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Stateless

The Stateless Rohingya in India:

““We increased our vigil on immigrants from Myanmar since the end of last year after some Rohingya Muslims were arrested… last November,” Santosh Mehra, the BSF’s inspector general said, according to Hindustan Times. “It was tough to interact with them as they neither speak nor understand Hindi, Bengali or English.” — ibtimes.com

The Stateless Rohingya in Malaysia:

“Regarding with any plan for Myanmar illegal immigrants who could be caught under the operation, Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur was contacted but no reply was made. The operation will involve over a hundred of thousands personnel from the Malaysian immigration department, police, armed forces, civil defence, national registration department and the local councils. The immigration department will lead the operation.” — http://merhrom.wordpress.com

MALAYSIA’S TREATMENT OF UNDOCUMENTED ROHINGYA (http://www.hrw.org/)

“In 1990 I was arrested and because there was no detention camp I was sent to Pudu jail. I was coming from work when the police asked for my passport. I was doing daily work-construction. The police arrested me for a passport case. I didn’t see a judge or magistrate, and I didn’t have a charge or a sentence. After about four months in jail, immigration took me to the Thai border. Other Rohingya, Burmese, Pakistanis, and a few Indonesians were there as well.”

“Malaysia is not a party to the Refugee Convention or to its 1967 Protocol.”

“The Home Ministry and Wisma Putra are expected to sit together to look at the issue following calls from many sectors asking the government to allow the group to be work here while waiting to be resettled in third countries.” — rohingyapress.weebly.com

The Stateless Rohingya in Thailand:

“We are aware of reports alleging that Thai officials have been involved in selling Rohingya migrants to human traffickers,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “We urge the Thai government to conduct a serious and transparent investigation into the matter.” — irrawaddy.org

The Stateless Rohingya in Pakistan:

In Pakistan, illegal burmese Rohingya immigrants are in very poor condition. They are struggling to survive their life in Pakistan. Pakistan denied to accept them as Pakistani national and there are no naturalization process for burmese Rohingya to claim nationality of Pakistan.

“According to NARA, in 2009, Keamari Town had 0.6 million illegal Bangladeshis and 50,000 Burmese people.” — tribune.com.pk

According to http://www.thenews.com.pk/, Burmese Rohingya are living illegally in Karachi. Police and FIA do crack downs time to time to arrest illegal immigrants all over the Pakistan.

The Stateless Rohingya in Saudi Arabia:

“Thousands of Burmese Muslims from Arakan – often called Rohingyas – were offered a safe haven in Saudi Arabia by the late King Faisal, but with the change in monarch the rules changed too. What was to have been a permanent abode of peace for these uprooted people has now turned into a chamber of horrors.” — thesail.wordpress.com/ The Stateless Rohingya in Bangladesh:

“A senior BSF official also told the Hindustan Times that the Bangladesh government has taken the initiative to expel Rohingya migrants back to Myanmar, where the overwhelmingly Buddhist majority does not want them. Myanmar authorities regard them as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh, while Dhaka rejects them as undocumented foreigners.” — ibtimes.com

The Stateless Rohingya in Bangladesh

Purge of the Muslims 

Plight of 2.64 lakh Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh camps poses fundamentalist backlash

Soutik Biswas in Cox’s Bazar  December 28, 2012

Fatima Noor is six months old, but at her new home in the Gundhum camp in Cox’s Bazar, she looks like a six-day-old, reduced to a pale foetal mass of skin and bones. Ravaged by malnutrition, the ribs nearly pierce through her emaciated body, and her warted skin has peeled off at places.

She’s stricken by rickets too, but with doctors at the camp hospital pumping injections and nasal-feeding her to stop her life ebbing away, she might just make it. “She has a better chance of surviving in Bangladesh than in my Arakan hometown,” says her mother Zahira, who keeps an all-night vigil at the camp hospital.

She is not alone. There are 2.64 lakh Rohingya Muslim refugees lodged in 17 camps in Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban districts in Southern Bangladesh. They are the victims of one of the most bloody campaigns of ethnic cleansing on the eastern edge of the subcontinent at a time when world attention is focused on the ethnic tragedy thousands of miles away in Yugoslavia. 

After fleeing a repressive Myanmar regime, which sent the Rohingyas to labour camps, raped their women, looted their produce and closed down their mosques, the refugees hailing from the Muslim majority Arakan province try to pick up the pieces of their lives in their hilly, storm-lashed camps.

Such is their fear that even the recent overtures from the Myanmar regime seem to them like the devil quoting scriptures. Having escaped the junta’s grand design to impose Burmanisation on the ethnic majority of Arakan, the Rohingyas are in no mood to return.  

Having fled the labour camps in the Muslim-majority Arakan province, women and children line up at the feeding centres for malnourished babies.

Though Myanmar has shown signs of softening its steel-edged stance and has agreed to take them back and restore their fundamental rights, the refugees are reluctant to believe the junta.

