), the exhibition, which took three years in the field, portrays the story of Rohingyas, an ethnic and religious minority from Myanmar, unknown to the world. The exhibition reveals deep and true story of the world most neglected population. Let’s experience the story of people who are estranged in their very own homeland.  For Rohingyas, life is an endless journey of struggles. They run from place to place, in search of the land they belong to but end up finding themselves running on emptiness.

Let’s discover the meaning of this endless journey. Let’s seek an answer for these questions:  who are the Rohingyas?  Why they have to flee their land?  Why they are not wanted? Where will they be recognized as human? And how could we respond to the problems faced by the Rohingya?

From March 27 – April 1, 2012, award-winning photographer Suthep Kritsanavarin will be exhibiting his work on the plight of the Rohingya at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, opposite MBK Mall in Siam Square.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

12 more Myanmarese held in Tripura


Guwahati, Friday, March 09, 2012
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Agartala, March 9 (IANS): The influx of Myanmarese into India through Bangladesh continues, with 12 more, including a woman, being held for illegally entering Tripura, police said on Thursday.

With this, 95 Myanmarese, comprising Rohingya Muslims and Buddhist tribals, seeking jobs in India have crossed over to Tripura from Bangladesh since mid-2011. "Acting on a tip-off, the 
Assam-bound 12 Myanmarese were arrested by the Tripura police at Mungiakami on the Assam-Agartala national highway, 40 km north from Agartala, late Wednesday night," a police spokesman said.

"The detainees told the police they were going to Silchar (in southern Assam) in search of jobs," the police officer said. "All the foreign nationals are Rohingya Muslims who entered Tripura illegally through unfenced Sonamura border from eastern Bangladesh," he added.

On Thursday, the Myanmarese nationals were presented before a local court, which sent them to 14 days' judicial custody. The illegal entrants would be sent to Bangladesh after completion of legal formalities, the police official said. They told the police officials that authorities in Myanmar were indifferent to the problems of the people living in the mountainous regions bordering India and Bangladesh.

"Intermittently, the Myanmarese Army has unleashed atrocities on a section of nationals, especially Rohingya Muslims and Buddhist communities," the official said after interrogating the Myanmarese nationals.

Over 50,000 Myanmarese have been living in different parts of neighbouring Mizoram, bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh, and working at various shops and factories after obtaining work permits.

Since the mid-1990s, over 225,000 Myanmar nationals, mostly Rohingya Muslims, have been sheltering in the Teknaf region in Cox's Bazar district of southeastern Bangladesh.

Four Indian northeastern states of Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam share an 1,880-km border with Bangladesh, while Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh share a 1,640-km unfenced border with Myanmar.

The mountainous terrain, dense forests and other hindrances make the unfenced borders porous and vulnerable, enabling illegal immigrants and intruders to cross over without any hurdle.

Source: The Assam Tribue

Human rights must be addressed: Quintana

(Mizzima) – “A positive impact on the human rights situation has been made” in Burma, but “ongoing and serious human rights concerns remain to be addressed,” Tomas Ojea Quintana told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special reporteur on human rights to Burma. Photo: UN
Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special reporteur on human rights to Burma. Photo: UN
“These cannot be ignored in the rush to reform and to move forward,” said Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on Burma.

He said there is also a real risk of backtracking on the progress achieved to date.

Listing positive accomplishments, he said he was encouraged that the Parliament has been active in the legislative reform process, passing a Labour Organizations Law, the The Peaceful Demonstration and Gathering Law as well as amending the Political Party Registration Law.  A revised Prisons Act, a new media law and a new social security law, among others, are currently under preparation, he noted.

“While I welcome these developments, I note concerns regarding some of the provisions in these legislation and the insufficient attention being paid to ensure their effective implementation,” he said. “There is also a lack of clarity and progress on reforming the laws that I have previously identified as not in full compliance with international human rights standards, such as the State Protection Act, the Unlawful Association Act, certain sections of the penal code, the Television and Video Law, the Motion Picture Law, the Computer Science and Development Law, and the Printers and Publishers Registration Act.

“These laws have been systematically applied against those opposed to the government,” he said. “I reiterate the need to accelerate this process and identify clear time-bound target dates for the conclusion of the review. Regardless of efforts made to reform legislation, I remain concerned with the lack of an independent, impartial and effective judiciary to uphold the rule of law and ensure checks and balances on the executive and the legislative.”

He said that in his meeting with the Supreme Court, he noted little acknowledgement of challenges and gaps, and “a lack of willingness to address my previous recommendations.”

“I strongly call on the judiciary to take a proactive approach to apply laws in a way that would safeguard and guarantee fundamental freedoms and human rights in line with international human rights standards,” he said. He urged the judiciary to seek technical assistance from the international community, particularly the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other organizations.

He said he continued to believe that the upcoming by-elections on 1 April will be a key test of how far the Government has progressed in its process of reform.

“It is essential that they are truly free, fair, inclusive and transparent. I must stress that the credibility of the elections will not be determined solely on the day of the vote, but on the basis of the entire process leading up to and following election day,” he said. Reports he received of campaign irregularities and restrictions on the ability of political parties to carry out campaign activities should be addressed seriously by the Union Election Commission, he said.

