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27 August 2014

Myanmar delegation arrives today

By The Daily Star
August 27, 2014

A five-member Myanmar delegation arrives here today for talks over issues concerning Bangladesh, including repatriation of Rohingyas, stopping Yaba smuggling, establishing a border liaison office to fast track dispute resolution, and holding regular security dialogues.

The delegation, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Thant Kyaw and accompanied by two officials from the embassy in Dhaka, is likely to raise allegations of armed insurgents in yellow fatigues operating in the neighbouring country from Bangladesh, stated sources.

Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque will lead the 10-member Bangladesh side at the foreign secretary-level 8th Foreign Office Consultation (FOC) on August 31, informed diplomatic sources.

The delegation will afterwards call on Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali in the afternoon. It will also go on a visit to Sylhet tomorrow.

Talks will also centre around human trafficking and security, economic issues including trade and investment, introducing coastal shipping, and cooperation in the fields of energy, education, agriculture and tourism.

Foreign ministry officials told The Daily Star that Dhaka will again invite President Thein Sein to visit Bangladesh. A scheduled visit was postponed after religious violence erupted in the Rakhine state in June 2012.

The FOC was also originally scheduled for June 18 but was postponed due to escalation of border tension when a Border Guard Bangladesh personnel was killed in May by Myanmar border guards.

There are around 30,000 Rohingya refugees living in two camps alongside several lakh undocumented ones around the country.

Myanmar’s Military Torture an Innocent Rohingya for Ransom

By MYARF 
Rvision TV
August 28, 2014

Buthidaung, Arakan State: The Myanmar Military arbitrarily arrested and severely tortured an innocent Rohingya at Paya-pyin-aung-pyaa’ village in Buthidaung Township for Ransom, say the reliable sources.Buthidaung
The military arrested the Rohingya man last Friday night upon a false complaint against him by the village administrator who is Rakhine extremist named Maung Chan Thar.

“Noor Ali (son of) U Islam (of age 25) is a local of Paya-pyin-aung-pyaa village in Buthidaung Township. The village administrator, Maung Chan Thar, arbitrarily accused Noor Ali of abusing him (the administrator) on August 22. Then, he beat him up.

Even yet, on August 24, the village administrator complaint to the military of Battalion 263 (based in Nyaung Chaung village) that Noor Ali had abused him. Around 10:00PM of the same day, the military raided Noor Ali’s house and arrested him. He was detained and severely in the military detention. Then, the military demanded a ransom of Kyat 150,000 from his family for his release.

Being poor, Noor Ali’s mother didn’t have the money. So, she sought help from her villagers and collected around Kyat 90,000. However, when she went to the military camp to get her son released with the amount, the military said that they would not release her son because their demand was not fulfilled.

Now, they are demanding Kyat 300,000 ransom for Noor Ali’s release citing that it was because the payment was not made in time. Therefore, Noor Ali is being tortured inhumanely and still detained” said eyewitness declining to be named.

“Besides, the military some horses and they (the horses) destroy Rohingyas’ paddy fields and crops. When Rohingya people try to prevent from destroy the crops, the military torture the people” he continued. 

Will the Rohingya, driven from their homes, spend the rest of their lives segregated in ghettoes?

Rohingya Muslims pass time near their shelter at a refugee camp outside Sittwe, on June 4, 2014. Over 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya, have been living in sprawling, squalid displacement camps in Rakhine following two bouts of violence in 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun   

By Thin Lei Win
August 27, 2014

There was a time when ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar lived and worked together. They were once neighbours, albeit uneasy ones, sharing a tense but relatively stable existence.

Then in June 2012, religious clashes between the two groups drove them apart and forced 140,000 people - mostly Rohingya - from their homes.

When I first met the displaced Rohingya in May 2013 in makeshift camps outside the Rakhine capital Sittwe, I thought their displacement would be temporary, the conflict somehow eventually resolved. But when I went again two months ago, I was struck by how these camps – home to two-thirds of those displaced by the violence – had started to look like permanent segregated ghettos.

