Searching For That Glimmer Of Hope: Plight Of Refugee Children

This is the first of a two-part series on refugee children

By Melati Mohd Ariff

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 (Bernama) – “I want to be a doctor,” the soft-spoken Anwar Begum told the writer when she was asked about her ambition.

The girl said the reason was not only that she wanted to provide a better for her parents and siblings but also to help the poor.

This timid girl, the fourth of siblings said she was willing to learn very hard even though it would take her years to realise the dream.

Anwar Begum, 13, knows the trials and tribulations too well as she faces a challenging and an uphill task ahead. There is a also possibility that she may not be able to realise her dream but the girl is clinging to hopes.

The girl also attends ‘school’ because she knows how important education is and she definitely does not want to be like both of her parents who are illiterate.

SHEER DETERMINATION

To say that Anwar Begum’s life has not been a bed of roses is an understatement.

Her father, Md Alam Sidek Ahmad, in his 50’s and mother, Fatimah Zainab, 40, are both Rohingyas who came to Malaysia about 25 years ago looking for a safe haven to escape from religious persecution in their home country, Burma (now Myanmar).

And unlike children of her age, she has only attended ‘school’ this year.

Her three younger siblings, Siti Aishah, 12, Mohd Rashid, 10 and Siti Shahidah, 8, attended the same school, organised by the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) and a non-governmental organisation.

She said her father made the arrangement for her and her siblings to attend the classes.

Despite her lack of early education, Anwar Begum has shown remarkable achievements in her studies. When asked about how she had fared so far in her studies, she shyly took out her last mid-term exam papers and showed them to the writer.

She scored 91 per cent for Science, 100 per cent for English, 89 per cent for Mathematics and 80 per cent for Bahasa Malaysia.

THANKFUL DESPITE MISERIES

When Anwar Begum wakes up from her sleep every morning, she faces an aching reality that her life is full of uncertainties. Nevertheless, Anwar Begum is forever thankful that she and her family are still together and remained as a family.

The girl speaks Bahasa Malaysia well as besides learning the language at school, she also picked up ‘the tongue’ from her Malay friends.

As Anwar Begum spoke, she threw a glance at her sister, Siti Salimah who is six years old. Salimah underwent a heart operation at the National Heart Institute (IJN) early this year and the cost was borne by the UNHCR and several charitable organisations.

The little girl also suffers from a minor form of Down Syndrome.

Anwar Begum maybe only 13 years old, but she knows by being the eldest in the family, she shoulders a heavy responsibility to help her mother with the house apart looking after her younger siblings.

Her father is sometimes bed-ridden due to diabetes and hypertension.

Anwar Begum said her family’s poverty had pushed her to do well in her studies even though the school that she goes to is not like the other schools in Malaysia.

Her father used to be a vegetable trader in their home land before fleeing the country with her mother to the Thai border where they did odd jobs to save enough money to continue their journey to Malaysia.

After 25 years living as refugees in Malaysia, the couple has not regretted their decision to leave their homeland and despite the bleak future, they are forever grateful for at least their children are in a safe country.

UNHCR CARD

All of Anwar Begum’s siblings were born in Malaysia. The family can be considered lucky as they all have the UNHCR refugee card even though the card does not prevent them from being arrested and deported.

Anwar Begum’s elder brother, Abdul Salam was detained twice and sent to detention depot before being deported to the Thai border.

The first time, he was sent to the Lenggeng Detention Depot in Negeri Sembilan. After he was deported to the Thai border, the family paid about RM1,500 to get him released from a Thai agent who claimed to have bought him for slavery.

When he was arrested and deported the second time, the family had no money to pay the requested amount of RM2,000.

Abdul Salam was then sent to a detention depot in Melaka and then sent to the Thai border. The family claimed he was sold to a Thai agent and sent to work as a ‘slave’ in a vegetable plantation at the Thai border.

He was eventually released after five months and found his way back to Malaysia.

A PLACE CALLED ‘HOME’

The place Anwar Begum calls ‘home’ has no proper bedroom in the first place.

Where some lucky children sleep on mattress and beds, she and her siblings just sleep on the floor.

There is no soft, sweet-scented pillows or soft toys to cuddle. There is no bedroom lights nor comforters and what more hot showers.

There is not even a window in what could be a hall, used also as a sleeping area. The wall next to the front door (the only door) is so fragile that it shakes if you hold it too hard.