Life in the camps is tough. But it has its compensation. Says Abul Hakim, a refugee at the Duapalong camp: “Allah has saved us from the evil. We are in heaven here.” The quality of life is abysmal though. Over 2,000 refugees have died of malnutrition, gastro-enteritis and malaria in the five months they have been in the camps.

In the squalor and deprivation. 2.800 babies have been born and there are 1.000 women pregnant already. A second baby boom could be coming in the winter. Says a harassed official: “That would be catastrophic for Bangladesh. If their numbers double while living in the camp, we will run into further problems.”

There are other murmurs of disapproval. Aided abundantly by the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) and 23 NGOs, Bangladesh believes that with their ‘comfortable rations’ – 500 gm of rice.

20 gm of edible oil, 0.5 gm of salt and 60 gm of dal per refugee once a week, apart from special feeding centres for malnourished children – the Rohingya Muslims are among the most well-maintained refugees in the world. Says a camp official: “They won’t leave unless we drive them out. They are here to stay for good.”

While Fatima Noor’s (right) emaciated body speaks poignantly of the rigours of camp life, there are others who look less dreadful, but are suffering too, despite the weekly rations.

But the good life is denied to them. The magnitude of their tragedy and helplessness is seen everywhere.

In the mad rush for the weekly rations, in their effort to make a measly buck by selling a share of it, in the serpentine queues at the feeding camps, in the scramble for the high-protein soya bean biscuits meant for the children. Admits Hasina Hakim, a mother of six: “The biscuits are given for my kids.

But sometimes, I eat all or sell them off.” Everyone can see the desperate tout trying to palm off a bar of soap, or a packet of biscuits. Everyday, camp officers haul up a number of refugees who’ve managed to get more than one ration card by enlisting themselves in more than one camp.

A swelling problem
  • Mid-1991: Myanmar launches Operation Peezaya to weed out Rohingyas; some cross into Bangladesh.
  • November 1991: Bangladesh asks Myanmar for repatriation. Is ignored. Appeals for UN mediation.
  • March 1992: Refugees’ number swells to two lakh.
  • April 1992: Myanmar agrees to repatriation but refuses UN presence.
  • May 1992: Infighting in camps, repatriation aborted.
  • July 1992: Talks continue. Refugee arrivals stop.
  • August 1992: Myanmar to lift restrictions. Refugee reaction still lukewarm.

In the rugged and once green terrain of Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban, shanty towns have cropped up like ugly blots. Erected haphazardly on 1,048 hectares, the camps have denuded forest resources worth $7.88 million.

During summer, men, women and children trudged a kilometre up and down a dirt track to collect rations. With the rains, refugees have to wade through slush and grime for their food.

But even here, thanksgiving is de rigueur. The inmates catch up with their prayers at makeshift mosques and a few children even attend madrasas. Recalls Abdul Karim, a refugee from Buthindaung in Arakan: “The soldiers used to come to our homes and tell us: you are Muslims, go to your home in Bangladesh.

It isn’t easy being here, but we are socially better off.” Adds Nurul Hakim of Maungdaw in Arakan who left behind six acres of land and fled with his nine member family to end up at the Dhoapalong camp: “People are dying here every day.

But they would have been killed in Myanmar anyway. Dying here is more peaceful.” Not anymore. Infighting has broken out with the refugees divided into two camps, favouring and opposing repatriation after Myanmar agreed to take them back starting May 15.

Last fortnight, Fatema Khatun and her six-month-old son Siraj uddin were sitting in their hut in the Halodiapalong camp when bullets whizzed past – Sirajuddin died while Fatema survived with a bullet in her leg.

Outside, police fired 57 rounds to disperse a warring mob of refugees incensed by a rumour that camp inmates were being forcibly taken to Myanmar.

On May 14, a similar incident at Balukhali camp which caused the ransacking of the camp office led to a skirmish with security forces, leaving one refugee dead and scores injured. On the night of July 16, a newly married refugee Mohammed Selim and his parents were dragged away and hacked to death by neighbours.

Selim’s crime: at a clan meeting that night, he had decided to return home. These are not the only times tempers have boiled over. Every time camp inmates slip out for food and firewood, a clash with local residents results.

Over 2,800 babies have been born and 1,000 women- some seen here waiting for a check-up-are pregnant.

In the past five months, 13 refugees have died and over 200 have been injured in skirmishes. Over 400 are behind bars for inciting anti-repatriation sentiments and attacking neighbours.

Itself once a victim of what it still shudderingly remembers as a genocide, the burden of these people is too great to shoulder, feels Bangladesh. Myanmar says repatriation can begin. But the refugees want the UNHCR to be involved in the process. They also want Myanmar to recognise them as an ethnic minority.

But Myanmar has been noticeably silent on these two sensitive issues. Dhaka is seeing hope in recent developments in Myanmar – over 200 prodemocracy leaders were released from jail and National League of Democracy chief Aung San Suu Kyi’s family was allowed to meet the j ailed Nobel laureate.

But as Bangladesh Foreign Minister Mosta fizur Rahman says: “The refugees feel more secure here. So they may want to stay on. We are trying to build up their confidence.” Motivation camps are being held. But the stock reply from the gathering is ‘Na jayun‘ (We will not go).

