Australia delivers on refugee commitments

Source: Government of Australia
Posted on: 2nd September 2009

Refugees from Iraq and Burma comprised about 40 per cent of the 13 507 refugees and other people in greatest humanitarian need who were granted visas to start a new life in Australia in 2008-09, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, said today.

‘This is directly in line with commitments made by the Australian Government in June 2008 to resettle 13 500 people who had fled their homes in search of safety, an increase of 500 places on the 2007-08 program,’ Senator Evans said.

Current priority regions are Africa, Asia and the Middle East (including south-west Asia), with just over 33 per cent of humanitarian visas granted overseas going to each.

‘Iraqis were the largest group in the 2008-09 humanitarian program with 2874 visas granted – including 500 additional refugee places that were reserved for this group last program year in recognition of their critical resettlement needs,’ Senator Evans said.

Senator Evans said the groups resettled included many who have been living in protracted refugee situations, the forgotten refugees who have been in limbo for many years with no hope of returning to their home country.

The second-largest group resettled were Burmese, most of whom had been living in camps along the Thai-Burma border for more than 20 years. This group also included more than 100 Burmese Rohingya who have been living in the Cox’s Bazaar region of Bangladesh since 1992.

Other significant groups resettled in the 2008-09 were Afghans, Sudanese, Bhutanese, Ethiopians, people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalis, Liberians and Sierra Leoneans.

Senator Evans said that particularly vulnerable refugee women and their children continued to be a high priority within the program. More than 12 per cent of refugee visas were granted within the “woman at risk” category, exceeding the 10.5 per cent target. From 2009-10, this target will be increased to 12 per cent of all refugee visas granted.

More than 81 per cent of the program comprised people who applied for resettlement overseas, with 2497 visas granted to people who applied for asylum from within Australia.
The minister said Australia remained a world leader in humanitarian resettlement, both in terms of numbers resettled and the services provided to help them rebuild their lives.

‘The program will continue to grow in the year ahead, with an increase of 250 places building on the 2008-09 increase, to bring the total program to 13 750 for 2009-10,’ Senator Evans said. ‘Our ongoing efforts to help vulnerable populations are a clear demonstration of our nation’s compassion for those in need.’

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ASEAN’s New Approach to Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi and Gambari

Aung San Suu Kyi and Gambari


NEW YORK – The recent decision by Myanmar’s government to sentence pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to a further 18 months’ house arrest shows how difficult it is to deal with that country’s ruling generals. Yet the first steps toward a new approach may already have been taken.
The clearest sign comes from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member. At first, most of ASEAN’s member governments responded mildly to the verdict, expressing their “disappointment” – a stance that reflects the group’s principle of noninterference in fellow members’ internal politics.

But Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya then consulted his counterparts in Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam. As current ASEAN chair, he floated the idea of concertedly requesting a pardon for Aung San Suu Kyi.

ASEAN government officials have since met to draft a text. Approval by the association’s foreign ministers may come in September, with ASEAN leaders tackling the issue in October.
Of course, amendments and objections to the draft should be expected. But the pardon request is already significant. It seeks to be finely balanced, respecting the regime’s sovereignty while subtly pressing home the point in unison, as neighboring states. The request would be politely worded, but it would also be an official and public mode of communication, instead of the usual behind-the-scenes quiet diplomacy.

What ASEAN says or does not say will not change things immediately. Cynics might add that even if Aung San Suu Kyi is pardoned, she may yet still be detained on political grounds or face other barriers aimed at preventing her from competing in the elections promised in Myanmar for 2010.
But Western sanctions have not worked, either. Since the 1990’s crackdown, human rights violations have continued, most recently with the suppression of the protests led by Buddhist monks in 2007. The average citizen has grown poorer, even as those close to the junta become ostentatiously rich.

Western sanctions instead paved the way for investments in Myanmar by those with less concern about human rights violations – first by ASEAN neighbors in hotels and other sectors, and more recently by China and India, which are vying for projects and influence in the strategic energy sector. As a result, Myanmar’s generals have been able to play one side off against another.

The game, however, may now be changing. ASEAN’s initiative is a new step forward for the group. While ASEAN rejected previous calls to impose sanctions, or even to expel Myanmar, this step shows that it will not remain inert regardless of what the generals do. Moreover, some ASEAN member countries, like Singapore, have explicitly called for Aung San Suu Kyi to be allowed to participate in the 2010 elections.

The ASEAN effort coincides with two other developments. One is the decision by the United States to reconsider its policy of sanctions, becoming more flexible while remaining true to its values and interests.

Some activists have criticized US Senator Jim Webb’s journey to Yangon to obtain the release of John Yettaw, the American whose actions triggered the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi. But this is consistent with the Obama administration’s policy of seeking a dialogue even with those who are not America’s friends. Such dialogue is vital if Myanmar is to be prevented from possibly pursuing nuclear weapons and rigging elections, à la Iran.
The other development is less obvious. After the court delivered its verdict, the regime halved the sentence and agreed to keep Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, rather than moving her to one of its worst jails. This may not seem like much of a concession. But the junta seems to be trying to cause less offense.

Consider, too, the junta’s gesture in handing over Yettaw to Senator Webb, and its interaction with the international community on humanitarian assistance after Cyclone Nargis. Might it be possible that the generals in Myanmar recognize that they are in a cul de sac? Could the regime be seeking ways out of its isolation in the run-up to the 2010 elections? Could it welcome dialogue and engagement?

How the generals respond to the ASEAN request will be an important signal of the regime’s intentions. Even if the regime does want to begin talking, sustaining a dialogue will be no easier than has been the case with North Korea.
ASEAN, as the organization of neighboring states, is important to achieving that goal, but US involvement is key, as is inclusion of China and India. They must be pressed to see more than the opportunity for strategic access to energy and other natural resources. Japan, too – still the largest Asian economy and a traditional donor to the region – must also play a role.