The other half of the ‘house’ is partitioned into two parts, one part has a toilet, a bathroom and also used as a kitchen while the other half is where the family have their meals and it also used as a sleeping area. There is a small window high up on the wooden wall, sufficient enough to allow some lights into the area down below.

But when it rains, the space below would be wet and traces of dampness could still be seen on blankets used to cover it.

Looking up to the zinc roof, there are some parts with holes, big enough to allow the rainwater to seep through during a heavy downpour. On such days, that is when the pots and pans and whatever container the family has, would be put into action, namely to catch the rainwater.

Before, the family has running water. The rainwater collected was such a blessing and would be used for the household needs.

Only recently the family had electricity supply. Prior to this, candles would be used when night falls and at times, they would just stay and sleep in darkness.

Anwar Begum and her siblings eat whatever their mother cooks for the day with no question asked. What they have for lunch would also be for dinner.

Normally, they would have white rice and some vegetable lentils.

Each person would only take a scoop of rice and a scoop of vegetable lentils and wash it down with plain water.

There is no second helping as there are 11 people in the family to start with!

— BERNAMA

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Where Education Matters Most For Refugee Children

This is the second of a two-part series on refugee children

By Melati Mohd Ariff

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 (Bernama) — According to the statistics issued by UNHCR Malaysia, as of last Sept 30, there were 63,600 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the UN Refugee Agency.

From this figure, 58,000 were from Myanmar comprising some 27,700 Chins, 15,900 Rohingyas, 3,800 Myanmar Muslims, 2,300 Kachins and the remaining being other ethnic minorities from that country.

There were also some 5,600 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries, including 2,700 Sri Lankans, 760 Somalis, 530 Iraqis and 530 Afghans.

Based on the available statistics, 51 per cent of the refugees and asylum-seekers were men while women made up 49 per cent. There were 14,600 children below the age of 18.

UNHCR Malaysia said there were also a large number of persons of concern to the agency who remained unregistered and the figure was said to be around 30,000.

GENERATION OF BEGGARS

For Zin Oo Ko, who is from Myanmar and whose family migrated to Malaysia in the late 80s, only education would take the refugee children off the streets and prevent them from becoming a generation of beggars apart from being dragged into being part of the ‘bad hats’.

Zin said there were two groups of Rohingya refugee children who took to the streets as beggars in Malaysia.

On one side, the children were in the clutches of a triad from their own ethnic group and local gangs who paid some money to the parents of the children and the children themselves before sending them out to the streets to beg.

“The other group are those who have no choice but to beg and begging is the easiest form of earning a livelihood,” he said.

Zin then related the story of Abdul Rahim who is Anwar Begum’s (the Rohingya refugee child mentioned in the first part of this article) older brother who had to ‘beg’ to support his family.

“He was actually selling religious books but this is also considered like begging because there is no fixed amount for the books. It is up to the people to give him whatever amount they thought suitable.

“The family is ashamed to allow Abdul Rahim to do this but they have no choice and the boy is also too young to get a job. The father used to go round collecting metal scraps and recycled items but later he became too ill and became bedridden,” said zin.

The young boy then started to mix with the bad elements and was later picked up by the authorities. After some considerations by the relevant authorities, they decided to send him to a reform school in Kelantan.

TEACH THEM HOW TO FISH

Zin said poverty, particularly for the refugees, served not only as the breeding ground for crimes but also for the refugees to rapidly ‘multiply’ in their number as were ignorant of family planning.

“To me, the only way to get these people out from the clutches of poverty is through education. We can give them rice, a packet or two or give them money but money is never enough.

“We need to empower them, especially the children, teach them how to fish, not just giving them the fish so they can stand on their own two feet. What if one day I am not here anymore and also the people who are helping them?

“What would happen to them then? Would they go back to their old lives? In a way I am a bit worried,” Zin said in an interview with Bernama here recently.

Zin who can also speak fluent Bahasa Malaysia said he had taken onto himself to teach some of the Rohingya children including Anwar Begum and her siblings. The students are between five and 23 years old.

VERY REWARDING

According to the 30-year-old Zin, he started teaching the children around end of 2005 until recently where he decided to temporarily stop pending getting a proper place to conduct the classes.

“I was going from house to house, teaching Bahasa Malaysia, English, some Mathematics and religious studies. The children were great, very responsive and excited to learn.

It is satisfying to see the glow on their faces as they respond to my teaching. They also love drawings.