“Respect for freedom of speech should be fully ensured. In this regard, while I welcome the easing of restrictions on the media and the Internet, the recent lifting of a ban on exiled journalists and the government’s stated intention to reform journalism laws and abolish censorship.”

He noted that that there are continuing restrictions on the media and on the freedom of opinion or expression more generally, including under various laws that he singled out in previous reports, such as the Television and Video Law (1985), the Motion Picture Law (1996), the Computer Science and Development Law (1996), and the Printers and Publishers Registration Act (1962).

“I hope that the establishment of a national press council and the preparation of a new draft media law, currently underway, would guarantee press freedom and abolish censorship,” he said.

During his last visit to Burma, he said he had the opportunity to engage with members of the National Human Rights Commission for the first time since its establishment in September last year.

“I was informed of some of the actions undertaken by the commission, including prison visits, visits to internally displaced persons in Kachin State, and the receipt of complaints from citizens.  I was encouraged to hear that the resources available to the commission may be increased significantly,” he said. However, he said there are no indications that the commission is fully independent and compliant with the Paris Principles.  

He said he welcomed the four amnesties that have been granted by the new government, which have resulted in the release of a significant number of prisoners of conscience, including prominent figures, and he called for a release of all political prisoners immediately.

He said among the most serious challenges are poverty and food insecurity, and while he was encouraged by the various reforms undertaken to promote development and economic growth, he continued to be informed about the extent of deprivation of human rights throughout the country, particularly in ethnic border areas.

“These are fundamental rights that are equally essential to Burma’s democratic transition, national reconciliation and its long-term stability,” he said.  

“Given the wave of privatizations last year and the expected increase in foreign investment, along with the new government’s plans to accelerate economic development, I also fear an increase in land confiscations, development-induced displacement and other violations of economic, social and cultural rights.”

He said the ongoing conflict with some armed ethnic groups, despite the president’s orders to the military not to engage in offensive operations except in self-defense, continue to engender serious human rights violations, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscations, the recruitment of child soldiers and forced labour and portering.

He said both the military and non-state armed groups continue to use landmines.

“Of particular concern is the ongoing conflict in Kachin State, where there are continuing reports of violations committed and where the needs of those displaced and affected by the conflict must be addressed as a matter of priority,” he said.

“Ultimately, I believe that any durable political solution must address the root causes of the conflict. In this respect, I have previously highlighted systematic and endemic discrimination faced by ethnic and religious minority groups, including the Rohingya community.”

He said that for national reconciliation to be effective, human rights violations must be acknowledged and those responsible held accountable for crimes of war. “The international community also has a responsibility to support the people of Burma in this process,” he said.


Rakhine ministers try to build Buddhist community hall on Rohingya’s resident

Akyab, Arakan State: U Tha Lu Chey, the minister of the Arakan State Administration Board, is trying to build a Buddha Damma youn (Buddhist community hall for religious purposes) on property occupied by a Rohingya family, according to a block administration office member from the area.

The minister visited No. 570, block (A-4/A-5), Merchant Street, Sayounsu block, Akyab, on March 3rd at 9:00 am,  which is the home of Mohamed Sayed (alias Hla Maung Thein) a Rohingya . He and his family have lived there for a long time and reportedly hold documents proving their ownership of the property, the  administration office member said.

“U Aung Than Way, U Aung Thein Tun and U Maung Aye, Rakhine community members, who reside on the same block are also trying to build the Buddha Damma youn and organized the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) to use its power to confiscate the Rohingya’s residence,” according to the source.

The RNDP ministers – U Tha Lu Chey, U Aung Than Tin and U Kyaw Thein – also visited the place where the block administration officer showed an empty piece of land but the ministers reportedly said in front of the people that they will use the power of the party power to confiscate the Rohingya’s  land.

An previous attempt to build a similar structure on the same land failed, according to a Rakhine resident  from
Dhayawaddy Block.

The area is occupied by Muslims and there is not a Buddhist community there. Construction of a Buddha Damma youn must be done in an area with a Buddhist community, a politician from Akyab said.

Source: Burma News International

Interview with Mr. Ahmad Azam Abdul Rahman, Chairman of Global Peace Malaysia (GPM)

Mr Ahmad Azam Abdul Rahman is the Chairman of Global Peace Malaysia, GPM, a Humanitarian Mission across Borders.

He is also the President of the consortium of 77 NGOs.

He is also a Member, founding Executive Committee Member of the Union of World Islamic NGOs.

In addition, he is the Board Member of Kuala Lumpur Society for Transparency International.

He is an Executive Committee Member of the International Movement of Just World.

He was the member of Malaysian Youth Consultative Council appointed by Youths and Sports Ministry.

He was the President of ABIM, Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement.

Burma Digest’s representative in Malaysia, Dr. San Oo Aung, recently got a kind permission to interview this great humanitarian who has a lot of interest in Burmese Politics.

Burma Digest is gathering the views of third persons to break the ice in Burma Politics and to boost the real and rapid progress in the democratization process of our country.

BURMA DIGEST: Dear brother we are glad to be here, with you today.
Abdul Rahman...Thank you very much.