Houses, clinics and schools were larger, sturdier. There were newly-opened shops and pharmacies, where the displaced – whose movements are tightly restricted and who have lost all property and any means for making a living – sold their aid rations to buy medicines and other goods.

There is little sign of reconciliation or effort to bring the two communities together again: More than two years after they were driven out, Muslims who used to live and work in Sittwe are still barred from entering the city, and thousands of Rohingya may spend the rest of their lives in prison-like displacement camps, with no hope of going home and a perilous voyage by sea as the only way out.

“We're concerned that segregation is becoming permanent and not enough is being done to change it, let alone protect the fundamental rights of the displaced,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a group that monitors Rohingya issues.

“Members of government at all levels still feel as though the Rohingya don't belong in the country, and that's part of the reason why the Rohingya remain segregated in ghettos.”

DETAINING THE UNDOCUMENTED

Further deteriorating the situation, Rakhine leaders have proposed a plan that would make the segregation permanent - on paper - and force all undocumented Rohingya to live in detention camps.

Local leaders are organising a public meeting this week to drum up support for the plan, which would apply to Rohingya who were driven from Sittwe into displacement camps, as well as those who were not forced from their homes and still live in nearby villages, according to Than Tun, a Sittwe resident and member of the government’s Emergency Coordination Committee set up to scrutinise humanitarian aid workers.

This would basically mean detention for all Rohingya - a minority group of around 1.33 million who are stateless despite living in Myanmar for generations. Critics say Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law makes it almost impossible for them to become citizens.

As Rakhine leaders push the segregation plan, the government is conducting a “verification process” to determine the citizenship status of Rohingya, but this is more or less a pointless exercise that forces Rohingya to identify themselves as Bengalis – a label that many Rohingya reject because it amounts to an admission that they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

PRECARIOUS LIVES

In another sign I spotted of the Rohingya settling in for the long haul at the displacement camps, there were small, dusty shops selling snacks and plastic bags of milk powder, pharmacies with shelves full of medicines with faded labels, mobile phone charging stations and people selling fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.

Some analysts see optimism in such commerce because it points to the resumption of small-scale trade between the Rohingya and the Rakhines, who are the main source of goods from the outside world.

Others say it underscores the irreconcilable differences that may separate them forever.

“As long as Rakhine extremists continue to monitor and target anyone in their community who reaches out to the Rohingya, it’s going to be hard to see how reconciliation can get started,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

In the meantime, their lives are precarious.

While at The Chaung camp outside Sittwe in June, I met Sayed Hussain, who used to work as manual labourer in Sittwe market and now lives with his wife and four children in a displacement camp outside town. Their mud-floored hut was a patchwork of walls made of sodden cardboard and old rice sacks, and a roof of ragged plastic and thatch.

“My wife has kidney problems and my children have coughs and diarrhea, but we have no money to go to the hospital,” 60-year-old Hussain told me.

As the early monsoon drizzle turned into a downpour, I wondered if his ramshackle shelter – and for that matter, his family – would survive the most ferocious rains of the monsoon season.

(Additional reporting by Min Zayar Oo and Paul Mooney; editing by Alisa Tang

26 August 2014

Over 310,000 in Rakhine State still need aid

Photos created by kalle.bergbom

By Wa Lone
Myanmar Times
August 25, 2014, 

Two years after inter-communal violence first broke out in Rakhine State more than 310,000 people are still in need of humanitarian assistance there, says the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Pierre Péron, public information and advocacy officer at UNOCHA, said those in need included both Muslim and ethnic Rakhine residents.

The number of international humanitarian staff in Rakhine State decreased sharply after attacks on UN and NGO facilities in March following accusations that they favoured Muslims.

Most of the 300-plus staff from NGOs and INGOs who were temporarily relocated following the attacks have returned to Sittwe.

But Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland, which previously had more than 500 staff in Rakhine, has not been able to resume its activities since they were suspended by the government in February, despite being invited to do so last month.

The Rakhine State government announced in July that MSF and Malteser could resume operations in Rakhine, asking them to cooperate with the Ministry of Health in development projects, humanitarian assistance, healthcare and education.

Welcoming the government’s invitation, Marcel Langenbach, director of operations for MSF in Amsterdam, said, “We hope MSF can restart treating patients as soon as possible.”

Some Rakhine community groups have stated their disapproval of MSF’s return and it remains to be seen what the timeline and modalities for resuming operations will be. 

U Than Tun, a member of the Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) in Sittwe, said they had evidence of MSF partiality, adding, “We would not oppose MSF if they only provided healthcare.” 

U Hla Thein, who chairs the Rakhine State government information sub-committee, said that discussions on the timeline and scope of MSF’s resumption of work were ongoing. “The [Rakhine State] prime minister is still trying to engage with the Rakhine communities,” he said.

Rainy season has also intensified health problems. The UN has reported increased risk of water-borne and vector-borne diseases, including malaria and dengue fever. It also reports that heavy rains and flooding in some areas have restricted access for health teams to some isolated communities.

UN adviser calls for taking ‘leap of faith’ to ensure peaceful, unified Myanmar

Special Adviser for Myanmar Vijay Nambiar. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

August 25, 2014

The United Nations Special Adviser for Myanmar today wrapped up a visit to the country during which he visited Rakhine state to see first-hand the progress made to provide aid to local communities, as well as actions being taken to address underlying causes of recent violence.

This was the eighth visit to Myanmar in the past year for Vijay Nambiar, who took part as an observer at a meeting on national reconciliation between the Government and ethnic armed groups – the first of its kind held in the country.

“On behalf of the Secretary-General, Mr. Nambiar called on all involved to take a leap of faith and to set aside all narrow agendas in the common interest of peace and a unified Myanmar,” UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.

Several waves of clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, the first of which occurred in June 2012, have affected hundreds of thousands of families in Rakhine.

During his visit, Mr. Nambiar met with the President, Foreign Minister, and other senior officials, and also spoke with diplomats and members of political parties, representatives of ethnic armed groups, civil society, aid agencies, women and youth organizations.


He spoke about the reform and democratization process, development and strengthening the cooperation between communities and ethnic groups, and underlined the UN’s commitment to support Myanmar as it proceeds with reforms.