“Anwar Begum for example. She can now read. Three years ago she knows nothing. She can also listen to the Malay news and translate them for her parents,” said Zin who has a Malaysian Permanent Resident (PR) status.

Zin himself has no experience in teaching but after asking around from his friends who are teachers and lecturers, he begins to develop his own syllabus to teach the children.

“I feel privileged that I can assist them. We are not in their situation, we are the lucky ones and if we compare our lives to theirs and also our every day problems, it is nothing compared to what they are going through.

“They are practically living with no hope, no dreams, no tomorrow, nothing. I am helping them straight from my heart. My goal is, let’s say out of 100 students, if I can get one into university, this is already very rewarding. This will take some time but I am willing to do this forever.

“At the same time for those who cannot study, I want to give them vocational training like that in wiring, house renovations, auto mechanics and handicrafts. This is my long-term plan,” said Zin.

— BERNAMA

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Myanmar diplomat: Junta may free Suu Kyi for poll

Source Yahoo News
By JIM GOMEZ,Associated Press – Myanmar’s military-ruled government may release pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi soon so she can play a role in next year’s general elections, according to a senior Myanmar diplomat.

The remarks by Min Lwin _ rare for a Myanmar government official on an overseas visit _ were in line with vague comments in recent years by the junta that it intends to free Suu Kyi soon. But officials have given no time frame and have made no real moves to release her despite hinting they would.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, and not been able to speak publicly since she was last taken into detention in May 2003. A court recently sentenced the 64-year-old to an additional 18 months of house arrest for briefly sheltering an uninvited American in a trial that drew global condemnation.

That would prevent her from participating in next year’s elections _ the first in two decades _ unless she is granted a special release.

“There is a plan to release her soon … so she can organize her party,” Min Lwin, a director-general in the Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press at the Manila airport before boarding a flight to Singapore en route to Yangon. He refused to elaborate, and it was not clear if he meant that Suu Kyi would be allowed to campaign.

There is also no indication that the government would allow Suu Kyi to run in the election. Myanmar’s constitution includes provisions that bar Suu Kyi from holding office and ensure the military a controlling stake in government.

Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, has not yet decided whether to take part in the polls, which it says would be held under a constitution established last year by undemocratic means.

Min Lwin said the proposal to free Suu Kyi was not influenced by the recent change in U.S. policy under President Barack Obama, who is seeking to engage Myanmar, also known as Burma. The Bush administration had shunned any direct talks with the reclusive Southeast Asian nation.

Although Myanmar welcomes the new American policy of “pragmatic engagement,” Min Lwin said he did not expect any major changes in the near future, mainly because U.S. sanctions are still in force.

Min Lwin was in Manila to attend a two-day meeting of fellow diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United States.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs Scot Marciel held separate talks last week with Myanmar’s ruling generals and Suu Kyi in the highest-ranking visit by American officials to Myanmar in 14 years.

Obama will meet ASEAN leaders on Nov. 15, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Singapore, bringing him in rare contact with Myanmar’s prime minister, Gen. Thein Sein.

The Myanmar junta chief, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, typically shuns official meetings outside Myanmar.

Officials have not said if Obama will meet privately with Thein Sein. The last U.S. president to meet a Myanmar head of state was Lyndon B. Johnson, who held talks with then-Prime Minister Ne Win in September 1966 during a state visit to Washington, according to Richard Mei, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Myanmar.

Despite their new approach to Myanmar, U.S. officials have said that tough sanctions against the junta will remain in place until talks with its generals result in long-demanded democratic reforms.

Seven ASEAN member states _ Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam _ belong to APEC, which includes the U.S. and other Western and South American nations. The three ASEAN members not in APEC are Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

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What transpired between ethnic leaders and US delegation

by Phanida
Thursday, 05 November 2009 16:13

(Interview with Pu Cin Sian Thang and U Aye Thar Aung)

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – During their two-day visit to Burma, US Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell and Undersecretary Scot Marciel met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, National League for Democracy (NLD) Party Central Executive Committee members, ethnic leaders and senior officials of the military regime including Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein. They left Rangoon last evening.

Mizzima interviewed two ethnic leaders from Zomi and Rakhine ethnic communities, who also met the US diplomats.

Pu Cin Sian Thang (Zomi National Congress)

Q: How long was the meeting with the US delegates?

A: The meeting was scheduled for 1 p.m. but it was delayed and actually started at 2:30 p.m. It lasted for about one and-a half hours.

Q: How many ethnic leaders attended the meeting?