Question…Brother, what is your opinion regarding the possible chances of changes in Burma towards democracy.
Answer…I think, basically, no one country in the world would like to be forced to change the way they do things. So when there is an element of forcing you to change according to your standard or your values, I think naturally there will be an element of resistance.

In the issue of Burma, we have to look from that angle as well, how to change it in a way that is acceptable (to all) and that could be difficult.

We can put pressure but when there is an element of force, then the people would cling to themselves and would resist.

So we have to bring in all kind of approaches to bring change and to bring democracy in Burma.

Question… Brother, you are interested in Burmese Politics and had organized protests at Burmese Embassy 
in Kuala Lumpur. And had organized press conferences in KL against the admission of Burma into ASEAN. At the press conference, you had revealed the various evidences of the atrocities committed by the Myanmar Military Government on its religious and ethnic minorities. You had even been to Burma Bangladesh border to help the Myanmar Rohingya Refugees. And you are the prime mover and campaigner in Malaysia to recognize the Rohingyas from Burma. Could you explain about your political activities?

Answer… Well my first contact with Burma was when there were the Rohingya refugees 10 of thousands in early 1990. We were shocked why their own citizens are disowned and rendered stateless citizens, just because their skin colour is not the same or they speak different language.

Because of that, Malaysia has to, in a way, suffer to take care of their problem of Burma . We have to take care of their problem till now.

I was in ABIM as the President then. We started to have a programme how to help them. The only way to help them is to send them back to Burma and let Burma accept them as their own citizen and treat them as their own. And it is the only way.