Reckless Gunfire by Myanmar’s BGP Kills a Rohingya Farmer

By MYARF & M.S. Anwar
1:00AM (Myanmar Time), Monday, August 25, 2014
Maungdaw, Arakan State ׀ Rvisiontv.com
The Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) opened fire at a Rohingya farmer in southern Maungdaw last Saturday night as they failed to arrest two other bypassing Rohingyas for ransom, hence causing the poor man’s death, say the locals of Maungdaw.
The victim is identified to be U Abdul Hoaque (son of) U Mohammed Jalil and a father of two children. He hailed from Zaydi Pyin hamlet of Kyauk Pandu village tract, southern Maungdaw
Abdul Hoque (Age 35) was deliberately killed by Myanmar's Border Guard Police
Abdul Hoque (Age 35) was deliberately killed by Myanmar’s Border Guard Police
“U Abdul Hoque, a farmer, owned few acres of agricultural lands. It was around 9:30PM on August 23 that he was going to another part of the village to hire some farmers so as to cultivate paddy on his lands the next day. There were two more people, unknown to him, bypassing him and along the village street at the same time.
The Border Guard Police (BGP) called the two people from their camp across the street. However, the two ran men away as the police have been notorious for arbitrarily arresting and torturing innocent people for ransom. The police, desperate and angry for failing to arrest the two people, wantonly began firing at the unconcerned man, U Abdul Hoque. A bullet hit at his lower back and came out from other side of the body penetrating all through.
Then, the police phoned their main station at Inn Dinn village. After a while, a police motor-vehicle arrived at the village and took him to Maungdaw General Hospital without informing his family. It was 2AM Sunday by the time they arrived at the hospital. Although the police informed the doctor in-charge of the hospital, Dr. Kyaw Maung Maung Thein infamous as a racist Rakhine, about the emergency, the doctor chose to ignore the case.
On Sunday early morning, the victim’s family arrived at the hospital. And then, the doctor arrived at 10AM. The doctor checked him up in a room and gave him only an injection. Coming back to his room after 30 minutes, the doctor asked the nurses whether or not he died. The nurses replied that he didn’t.
Upon that, the doctor ignored to treat him and left the room. No doctor or nurse gave any more treatment to him. Therefore, he faced an untimely demise around 6:40PM of the day” said an eyewitness declining to be named.
“Then, when the family tried to take his corpse away for a proper burial, the authority at the hospital prevented them from doing so saying that there would be higher officials from BGP headquarter (in Kyikan Pyin village).
Few officials arrived and said to the family ‘we will only allow you to take the corpse once you sign an agreement that you won’t try to lodge any complaint and inform anyone. How do you name this kind of injustice? It’s more than double victimization of injustices” the person exclaimed.
The above-mentioned doctor, Dr. Kyaw Maung Maung Thein, has some similar past records of killing Rohingya patients especially after the violence against Rohingyas erupted in June 2012. Read an earlier report here: Rohingya Teenager Die after Injections by a Racist Rakhine Doctor
Also watch the video of the last moments of Adbul Hoque: 
- See more at: http://www.rvisiontv.com/reckless-gunfire-myanmars-bgp-kills-rohingya-farmer/#sthash.6naSpZBI.dpuf

25 August 2014

Rohingyas are full citizens of Myanmar

By Fakhruddin Ahmed
August 25, 2014 

ROHINGYA crisis has been weighing on the world's conscience for decades.  The UN Human Rights Council lists Myanmar's 800, 000 Rohingya Muslims among the world's most persecuted minorities.  Residents of Myanmar for over 600 years, Rohingyas have been stripped of their Myanmar citizenship.   

Oppression and expulsion have been repeatedly perpetrated on them by Myanmar's Buddhist majority for centuries.  An estimated 300,000 Rohingyas languish in Bangladeshi and Thai refugee camps.

Rohingya villages have been cordoned off, and many Rohungyas have been confined to concentration camps.  Humanitarian agencies such as Doctors without Borders have been barred from entering and treating patients in those camps. Rohingyas are perishing while the world looks away.

Rohingya is an Indo-European Rohingya language; the words Rohingya means a resident of the state of Arakan.  Myanmar has recently renamed the Rohingyas' tiny home state, Arakan, (5% of Myanmar) “Rakhine” to appease its Rakhine Buddhist residents.  To obliterate every trace of Rohingya heritage, Myanmar government has deleted the ethnic category ”Rohingya” from the official list and replaced it with “Bengalis,” with the innuendo that the Rohingyas are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which they are not.   

Buddhist King Narameikhla first invited the Rohingyas to Arakan from neighboring India as advisors and courtiers in the 1430s.  In 1785, Buddhist Burmese from the south conquered Arakan, massacred Rohingyas and expelled many to British Bengal, eliciting unwelcome British attention.

The British took control of Arakan through the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26) and encouraged Indian immigration to the sparsely populated region.  Through two additional wars, Burma was fully incorporated into British India in 1885.  

At the outset of World War II Britain abandoned Arakan.  While Burmese nationalists sided with Japan, the Rohingyas remained loyal to the British and served as spies behind Japanese lines. This infuriated the Japanese who embarked on a hideous pogrom of torture, rape and murder against the Rohingyas, driving thousands into Bengal.

Between Burma's independence in 1948 and General Ne Win's putsch in 1962, the Rohingyas advocated a separate Rohingya nation in Arakan.  The junta brutally crushed Rohingya nationalism.