A: A total of 8 ethnic leaders, 4 US delegates and 2 from the US embassy attended the meeting. Among them were U Aye Thar Aung (Arakan League for Democracy – ALD), Nai Tun Thein (Mon National Democracy Party), Sai Saw Aung (Shan Nationalities League for Democracy – SNLD), U Shwe Ohn (Veteran Shan politician), U Myo Thant (Rohingya Organization) and U Sa Bwe Jung from Kachin state and Dr. Samontha and his wife Daw Rebecca from among the Kayan ethnics. I learnt that Daw Rebecca is not a member of any of these ethnic organizations.

Q: What issues did you raise with the US delegates?

A: We told them that we represent the ethnic people and we dislike the constitution. There are no provisions in the constitution which can guarantee ethnic rights. If you don’t believe what we are saying, here is the copy of the constitution and you can study it, we told them. They replied that they already have a copy of the constitution. The political prisoners have not yet been released till date. Political activists are being arrested. And then we told them these political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Khun Tun Oo and 1988 student leader Min Ko Naing should be released.

Q: Which provisions in the constitution did you point out to the US delegates?

A: According to Article 441, this constitution shall come into operation throughout the Union form the day the first session of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (People’s Parliament) is convened. So this forthcoming election is to make this constitution operational, not more than that. This is our first point. Secondly, in Fundamental Principles Chapter in Article 6 (f) which states The Union’s consistent objectives are ‘enabling the Defence Services to be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the State’. And then in ‘Transitory Provisions’, under Article 445, which bars from prosecution the members of the military regime ‘in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties’ by the newly constituted government. And then in Article 59(d), which states the President ‘shall be acquainted with the affairs of the Union such as political, administrative, economic and military’ which means the President shall be an ex-serviceman. The worst provision in this constitution is Article 413(d), which empowers the Union President to stage a coup if necessary. We drew the attention of the US delegation to these.

Q: Did you present the issues of other ceasefire and peace groups to the US delegates?

A: We told them the junta didn’t accept any points that were presented in the National Convention by these ceasefire and peace groups. Moreover the recent war against Kokang is a warning to all other ceasefire ethnic armed groups, which are still refusing to accept the junta’s offer of transforming their armies into the junta controlled ‘Border Guard Force’ (BGF). We presented these points to US delegates.

Q: Were you satisfied with the meeting?

A: At the meeting, the US delegates did not say anything about our presentations. But they only said that this was just the beginning and they would come back again. Despite the lack of significant words spoken by them in this meeting, I am optimistic as unprecedented events are happening now. I hope for something.

U Aye Thar Aung (Arakan League for Democracy)

Q: What did you say at the meeting with US delegates?

A: Firstly I told them we welcomed their visit but the meetings between US delegates and ethnic leaders, and the NLD cannot solve all the problems. For progress and development in politics, there must be cooperation and negotiation between the SPDC (junta), the NLD and ethnic people.

Q: What did other ethnic leaders say at the meeting?

A: U Sa Bwe Jung from Kachin State presented the nine-point negotiations between the ‘Kachin Independence Organization’ (KIO) and the SPDC including the last presentation made by KIO to the junta based on the Panlong Agreement. Some ethnic leaders from peace groups talked about their ceasefire and peace agreements with the junta and the current pressure by the regime to transform their armies into the BGF.

Nai Saw Aung from the Mon National Democracy Party and U Shwe Ohn just gave a letter to the US delegates.

Q: Were you satisfied with the meeting with US delegates?

A: I cannot say I’m pleased and satisfied with the meeting because whatsoever comes from the side of the US, the NLD and ethnic parties are trying to make concessions and accommodations. There will not be any progress in political dialogue unless there is political will from the junta’s side. The SPDC just wants to improve relations with the US and have sanctions imposed by US-led western countries lifted.

Q: Did the US delegates say anything regarding the meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

A: A US delegate said that Daw Suu conveyed her message to us through them saying that she was glad and pleased to hear of the meeting with US delegates and ethnic leaders.

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What transpired between ethnic leaders and US delegation

by Phanida
Thursday, 05 November 2009 16:13

(Interview with Pu Cin Sian Thang and U Aye Thar Aung)

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – During their two-day visit to Burma, US Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell and Undersecretary Scot Marciel met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, National League for Democracy (NLD) Party Central Executive Committee members, ethnic leaders and senior officials of the military regime including Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein. They left Rangoon last evening.