Question…Any progress in solving their problem?
Answer…It is very unfortunate that there is only very little progress. In the case of Rohingya, they (Military Junta) disowned them. So it is a pity and I am quite surprise why they (SLORC/SPDC) are behaving like that. They were there, born there and the history had shown that they are the part and parcel of Burma.
Question…You had lobbied against accepting Burma into ASEAN. Kindly explain your political activities and reactions.
Answer…Being an NGO, we don’t have the authority at the Government. The only weapon that the NGO has is that to let it known that you are unhappy with your government.
We don’t know why they (SLORC/SPDC) are treating against their own people against the decency of normal human being.
So we organize to demonstrate the reasons why Burma should not be accepted into ASEAN. ASEAN has an accepted way of Governance. Anyway, they had been accepted.
We still have to put some pressure with the hope that they will change , they will have some consideration to accept common principles agreed by ASEAN.
Question…What is the reactions of your government and their reasons?
Answer…We were called by the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, when we started to attack on Burma.
(They said)
If you push Burma, in any way that reasonably is not acceptable to them, they will cling to themselves.
  1. They will close all the avenues for change.
  2. So you have to know when not to push them, try to convince them, and try to help them so that there will be a level of confidence building.
  3. So you have to develop a careful building mechanism to trust us and
  4. Maintain a level of dialogue and conversation.
At the same time, (I believe that) atrocities on their own people must be highlighted, because it is in a modern world, we cannot do what we like to human beings. There are some levels of human dignity on its citizens by any government in the world.
Question…So what should we do to change or win over these Generals’ hearts and minds?
Answer…If you look at the Burmese Generals as the power that be in Burma, if they are not exposed to Intellectual Conversations, invited more on the dialogue, they could not be pulled out of the cocoon of Burma. If not this ailing generals, their sons or their grandchildren will see the light one day.
I hope I can see some degree of changes. And naturally the next generation of generals will change. I don’t think the next generation of generals will be the same as this first generation generals.
Question…So you mean it will be a very long struggle and we have to wait for the future unfolding of events.
Answer…I will like to see the struggle shown by (Nelson) Mandela (of South Africa). He was in jail, could not get out for two decades.
I am sure, after the second generation of leaders, they will have more tolerant views on things.
Of course, we want to see the changes yesterday!
But it is impossible.
We have to go step by step with the systemic efforts and at the end to institute changes over time.
But we don’t know when it will happen. We could not predict when the Soviet Union will collapse in 80′s 90′s. We don’t expect but it had happened.
But there must be a group of people trying to highlight these issues and trying to put pressure in a way for the changes to occur, whether they succeed or not.
Question…What is ASEAN doing to change Burma, is that just a drama or a staged show?
Answer…It is a dilemma.
  • If we isolate Burma,
  • if they are not allowed to develop,
  • there will be no interaction.
  • If there is no two-way interaction with the people of Burma,
  • they all will be in their own cocoon.
We want them to be changed anyway. Want to include them in a very part and parcel of the ASEAN.
Then the first thing to do is, we have to open up the doors for interaction and negotiation. May be the first generation generals are very stubborn with their own way of thinking.
But I believe the younger people will see how beautiful KL is, how Thailand is developing fast and the rapid growth of other countries. So the younger generation may have different appreciation on looking things.
Question… West’s economic sanctions were busted by China, Thailand, India and ASEAN’s own agenda. What do you think?
Answer… There are pros and cons of economic sanctions.
Economic sanctions can only work if every body agree or do at the same time.
If one country instituted the economic sanctions and other country is benefiting from it, that would be a failure.
There must be a consensus if we want to see the changes in Burma.
If we want to see that kind of sanctions (successful), they have to be done consensually. Then no country could take advantage to others’ sanctions.
Question…How about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Noble Peace Laureate; she was in jail repeatedly and is now under house arrest?
Answer…I think she is the symbol of resistance and to what is happening to the Burmese people. Burmese abroad and other NGOs must share the same principle of continued highlighting her plight and the issue of democracy in Burma.
Just like what happened to Mandela, the struggles have to continue and the changes have to be planned very well. If no immediate changes in this first generation generals, the 2nd and 3rd generation generals have to change definitely. We must have optimistic views that there will be definitely some changes.
Question… Asean’s way of no-interference is ineffective, should they change their stance?
Answer… The main question is the confidence building mechanism had to be instituted first. The idea of non-interference is to respect the way we do things, that no body should interfere us.
I don’t like people interfering in how I run my own family. Likewise if any other country wanted to initiate change in Burma and telling them what to do, how to run the country, definitely they won’t accept it. So the position or the policy of noninterference is the idea of friends to respect each other in the way of doing things.
  • But at the same time, we are concern also.
  • We cannot blinded our eyes with what is happening in Burma.
  • So the level of building confidence is important.
  • The trust is very very important.
  • And those who are very close to Burma, benefiting from trade like China, Thailand and Singapore, having business and interest must play their role of opening up Burma.
Question… What is the role of UN, UN Tribunal or International Criminal Court’s action on the Burmese Government? Or we just need to keep quiet while Burma events unfold itself.
Answer…It is also a dilemma. If we charge one of the Generals in International Criminal Court of Justice, definitely, they are going to be afraid and will hang on to the power at what ever cost it may be.
So efforts to bring changes have to tackle subtly with controlled pressure, to get desired affects. Again, I wish to stress the building of confidence to those who like to see changes in Burma.
Question… Opposition has no much trust on the Burmese Generals as they are clearly buying some more time only. And the generals also do not trust them. Your views?
Answer…The Generals know that_
  • the opposition is going to take power away from them.
  • So it is the natural thing that they are buying time.
  • They are going to do what ever they can to hold on to the power.
  • They will hang on to power at whatever cost.
  • They will kill their own people.
  • People will be put into prison.
There is no straightforward simple answer:
  • You need to continue with the straight form of various opposition activities
  • You need to exert Economic Sanctions.
  • You must exert multiple approaches on how to bring the changes.
  • We never know which will be effective to bring up the changes in Burma.
Question…Burmese Junta is killing Ethnic Minorities; Karens, Shans and Rohingyas. They are jailing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Shan leaders, and NLD leaders. They are practicing forced relocation, forced labours and forced conversion of religions. What is your view on these atrocities?
Answer…Yes, these are the things they are doing, and it is not acceptable by any standard. If you kill the Ethnic Minorities just because they are different from you, grant or made laws making Rohingyas stateless persons because they are different from you, it is wrong.
You are transferring your problem to the other country. Malaysia and Thailand suffer because of this attitude. It is not acceptable.
How to make them realize and to change them is not easy.
Question…Regarding ASEAN Integration, are you modeling EU and is Burma a thorn in ASEAN?  Could ASEAN Integration benefit the people or it is just for the benefits of governments only?
Answer… EU Integration or development is not for every country. Those who are not ready yet could come in later.
  • If you are not ready, want to take time like Burma,
  • if they do not change,
  • they will be left out from benefits of ASEAN Integration.
Naturally, the future leaders (of Burma) would not want to be left out.
They will like to be included. Time frame depends on their (pace of) change.
Question…Is there any possibility of future Academicians, Professionals, workers and students easier to come and work or study here? In other way will there be any easier Immigration Policy?
Answer…There are influx of migrants/workers, 10 of thousands of Rohingyas, other groups from Burma, Philippines and Indonesia. Malaysia also has a certain kind of policy so that it may not affect the demography and social dimension of itself. Again, Malaysia has a selective policy of supporting but understandably generally very strict policy of giving partial preference to certain other countries.
Question…Malaysia is accepting and even granting scholarships to many Burmese and Rohingyas in the International Islamic University and other Private Universities. Is there any chance of accepting more liberally and also into the schools?
Answer… Previously Rohingyas were not allowed to study in Government Primary and Secondary Schools. Just imagine that after 10 years, those Rohingya children without reading and writing skills would give more problem, bigger problem to our country.
So we are in the process of granting them a status so that they could stay, work and attend schools in Malaysia. This started last month but there are some teething problems but it is a right action.
  • Yes, but we cannot accept or open up free for all.
  • The feeling of the Malaysians Vs foreigners must be considered.
  • It could create Anti-other races feelings.
  • There must be a balance.
Question…The opposition and the Generals do not trust each other. There is a stalemate or deadlock in Burmese Politics. What should we do?
Answer…I have my trusted person. You yourself would be like that. Burma (generals) will also have some trusted countries that they trusted them as very close like e.g. China. China could play some role to try to change Burma.
Question…Could OIC play some role in Burma?
Answer…Burma is not an OIC member. Until and unless the OIC put the Rohingya problem as a minority affair problem in the OIC Agenda, OIC could not do any thing officially.
Question…Which country’s model should Burma take as a role model? Indonesian Military taking 30% of MPs or South Africa model?
Answer…You could take any model, Indonesia, South Africa or even European Countries.Every nation has its own peculiar system and way of doing things.
  1. Thinking Groups for change (Think tanks) in Burma must look all the models.
  2. Military must be given a role to play.
  3. Even the opposition has to realize and accept the fact that the Military has a role.
  4. All Civil Society must also be given the role to play.
  5. Must develop and convinced the idea that every body has the role to play.
  6. All the citizens must be given the role and proper recognition.
  7. That is the best way to convince all of them to bring them to come forward to change.
Question…Is there any real hope of change or we all are just day dreaming for a false hope?
  • I believe strongly that they are going to change.
  • I believe that the present ailing generals would be replaced by younger generation generals who see the changing world’s happenings.
With more tourism and travel (to and fro) the more they see what happening in the world.
Question…What is the role of people to force the change?
Answer…If the people refuse to cooperate:
  • any government will surely collapse. See the Shah of Iran backed by America using all the facilities killing his own people.
  • But the soldiers also have families and relatives who are the part of People.
  • Ruling Junta, elite have to change if the people oppose them.
  • So the people should be alerted and open up their awareness (of their power).
Question…We Burmese are familiar with the Buddha’s teaching. Could you kindly share us an advice as a conclusion based on your Islamic back ground?
Answer…Yes, I would finally like to advise one thing.
When our Prophet conquered and entered Medina, in Arabia:
  • he had practiced the CONCEPT OF POWER SHARING.
  • He understood that no one race alone should or could rule the country.
  • He accepted that no one race is superior to another.
  • There is no superior race and every body is same.
  • So the first foundation of Islamic state is the Multi Racial Society.
So my advice to non Muslims and Muslims, who wish to change to democracy_
  • Whether (you are) Academicians, Professionals, Politicians, Oppositions… all must unite.
  • Don’t form different groups but unite into a big single group.
  • In any struggle for change to democracy, no one race can live and fight alone.
  • Don’t discard the other races with the mentality to form one superior race just because they are not like you.
  • If not your struggle and policy will definitely fail.
So I think this is the spirit of human dignity and the feelings of human beings regardless of race and religion.
That should be the basic of any struggle.
BURMA DIGEST… Prophet Mohammad had said_ “The ink of the scholar is more valuable than the blood of the Martyr.”
So thank you very much brother, for sharing your valuable and lovely thoughts, ideas and advices. Thank you very much.
Abdul Rahman…Thank You.