After Myanmar army's 1978 “Dragon King” operation drove 300,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh, the junta enacted the draconian Burma Citizenship Law in 1982 with the malicious intent of making the Rohingyas  stateless, “resident foreigners,” to be repatriated worldwide.

The law stipulates that a full citizen of Myanmar must belong to one of the ten “national races” (Rohingyas are excluded), or their ancestors must have settled in Burma before the British invasion of 1824.  Rohingyas do not qualify for the two lesser citizenships either which require the illiterate peasants to produce documentary evidence of their centuries-long residency in Myanmar.

Colonial Britain had also encouraged Indian immigration to Africa and the West Indies as indentured workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, yet citizenships for those immigrants and their progeny has never been in question. Neither should it be for the Rohingyas.

No internationally acceptable metric can deny the Rohingyas Myanmar's citizenship.  It is unconscionable to disenfranchise people who have lived in Myanmar for hundreds of years before current Myanmar was founded.   In a civilized society, the majority cannot legislate away the citizenship rights of a despised minority.  This is ethnic cleansing through legislation.

Critics call the anti-Rohingya vendetta linguistically, religiously and racially motivated.  While 89% of the Myanmar's population practice Theravada Buddhism and are of Mongoloid stock, the Rohingya Muslims are easily identifiable by their dark skin.

Amnesty International reports that “the Rohingyas' freedom of movement is severely restricted,” and “they are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation, land confiscation, forced eviction and house destruction.”  They are used as forced laborers on roads and military camps.  By law, they are forbidden to have more than two children.  The children are born stateless, perpetuating their bleak future.

As non-citizens, Rohingyas are treated as illegal immigrants, with restrictions on movement, no right to own land, receive an education or public service.  This is unacceptable. The world must persuade Myanmar to amend the ill-intentioned law and restore the Rohingyas' citizenship rights. Nothing short of full citizenship for the Rohingyas will solve the crisis.

The current anti-Rohingya crusade is spearheaded by Buddhist monks, notably Ashin Wirathu, who proudly calls himself “Buddhist Bin Laden”  and warns that the Rohingyas (1.4% of population), aim to subjugate Myanmar.  He laments that Buddhists have already lost Afghanistan, Malaysia and Indonesia to Islam; he is not about to let that happen in Myanmar on his watch.  Monks are greatly respected in Myanmar.

Myanmar's most respected citizen, Aung San Suu Kyi, is ambivalent about the Rohingyas' citizenship status, saying that she does not know if Rohingyas qualify as Myanmar's citizens.  The Economist noted that Suu Kyi's “halo has even slipped among foreign human-rights lobbyists disappointed at her failure to take a clear stand on behalf of the Rohingya minority.”

On May 7, 2014, the US Congress passed a resolution urging the Burmese government to end the persecution of the Rohingyas.  America and its President are greatly admired in Myanmar, as President Obama experienced firsthand during his Myanmar visit in 2012.  If the President and the Congress and the world firmly demand that the Rohingyas must be given full citizenship before further trade with Myanmar, Myanmar will see the wisdom of acceding.

One expected the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold medal, and a current member of Myanmar's House of Representatives, Aung San Suu Kyi, to speak out against the human rights abuse of the Rohingyas, just as her father, General Aung San, had done.  The world stood by Ms. Suu Kyi during her travails.  She should do no less for her beleaguered Rohingya compatriots.

I should also like to suggest to Bangladesh government that it does not behoove Bangladesh to compete with Myanmar in inflicting cruelty on the Rohingyas.  Granted that unlike Myanmar, Bangladesh is a very densely populated country.  Still, it is unconscionable to ban marriages between Rohingyas and Bangladeshis, or between Rohingyas themselves. Instead, Bangladesh should extend its legendary hospitality towards the Rohingyas, shelter and feed them well, offer them medical service, educate their children, and take some Rohingyas in.  After all, the Rohingyas' ancestors had lived in the area.  