A moral but pragmatic community needs to be constructed, with all in agreement on how to deal with Myanmar. Even if, like an orchestra, different countries use different instruments and play different notes, the main theme must be consistent.
If this can be done, the chances of progress in the run-up to the 2010 elections will be strengthened. Success may still prove elusive, but a new game with a greater possibility for success will have begun.

Simon Tay is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and a fellow of the Asia Society.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.

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PM has done absolutely nothing to bolster human rights

Abhisit-Vejjajiva PM Thailand

Abhisit-Vejjajiva PM Thailand

The Nation
Published on September 2, 2009

Re: “Abhisit surrounded by treachery and cronyism”, Letters, September 1.

In the past I had the same expectations about PM Abhisit as CM Philips has. I also had some expectations about his sensibilities on human rights issues, but that has turned out to be a big disappointment to me.

His evasive remarks about the junta in Burma, his cover-up of the plight of the Rohingya boat people, his refusal to investigate crimes committed in the South by the security forces, his lack of involvement in the Hmong refugee issue, the execution of the death penalty after a moratorium of six years, the creation of a powerless [Asean] human rights commission and so on; none of these show any “Western sensibilities” to me, in spite of his Oxford education.

Up until now, what has he achieved except the removal of Thaksin as PM – a great achievement thanks to the yellow PAD movement.

Is he merely a puppet of the snakes and traitors?


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An Evening With Rohingya People in London

London, UK: An ‘Evening with Rohingya People’ was an event organized by the London based Burmese Rohingya community with the help of the Burma Campaign UK to share the dilemma of the Rohingya and discuss other Burmese multi-ethnic conflict topics on August 27, at 28 Charles Square London, said Tun Khin, the president of Burmese Rohingya Organization UK (BROUK).
The master of ceremony was Zoya Phan, International Coordinator of Burma Campaign UK and the speakers were Mr. Ziaul Gaffar alias Maung Tun Khin and the Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW) East Asia Team Leader, Benedict Rogers.

A Group Photo at An Evening with Rohingya people in London

A Group Photo at An Evening with Rohingya people in London

The President of BROUK, Tun Khin explained in detail about Rohingyas unbearable suffering along with the current multiple hardships of Rohingya people in Arakan state (inside Burma) and outside the country.

The President also said the Rohingyas’ remarkable and ancient historical background, Rohingyas daily doomsday scenarios, several kinds of inhuman discrimination, coercion, travel restrictions imposed particularly on Rohingyas, which bars them from travelling from one place to another within localities, marriage restrictions and its approval, unnecessary procrastination by the authorities concerned, the harsh limitation of pursuance of education, health care problems, land confiscation, labour conscription by military personal, and so on were also highlighted to show how bad the status of refugees in Bangladesh is and how Rohingya boatpeople were inhumanly treated by Thailand’s officials.

“The Rohingyas are among the most persecuted and oppressed of Burma’s people. It is absolutely vital to highlight their plight, and to urge the international community and the Government of Bangladesh to take steps to improve access to education, health care and livelihood for all Rohingya refugees,” said Benedict Rogers, according to the CSW’s media release on August 26.

Benedict Rogers presented first-hand evidence of details of the brutal persecution of the Rohingya people in Burma by the country’s military regime, at the event where he strongly supported the presentation of BROUK’s President.

Participants at An Evening with Rohingya People

Participants at An Evening with Rohingya People

Benedict Rogers explained that he had had opportunities to interview not only Rohingya refugees but also some Rakhaine Buddhists, who have sympathized with the suffering of helpless Rohingya people and about three Burmese border security force (Na Sa Ka) defectors who left Burma, while he visited the Bangladesh-Burma border between August 26 and 31, 2008.

The three defectors confirmed that extortion is widely used by Na Sa Ka, and is specifically targeted at Rohingyas. The defectors also gave accounts of forced conscription, forced labour, arbitrary arrest and torture, according to CSW’s report following the Bangladesh-Burma visit.

From the evidence collected by the CSW during the visit of Bangladesh-Burma border, it is clear that the SPDC is continuing to perpetrate gross violations of human rights in Arakan State, as it is doing throughout Burma. However, while the regime is severely oppressing all its citizens, and perpetrating crimes against humanity throughout Burma, it is overwhelmingly clear that the Rohingyas in particular are singled out for even more extreme discrimination and oppression, and are rendered exceptionally vulnerable by their second-class status and denial of full citizenship rights, the CSW’s report stated.

“The regime is trying to take away our identity. We will not be there in the very near future. The disintegration of our society will take place. Our prime concern is that we must not be eliminated. This is our land and we want to live there with full rights and dignity. We must find a way to compel the junta to enter into a dialogue with the NLD and the ethnic nationalities. We need international help,” one Rohingya leader said talking about the plight of Rohingya, the CSW’s report stated.

An Evening with Rohingya peope in London

An Evening with Rohingya peope in London

The presentation was applauded and the participants empathized with the vulnerable Rohingya people of Arakan, Burma, BROUK’s President said.

The presentation was concluded by Mr Ben Roger answering some questions from participants.

Mark Farmener (Director of Burma Campaign UK) said BROUK is one of the most active Rohingya organizations, working together with several ethnic groups and democracy activists. He urged the audience to work in a practical way by creating awareness about Rohingya people and also to support its organizational activities.

There were more than 70 participants from several ethnic groups such as Mon, Kachin, Karen, Chin, some democracy activists in the UK, a number of UNHCR and NGO staff members, ARNO President Mr Nurul Islam, BROUK members, and others who are deeply interested in the suffering and stateless status of Rohingyas in Arakan.

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