Source: Dr. Ko Ko Gyi

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rohingyas: a people both with, and without, an origin (KARACHI, PAKISTAN)

Ammar Shahbazi Friday, February 17, 2012

There are some three to four hundred thousands of them in the city, but, according to the law, they simply do not exist. The Burmese Muslims - known as Rohingyas –make up a sizable portion of illegal immigrants living in Karachi, and, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are considered to be one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world.

Although they are often misconstrued as Bengalis, the Rohingyas, both culturally and linguistically, are very much different from the people of Bangladesh. “For the layman, they are all Bangladeshis, but the Burmese people are poles apart in every way, even in terms of facial features,” said Muhammad Khan Lodhi, an assistant director at the National Alien Registration Authority (Nara).


“The Rohingyas are a stateless people,” says Daniyal Rizvi of the Futuristic Foundation, a social research institute that works extensively on issues of illegal immigration and human trafficking in South Asia.

Rizvi said that a majority of the Burmese people living in Pakistan belong to the Arkan province of Myanmar. The Rohingyas are not considered Burmese by the government of Myanmar because they are not of a ‘pure Buddhist bloodline’.

In the late 70s, and again in early 90s, two major Rohingya exoduses took place. Their people were, for all intents and purposes, forced to leave their home country due to the imposition of laws that restricted their intermarriage and religious freedom. They took refuge in Bangladesh.

“There is not a single mosque in the whole of the Arkan province – a state where 70 percent of the population is Muslim, even after multiple resettlement programmes by the state to bring down the Muslim population,” added Rizvi, who has visited Myanmar nine times for research on these issues.

The Bangladeshi government does not consider them refugees. The Rohigyas live on the roads from Teknaf (the Bangladesh-Myanmar border) to Chittagong and are hounded by the police. They have no land of their own.

Life in the city

“My parents came to Pakistan because it is a Muslim country,” said Shabbir Hussain, a taxi driver and a madrassa graduate.

According to reports, there are 65 shantytowns populated by Rohingyas and Bengalis in which members of both communities live side by side. At least two such colonies are named after the Burmese lineage in Karachi: Arkanabad (named after the Arkan province in Burma) in Korangi Dai Number and a Burmese colony situated near Landi.

The Burmese population, like that of the Bengalis, is mainly employed by the city’s textile and fishing sector, where they have to work for ten to twelve hours a day. “They are the lumpen proletariat of Karachi,” says Salman Mukhtar, a senior social activist who works on poverty-related issues in Karachi.