Generosity nourishes the soul of a nation.  Hatred towards others not only destroys an individual, it can also destroy a nation.  By treating the Rohingya refugees humanely with dignity, impoverished Bangladesh can teach humanity to those nations who lack it.

The writer is a Rhodes  Scholar. 

23 August 2014

Rohingya, trade high on agenda

Two Rohingya women cuddle their newborns at a camp in Kutupalong, Cox's Bazar. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das

Foreign Secy-Level Meeting with Myanmar 

By Rezaul Karim
The Daily Star
August 22, 2014

Repatriation of Rohingya refugees, border management, human trafficking, boosting trade and investment, and introduction of coastal shipping will be high on the agenda at the Bangladesh-Myanmar meeting to be held in Dhaka on August 31.

The foreign secretary-level Eighth Foreign Office Consultation will also discuss issues like regular holding of security dialogues, import of gas from Myanmar, confidence-building measures to remove misunderstanding between the two neighbouring countries, cooperation in areas of climate change, energy, agriculture, education and increasing border trade and tourism.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque and Myanmar Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs U Thant Kyaw will lead their respective sides in the talks.

An eight-member Myanmar delegation will arrive in Dhaka on August 28.

Bangladesh is ready to allow Myanmar vessels use its inland ports, officials at the commerce ministry said. Both countries have already marked Chittagong, Mongla, Narayanganj and Teknaf ports in Bangladesh and Yangon, Pathein, Sittwe and Maungtaw ports in Myanmar for each other's use.

Sources said the two countries have reestablished Dhaka-Yangon air connectivity and is now working on road connectivity.


The officials further said Myanmar wants to set up a wholesale market with Bangladesh and hold trade fairs near the border to increase bilateral trade. Myanmar has such markets and trade fairs with China and Thailand.

Diplomatic sources said Dhaka has recently taken a number of steps to resolve bilateral issues with Myanmar.

During her visit to Myanmar last year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formally offered financial assistance and expertise to Myanmar to assist it in resolving the Rohingya problem.

Bangladesh also proposed holding dialogues for enhancing security.

As there is no structured security cooperation in place, Bangladesh will make a formal proposal for Security Dialogue and discuss a Coordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP) over security issues. 

To reduce tension between the border guards of the two nations, Dhaka last year suggested signing a Memorandum of Understanding to hold regular dialogues on security matters.

This proposal was tabled at a foreign secretary-level meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital of Myanmar, during the last Foreign Office Consultation in 2013.

The foreign ministry has been trying to convince Myanmar for a year to create space for dialogues to build trust between the two countries.

To that aim, the government allowed a Myanmar frigate to cross the Naf river for the first time last year. The frigate stayed in Myanmar territory bordering Cox's Bazar for a month.

Officials at the foreign ministry said Bangladesh has been making all kinds of positive gestures as per the prime minister's directives “to build the best possible relationship with Myanmar”.

Chiefs of the Bangladesh army, air force and navy have already paid visits to Myanmar while the Myanmar naval chief has visited Dhaka and its air chief is expected to visit Dhaka soon.

The meeting was scheduled for June 18 but was deferred by Myanmar after tensions ran high between the countries over the killing of Border Guard Bangladesh corporal Mizanur Rahman by Myanmar security forces on May 28.

22 August 2014

Arakanese Leaders to Propose Detention Camps for Undocumented Rohingya

Rohingya women are pictured at the Thae Chaung camp for internally displaced people in Sittwe, Arakan State, on April 22, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

By Lawi Weng
August 22, 2014

RANGOON — Buddhist Arakanese leaders are considering a proposal that would see Rohingya Muslims without documentation proving their right to citizenship detained in camps.

The plan will be discussed publicly in the Arakan State capital, Sittwe, in the coming days, said Than Tun, an Arakanese leader and a member of the state’s Emergency Coordination Committee, and comes as a citizenship verification project is restarted for Muslims in Arakan State.