They have been called five-star refugees, but the desperate scramble for survival can make even a mother eat the food meant for her baby.

That, however, is not what the starched-collar, buttoned-down world of diplomats wants to hear. After an initial diplomatic faux pas by Myanmar late last year when Rahman’s Rangoon visit was followed by an attack on a Bangladeshi post by Myanmar soldiers, ostensibly chasing Rohingya rebels in Arakan, and the subsequent influx, a breakthrough was finally made in late April.

In an unusual exercise, christened Operation Hope, by Bangladesh in April, five-day bilateral talks ended on a positive note. Myanmar agreed to check the influx, accept after scrutiny all those people who took shelter in Bangladesh and ensure that the repatriation would be safe and voluntary.

Officials of both countries meet once a month to review the progress. Bangladesh officials have even been on guided tours to Maungdaw and adjoining areas in Arakan to check the ‘improvement in the situation’.

Says Mohammed Omar Faruq, divisional commissioner of Chittagong, who attends the monthly meetings with Myanmar officials and has visited the affected areas in Arakan twice during June and July: “I don’t find any genuine reason for alarm now. I think things have returned to normal.”

Other officials who have visited Arakan say the villagers confessed to being subjected to forced labour by the army, but it had “stopped for the past two months”. Also, officials saw a reception centre erected for the refugees at Maungdaw and food godowns coming up for their supplies.

But the bottom line after eight rounds of talks between the two countries remains their inability to fix a date for repatriation. Reason: reports about improvement in Myanmar’s political climate impress few refugees.

Says Nurul Hakim of Dhoapalong camp: “We are not bothered whether we can move around freely and be given identification cards. We want to be recognised as an ethnic minority and want repatriation in the presence of the UNHCR.”

His neighbour Abul Basher is even more demanding: “If Myanmar promises us something, we want to hear it from the BBC or VOA. We don’t trust the Myanmar Government.” And Nurul Islam, hospitalised in Cox’s Bazar with a bullet injury in his head after last fortnight’s confrontation at the Halodiapalong camp says: “We are afraid of the military. We won’t go back until they go out.”

But there is more to it than meets the eye when refugees refuse to move out and dissenters in some camps are killed by militant groups who are believed to have smuggled in arms. Dhaka press reports say that fundamentalist Islamic groups are fanning the no-return sentiment among the refugees to try to create an independent Arakan state for the Rohingyas through insurgency.

In fact, Ziauddin Ahmed, the officer in charge of the Shailerdeba camp – 2 km from the Myanmar land border in Ukhiya – complained to the Government in July that the Saudi Arabia-based NGO International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIRO) which had helped set up the camp, was whipping up sentiments against the France-based NGO Medicins Sans Frontiere (MSF), which was running a feeding centre in the camp as ‘they were Christians’. Ahmed also mentioned IRAO’s efforts to construct a new mosque at the camp after demolishing part of an old mosque in the area.

Local citizens have also gone to the district authorities to try to stop the IIRO from going ahead with the demolition of the mosque. Says Badiur Rahman, an Ukhiya-based lawyer: “The locals are anguished with such programmes, which should be stopped and we should be compensated for damage to the mosque.”

The local people have also protested against the construction of a new camp in the Jummapara area of Ukhiya, which is barely 3 km from the Myanmar border. “We are afraid such camps will turn out to be training grounds for militant refugees with arms being smuggled in,” says Mahamuddul Haq Chowdhury, a member of a committee formed to press for speedy repatriation.

For India, which has called for “peaceful repatriation”, such developments are extremely disconcerting. The beginnings of a pan-Islamic effort to buy the refugees with relief and sow the seeds of militancy among them can only mean heightened tension in the area. Cox’s Bazar is just 175 km from Chittagong which has a border with Tripura. Already, over 2,000 camp refugees have reportedly slipped out into Bangladesh and many could have landed up in India.

Makeshift mosques could be used by pan-Islamic forces to fish in troubled waters.

With Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami protesting vociferously against efforts to repatriate the refugees, the issue threatens to snowball from one of ethnic tragedy to a religious-political flashpoint. Begum Zia’s BNP Government’s failure to check the dangerous meddling of external forces to counter Myanmar’s persecution of Muslims has led to strong feelings in Dhaka.

Says the editor of the weekly Holiday, Enayetullah Khan, who served as an ambassador to Myanmar: “The Government has not been decisive enough. The way it is faltering, the Rohingya issue promises to become its Achilles’ heel.”

Nothing could be more tragic than the Rohingya refugees becoming a pawn in the hands of fundamentalist forces. For now, it is a struggle for survival, battling disease and the elements. The influx has stopped, but the numbers grow.

With Bangladesh pussy footing, Myanmar playing a few clever diplomatic cards and fundamentalists playing their own dangerous game, it looks like a long haul ahead for the refugees. Rahman says: “We’d want them to go voluntarily around October.” But the gods will have to do something extraordinary to answer that prayer.

Photographs by Saibal Das