“These people are basically migrant labourers. They have no legal status, no job security; they are virtually slaves to the whims of contractors who take work orders from textile and fishing companies to, for example, get an export assignment done,” he told The News.

“They work for the minimum possible wages; the Bengali and Burmese population, because of their low pay-rate, played a pivotal role in making Pakistani textiles competitive in the international market during the mid-80s and the 90s.”

Despite living in run-down shanty homes, where there is no access to electricity or clean water, the Rohingyas have managed to outstrip their Bengali counterparts in terms of being accepted by the mainstream Pakistani, a fact that does not bode well with the Bengali community leaders.

Political ambitions

The Bengalis claim that the Burmese, who started coming to Pakistan in the late 70s, call themselves Bengalis because they want an excuse to get naturalised citizenship; however, the Rohingya leadership denies having any link whatsoever to Myanmar.

“They have nothing to do with Pakistan. We are Pakistanis, we have been living here since before the fall of Dhaka, we gave sacrifices for the creation of Pakistan, we have a stake in this country,” said Masud-ur-Rehman, the general secretary of the Pak-Bangla Ittehad, a community-based Bengali organisation.

This turf war between the two groups has resulted in much political activism in recent times. Playing on the Bengali card, the Rohingyas have managed to form a party called the Action Committee which is backed by the largest political party of Karachi.

Mehsud’s claims were refuted outright by Abul Hussain Sonar, who is a member of the supreme council of the Action Committee. “We are Bengalis. We have no connection with Myanmar whatsoever. I am a second generation Pakistani. My parents migrated from Bangladesh in the 1960s.” Sonar claims that there are no Rohingyas living in Karachi, and that even if there are, there is a minimal number of them. The Bengalis, on the other hand, think that their political mandate is being exploited. Masud says the Burmese have money and are relatively better educated, which has allowed them to claim representation of the ethnic Bengalis in the city, who are at least four times more than the Rohingyas in number.

“If you actually make a comparison, you can see that there are a number of differences between our communities. For example, the Burmese have a tendency to send their children to madrassas; they are well-read and are a very close-knit community, which has given them an edge.”

Whatever the truth may be, one thing is for sure: the Rohingyas have successfully buried their violent past and have begun a new life with a new identity in the city of Karachi.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Deportation threat for 1m Burma migrants

Published: 29 February 2012
Deportation threat for 1m Burma migrants thumbnail 
Migrant workers from Burma pass the time outside a building where they live in the port town of Mahachai, near Bangkok (Reuters)

Up to one million Burmese migrants face deportation if they fail to complete Thailand’s national verification procedure by 14 June, human rights campaigners warn, with the stateless Rohingya seen as particularly vulnerable.

The deadline for migrants to complete the government’s national verification process was originally set for 28 February 2010, but extended for two years after pushback from global human rights activists. After sustained campaigning, migrants now have until June this year to register, but rights groups warn that a substantial portion of Burmese living in Thailand will fail to meet the latest deadline.

With the process requiring migrants to confirm their national identities through their home countries, huge uncertainty looms for migrants from the ethnic Rohingya population of Burma who are denied citizenship by the Burmese government. Despite attempts to set up in-country verification centres, numbers of migrants may still have return to Burma to confirm their identification via border crossings, where extortion by officials is common.

Human Rights Watch says that the latest delay only signals the weakness of the “overly bureaucratic and expensive” process as well as Thailand’s need for cheap labour, rather than any sincere recognition of migrant rights.

“The process is long, overly complicated, and expensive,” Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director, told DVB. “Thai and Burma government negotiators have agreed at last to finally open more nationality verification centres in Thailand for Burmese, but many of these centres are still on the borders, requiring long and expensive trips by workers to apply.”

Up to three million migrants from Burma are thought to be working in Thailand. Despite providing crucial low-cost labour for the developing economy, these workers face regular exploitation, including extortion, workplace abuse, sexual exploitation, trafficking and poor wages. This is all compounded by a lack of access to justice and remedial processes.

There is also concern that growing pressure for national verification in the lead up to the June deadline could leave those without documents even more vulnerable.

Critics have panned the Thai government for failing to tackle abuse among the migrant population in a meaningful way and some fear that the ongoing democratic reforms in Burma will make the Thai government even less inclined to protect Burmese migrant workers.

Earlier this week, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan called for Thailand to shift towards a skill-based economy in anticipation of Burmese labourers returning home. “While the need to improve the migrant registration system is still there to ensure basic human rights are respected, Thailand has to look at medium- and long-term strategies as Myanmar [Burma] is moving in a labour-intensive direction,” Surin said.

Activists insist that it is far too early to make assumptions about the new pseudo-civilian Burmese government, especially when pressing migrants to hand over comprehensive background information to the authorities.
“Even though now Burma has seen a little improvement, it is only some areas,” says Toom Hawk Harn, a spokesperson for the Thailand-based Migrant Assistance Programme (MAP) Foundation.

“The changes we have seen are only cosmetic. And for the migrant worker nothing has changed. The living wage is the same.”

A recent report by the Burma Women’s Union also suggests that migration is likely to increase in areas directly affected by natural resource development, often as a result of forced eviction.