Clashes between ethnic Arakanese and Rohingya broke out in mid-2012 and about 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, still live in temporary camps after fleeing their homes. Arakanese Buddhists see the Rohingya, who are not a recognized ethnic group under Burmese law, as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refer to them as Bengalis.

The nascent verification process—currently only underway in earnest in Myabon Township—is being conducted by the Ministry of Immigration to find out who is entitled to citizenship, based on how long their families have been settled in Burma.

Than Tun said a proposal would be sent to President Thein Sein asking that those who are not able to provide documentation be rounded up into camps.

“This is just our draft proposal. We will have a public meeting this week. After that, we will send the draft to the president. At the public meeting we will ask for [the public’s] agreement,” Than Tun told The Irrawaddy.

“This proposal refers to all Bengalis who stay in Arakan, including both those who stay in villages and those in refugee camps. This proposal comes from Sittwe, but it will be presented from all Arakanese.”

With Arakan State already dotted with large makeshift camps full of those displaced in earlier rounds of violence, the Burmese government may have to put undocumented Muslims elsewhere in Burma, Than Tun said.

“We will tell him [Thein Sein] if there is a problem to set up a camp for the people in Arakan, he can set up a camp in a suitable area in the union [Burma],” said Than Tun, who predicted that many people without documentation would be found in Sittwe, Maungdaw Township and Buthidaung Township.

“Firstly, they migrated to our land and they were illegal migrants. But they had children, and those children are born in our land, so we cannot say their children are illegal. But, their children are still illegal settlers.”

An estimated 1 million Rohingya live in Arakan State, many tracing their roots in the area back generations. Only a handful of people—who must first agree to identify themselves as Bengali—have so far taken part in the citizenship verification process.

A Rohingya activist said that many displaced people would not have possession of their documents, since they fled their homes to escape Buddhist mobs.

“They killed us and burned our houses. We did not have time to bring documents with us. If the government asks us for documents, we don’t have them,” said Aung Win from Sittwe, arguing that such lost documents should be replaced by the government.

“They should not say that those who do not have documents are stateless. If the government does this in Sittwe, our people will not go to the verification center.”

UNHCR: Over 20,000 people risked lives in Indian Ocean in first half of 2014

Rohingya boat people (mostly men) arrive on Phuket in January of this year. Photo: (EPA, Yongyot Pruksarak)

By UNHCR
August 22, 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 22 August 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A new UNHCR report on irregular maritime movements in South East Asia estimates that 20,000 people risked their lives in sea crossings in the first half of this year. Many were Rohingya who fled Myanmar and arrived in the region suffering the effects of malnutrition and abuse during the journey. Several hundred people were also intercepted on boats heading to Australia.

The report has been produced by a newly-established Maritime Movements Monitoring Unit at UNHCR's Regional Office in Bangkok which collates information through direct interviews, and from media reports, partners and governments. It focuses on departures from the Bay of Bengal and elsewhere passing through South-East Asia, and highlights the abuses people are facing on their journeys, and developments related to Australia's Operation Sovereign Borders policy. It also shows that more than 7,000 asylum seekers and refugees who have travelled by sea are at present held in detention facilities in the region, including over 5,000 in Australia or its offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Because of its clandestine nature, the full extent of people smuggling remains hard to determine. But in-depth interviews with survivors have offered insights into what goes on during the long and arduous journey from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and beyond.

These developments take place in the context of a very challenging protection environment for refugees in the region. States including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are not signatory to the refugee convention and lack formal legal frameworks for dealing with refugees. Without a legal status they are often at risk of arrest, detention, and deportation under immigration laws. It also makes legal employment impossible and drives many people, including women and children, into exploitative and vulnerable situations.

Myanmar/Bangladesh


The report estimates that 53,000 people departed irregularly by sea from the Bay of Bengal in the 12 months ending June 2014 – a 61 per cent increase over the previous 12 months. In the two years following the June 2012 outbreak of inter-communal violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state, some 87,000 people – mostly Rohingya but also Bangladeshis among them – embarked on the dangerous journey in search of safety and stability.