Mizzima interviewed two ethnic leaders from Zomi and Rakhine ethnic communities, who also met the US diplomats.

Pu Cin Sian Thang (Zomi National Congress)

Q: How long was the meeting with the US delegates?

A: The meeting was scheduled for 1 p.m. but it was delayed and actually started at 2:30 p.m. It lasted for about one and-a half hours.

Q: How many ethnic leaders attended the meeting?

A: A total of 8 ethnic leaders, 4 US delegates and 2 from the US embassy attended the meeting. Among them were U Aye Thar Aung (Arakan League for Democracy – ALD), Nai Tun Thein (Mon National Democracy Party), Sai Saw Aung (Shan Nationalities League for Democracy – SNLD), U Shwe Ohn (Veteran Shan politician), U Myo Thant (Rohingya Organization) and U Sa Bwe Jung from Kachin state and Dr. Samontha and his wife Daw Rebecca from among the Kayan ethnics. I learnt that Daw Rebecca is not a member of any of these ethnic organizations.

Q: What issues did you raise with the US delegates?

A: We told them that we represent the ethnic people and we dislike the constitution. There are no provisions in the constitution which can guarantee ethnic rights. If you don’t believe what we are saying, here is the copy of the constitution and you can study it, we told them. They replied that they already have a copy of the constitution. The political prisoners have not yet been released till date. Political activists are being arrested. And then we told them these political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Khun Tun Oo and 1988 student leader Min Ko Naing should be released.

Q: Which provisions in the constitution did you point out to the US delegates?

A: According to Article 441, this constitution shall come into operation throughout the Union form the day the first session of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (People’s Parliament) is convened. So this forthcoming election is to make this constitution operational, not more than that. This is our first point. Secondly, in Fundamental Principles Chapter in Article 6 (f) which states The Union’s consistent objectives are ‘enabling the Defence Services to be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the State’. And then in ‘Transitory Provisions’, under Article 445, which bars from prosecution the members of the military regime ‘in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties’ by the newly constituted government. And then in Article 59(d), which states the President ‘shall be acquainted with the affairs of the Union such as political, administrative, economic and military’ which means the President shall be an ex-serviceman. The worst provision in this constitution is Article 413(d), which empowers the Union President to stage a coup if necessary. We drew the attention of the US delegation to these.

Q: Did you present the issues of other ceasefire and peace groups to the US delegates?

A: We told them the junta didn’t accept any points that were presented in the National Convention by these ceasefire and peace groups. Moreover the recent war against Kokang is a warning to all other ceasefire ethnic armed groups, which are still refusing to accept the junta’s offer of transforming their armies into the junta controlled ‘Border Guard Force’ (BGF). We presented these points to US delegates.

Q: Were you satisfied with the meeting?

A: At the meeting, the US delegates did not say anything about our presentations. But they only said that this was just the beginning and they would come back again. Despite the lack of significant words spoken by them in this meeting, I am optimistic as unprecedented events are happening now. I hope for something.

U Aye Thar Aung (Arakan League for Democracy)

Q: What did you say at the meeting with US delegates?

A: Firstly I told them we welcomed their visit but the meetings between US delegates and ethnic leaders, and the NLD cannot solve all the problems. For progress and development in politics, there must be cooperation and negotiation between the SPDC (junta), the NLD and ethnic people.

Q: What did other ethnic leaders say at the meeting?

A: U Sa Bwe Jung from Kachin State presented the nine-point negotiations between the ‘Kachin Independence Organization’ (KIO) and the SPDC including the last presentation made by KIO to the junta based on the Panlong Agreement. Some ethnic leaders from peace groups talked about their ceasefire and peace agreements with the junta and the current pressure by the regime to transform their armies into the BGF.

Nai Saw Aung from the Mon National Democracy Party and U Shwe Ohn just gave a letter to the US delegates.

Q: Were you satisfied with the meeting with US delegates?

A: I cannot say I’m pleased and satisfied with the meeting because whatsoever comes from the side of the US, the NLD and ethnic parties are trying to make concessions and accommodations. There will not be any progress in political dialogue unless there is political will from the junta’s side. The SPDC just wants to improve relations with the US and have sanctions imposed by US-led western countries lifted.

Q: Did the US delegates say anything regarding the meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

A: A US delegate said that Daw Suu conveyed her message to us through them saying that she was glad and pleased to hear of the meeting with US delegates and ethnic leaders.

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