Source: DVB

Boat group bound for Australia rescued

AAP, The West Australian  
February 2, 2012, 1:28 pm
A group of more than 50 ethnic Rohingya from Burma believed to have been heading to Australia have been rescued by fisherman in the open sea off North Aceh in Indonesia after their boat broke down.

The 54 asylum seekers, some in poor health, were picked up yesterday afternoon after fishermen spotted their wooden vessel being buffeted by large waves.

One of the fishermen involved in the rescue, identified as Jamali, said the boat had been damaged and its engine had broken down.

He said the boat had been spotted about 12km out to sea. The fishermen had been working in the area.

“They saw a vessel full of passengers just being washed back and forth on the waves. The boat’s passengers were calling out for help, food and water,” he told reporters, according to the Jakarta Globe newspaper.

“Their condition was very concerning,” Jamali said. “A number of them were weak from dehydration and hunger.”

The asylum seekers have been accommodated at a mosque in the village of Blukat Teubai.

Indonesia is the chief transit point for asylum seekers heading to Australia but it is less common for the boats to leave from Aceh, in the west of the archipelago.

It is possible the group left for Australia from Malaysia.

Source: AAPP

600,000 Rohingya Refugees are Languishing Saudi Arabia in Sub-human Condition

Publish Date: Sunday,4 March, 2012, at 01:45 AM Doha Time
By Mizan Rahman
Saudi Arabia authorities are closely observing Bangladeshi expatriate workers as some of them were allegedly involved in various criminal offences in the Gulf kingdom, according to a Bangladesh minister.

“At the moment they (Saudis) are not willing to recruit workers from Bangladesh until the crime tendency among Bangladeshi workers goes down,” Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain told reporters at Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka yesterday on his return from the Gulf country.

Mosharraf, who led a six-member delegation to Saudi Arabia, said involvement in crimes by a few Bangladeshi workers has damaged the image of the country.
“During a meeting with Saudi Labour Minister Adel Fakieh, I informed him that we have taken various steps, including the registration of the overseas-bound workers and issuance of smart card, to ensure that men with criminal background can not go to Saudi Arabia or any other country for jobs,” Mosharraf said.
He said if a smart card is scanned, all information of the card-holder will be available.
Mosharraf invited the Saudi labour minister to visit Bangladesh to see the recruiting process and training programmes for the workers who are going abroad for jobs. Besides, if the Saudi authorities have any suggestions, that will be considered, he added.
The minister also met with two Saudi princes and two governors.
The two sides agreed to form a joint working group comprising officials of the labour and manpower, home affairs, and foreign affairs ministries of the two countries. The joint working group will meet once in three months by rotation in Dhaka and Riyadh to discuss issues related to export of manpower.
At present, nearly 2mn Bangladeshi workers are employed in Saudi Arabia.
Asked about the presence of Burmese Rohingya people in Saudi Arabia, Mosharraf said the Saudi side told them that about 600,000 Rohingya workers were staying in Saudi Arabia. Of them, some Burmese nationals entered Saudi Arabia with Bangladesh passports.
Mosharraf said Saudi market for Bangladeshi workers was not completely shut. Last year 15,000 Bangladeshi workers went to Saudi Arabia, he informed.
He said the Saudi government is building five mega cities and they would need huge local and foreign workers for those projects.

Source: Gulf Times

Stateless along the Bay of Bengal: The Future of Burma's Rohingya

Saturday, 03 March 2012 21:25

By: Christian N. Desrosiers

After hustling myself out of the city center across a handful of muddy fields, I entered a low wooden building where an elderly imam was waiting for me. His beard was dyed orange in the manner of the Prophet, and it stood out strongly against his skin, dark as rich soil. We spoke in low tones. Secrecy was necessary: if we were caught meeting by one of the many informants in his community it would be bad for me and worse for him. He is a member of a group that Refugees International has dubbed "one of the most persecuted groups in the world."

A Muslim of South Asian rather than Asian stock, the imam is a Rohingya, a minority group in Burma that is at the center of long running controversy regarding their citizenship. With the Burmese government alleging that they are illegal immigrants and the Rohingya asserting that they have lived here for centuries, it is a bitter dispute and much is at stake, though the waters are muddy.

One thing is clear: their life in limbo is a precarious existence. Having been denied Burmese citizenship, they are not citizens of any country, nor is any country enthusiastic about having them as refugees. Those that remain face forced labor, extortion, arbitrary jailing, and murder. Lacking citizenship, legal recourse, and international attention, with scant prospects abroad and fewer at home, their outlook is bleak.

A Disputed History
At the center of the dispute is the Burmese government's claim that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Between 1824 and 1942, when Burma was part of the British colonial empire, many Bengalis and Indians were brought over to serve in the colonial administration. The British considered this an internal migration, because the movement took place entirely within the bounds of their control.

"The Burmese government still considers, however," Human Rights Watch writes in a report, "that the migration which took place during this period was illegal, and it is on this basis that they refuse citizenship to the majority of the Rohingya."

The government also has on its mind the secession attempt at the formation of the state of Burma led by Rohingya who wanted to join some western parts of the country with East Pakistan.