The main sailing season has continued to be between October and the first quarter of the year when seas are calmer. Departures were mostly from Teknaf in Bangladesh and Maungdaw in Myanmar, with smaller numbers from Sittwe. Typically, passengers were ferried on small boats to larger fishing or cargo boats that could each hold up to 700 people. Most were men, but there were also rising numbers of women and children who were usually kept in separate quarters.

Most passengers our staff interviewed said they paid between US$50 and US$300 to board the boats and were at sea for an average of one to two weeks. Some waited for up to two months for their boat to take on more passengers. Many said they fell sick along the way. There are also unconfirmed reports of deaths due to illness, heat, a lack of food and water and severe beatings when people tried to move. Some passengers reportedly jumped off boats in desperation. Others went missing when, in one example, they were forced to swim ashore after nearing the coast off Thailand.

Thailand

In Thailand, the survivors of sea journeys said they were packed into pick-up trucks at night, and forced to sit or lie on top of up to 20 other people. They were taken to smugglers' camps in or around hills, jungles or plantations. Hundreds were confined, for up to six months, behind wooden fences with only plastic sheets to sleep on.

Many were unaware that they would need to pay more money, usually US$1,500-US$2,200, to be released. They were made to call relatives in Myanmar, Bangladesh or Malaysia to send money through hard currency, bank transfers or mobile payment systems. Those who could not pay would be beaten and detained for long periods of time.

Survivors of this ordeal told our staff about people dying in these smugglers' camps due to illness or physical injuries. Some lost sensory abilities and mobility from beriberi due to malnutrition, specifically Vitamin B1 deficiency. Three people were effectively paralyzed and abandoned by the smugglers when their camps were raided by the Thai authorities. The camps in question no longer exist, although others are believed to still be running.

As of early July, 233 Rohingya remained in Thai immigration detention centres or shelters. UNHCR is discussing different alternatives to detention with our government counterparts and other stakeholders. In the meantime we are providing the group with material assistance and counselling them on the risks of using smuggling networks. Our staff are also working with the authorities and UNICEF to enable the children to attend local schools after intensive Thai language lessons. Vulnerable individuals, including unaccompanied children, are being given particular attention to meet their specific needs.

Malaysia

In Malaysia, UNHCR has had access to 230 people who arrived directly by boat between January and June, as well as to others who landed by boat in Thailand and made their way across the land border into Malaysia. In total, more than 4,700 Rohingya were registered during this period, including 375 unaccompanied and separated children. By the end of June, more than 38,000 Rohingya had registered with UNHCR Malaysia cumulatively since the late 1990s.

The physical health and protection needs of recent arrivals remain a major concern. In the first half of the year, we saw 144 Rohingya with symptoms of beriberi. UNHCR has provided vitamin supplements for immediate treatment, and is referring cases to healthcare providers. Two Rohingya have died in hospital within a week of approaching UNHCR.

Indonesia

Sixty Rohingya approached UNHCR in Indonesia between January and June – a drop of almost 90 per cent compared to the same period last year. By the end of June 2014, there were 951 Rohingya registered with UNHCR, mainly people who arrived in previous years. Most are believed to have arrived by boat from Malaysia, together with other nationalities of arrivals to Indonesia.

Australia

In the first half of the year, nine boats travelling towards Australia with more than 400 people were intercepted by the Australian authorities under the government's Operation Sovereign Borders. Seven boats were returned to Indonesia. One boat with 41 passengers was returned to Sri Lanka following accelerated screening procedures by the government. The 157 people on board another boat that left from India were transferred to Nauru, pending a decision by the Australian High Court on how to process them.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

- In Bangkok, Vivian Tan on mobile +66 818 270 280
- In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
- In Geneva, Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011

The report "South-East Asia: Irregular Maritime Movements January-June 2014" is available at www.unhcr.org/53f1c5fc9.html