This is a "massive mistruth," according to a senior Human Rights Watch researcher. Dissenting observers note that the first recorded South Asian immigrants to what is now Burma occurred as early as the 7th century, when a local Buddhist king brought over skilled workers as slaves.

This migration complicates the matter and makes it, perhaps, impossible to resolve because descendents from 7th century immigrants and 20th century immigrants are visually indistinguishable and there exists no conclusive documentation for many alleged illegal inhabitants.

The Response
Though the past is murky, the present that has been born out of the dispute is clear.

"This is kafir country," the imam told me. He is bitter from the years of difficult life in the region.

When the British lost their colony to the Japanese in World War II, and then again to Burmese independence in 1948, there were reprisal attacks against those who had aided and benefited from British rule. Mosques were destroyed and Rohingya villagers were raped, murdered, and tortured.

The fighting between Arakan Buddhists and Rohingya led to a separation of the populations, the Rohingya clustering along the areas near Bangladesh. Significant numbers fled to East Pakistan while others attempted to secede.

After the secession attempt failed the government adopted an official policy of treating the Rohingya as illegal immigrants. Under their new illegal status their properties were confiscated by the government.

The Burmese government has placed conditions on the possibility of Rohingya citizenship that many Rohingya claim are excessively onerous. Article 3 of the 1982 immigration law requires Rohingya seeking citizenship to provide as a prerequisite records demonstrating that their families entered the country prior to 1823. Most Rohingya possess very little, much less official birth records.

With few rights, Rohingya face hostility from many levels of society. During my travels in Arakan state, a common accusation I heard from Arakanese Buddhists was that the Rohingya were "trying to steal our land."
Such xenophobia is present even at the upper levels of the Burmese government. In 2009 the Burmese consul to Hong Kong publicly said that the Rohingya were "ugly as ogres." And In a small library in Arakan I read a history book written by a former Burmese ambassador to the United Nations in which there is a chapter entitled "Is Islam a Threat to Buddhist Culture?" The Rohingya, like all Muslims, the book asserted, were working toward the goal of "world domination," via a strategy of appealing to our sympathy and marrying "our native maidens."

No Hope Abroad
For many Rohingya, escape is the only logical solution to their problem, but, barred from leaving their villages without official bureaucratic approval, the way out is fraught. Non-citizens, they must obtain several forms of official permission before leaving their village, permission which is often denied.

I was told a story about a family who attempted a secret boat trip to Rangoon. They were discovered along the way by soldiers and, when they could not pay the bribe, they were massacred. News of them had come back through a bystander who had attempted and failed to buy the safety of the Rohingya from the soldiers. Stories like this did not make it into any newspaper.

And there are the seemingly endless stories of extortion and abuse at the hands of immigration officers, who, the Rohingya I met asserted, acted with impunity against them because the Rohingya are not citizens. When authorities discovered from an informer that one man's brother had escaped, they came to him demanding a bribe. When he could not pay, they imprisoned him for several months.

Those that make it abroad, often first to Bangladesh, find a grim life in refugee camps, where they are barred from working. More than a quarter million Rohingya fled there in the early 90s.

There is no incentive for Bangladesh to improve conditions there. More refugees means more drains on its budgets In fact, Bangladesh has in the past forcibly repatriated Rohingya refugees. Though this is a violation of the 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees, Bangladesh is not a signatory of that accord.

And, in a famous incident, in 2007, the Thai navy disabled Rohingya refugee vessels and abandoned them, all of their occupants still inside, at sea.

No Birds in the Hand, One in the Bush

Recently, within Burma there have been signs of moves toward a more inclusive society. This month, the International Crisis Group released a report, subtitled "Major Reform on the Way," that cites a number of signs that the Burmese government is increasingly interested in democratization.

Aung Sun Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Laureate released from years of house arrest last year, has been in talks with government officials and thus far has been allowed to move freely about the country. The government has also awarded visas to outspoken critics of their regime, like Senator John McCain, a long time supporter of Suu Kyi and of sanctions against Burma.

While it is still unclear what is driving the change – speculation runs from a desire to avert an official U.N. inquiry into human rights abuses in the country to the fact that the aging generals are receding into the background – the consensus seems to be that change is happening. "People who say there is no change are not here," Aung San Suu Kyi was recently quoted as saying.

Yet, for the imam there is no change. "None of that affects us," he wrote to me after I'd left. The developments concern minority groups that are ethnically Asian and already, if only nominally, included in Burma's political life; the problem surrounding the Rohingya is a different issue altogether, and the exceptionally difficult task of determining the origin of these people who have no records, remains unchanged.

The ICG's report has been criticized as excessively optimistic by other human rights groups and Rohingya leaders have noted that, even in its optimism, nowhere does the report mention the Rohingya.

In fact, Win Mra, the chairman of the Myanmar Human Rights Council that is cited by the ICG as a significant sign that Burma intends to repair its human rights record, has gone on record denying the existence of the Rohingya.

The only optimistic signs coming through international channels are so bleak as to be almost comical. Chris Lewa, the head of a human rights group focused on Rohingya issues, reports that the Thai navy "confirmed that they will not push them back out to sea."