Medical Aid Group: Burma Ethnic Minorities in Bangladesh Face Abuse, Humanitarian Crisis

Medical Aid Group: Burma Ethnic Minorities in Bangladesh Face Abuse, Humanitarian Crisis

Thousands of Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, members of a stateless, Muslim ethnic group that fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution in Burma, leave Bangladesh aboard rickety boats each year in hopes of finding work elsewhere.

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says a violent crackdown in Bangladesh against migrants from Burma is fueling a humanitarian crisis. The group says thousands of ethnic minority Rohingya have fled to a makeshift refugee camp on the border with Burma where they live in squalid conditions.

Doctors Without Borders says stateless Rohingya in Bangladesh face unprecedented levels of violence and attempts to force them back to Burma, also known as Myanmar.

The aid group said Thursday that since October 6,000 Rohingya have fled to a makeshift refugee camp in Kutupalong, near the border with Burma, to avoid harassment and beatings.

Doctors Without Borders has a clinic at the camp and say its staff has treated Rohingya who were beaten by Bangladeshi people, including polices.

“Our patients tell us that in some cases they’ve been handed over to the Bangladeshi Rifles – the border force of Bangladesh – beaten, and forced to swim the river back toward Myanmar,” said Paul Critchley who heads the group’s Bangladesh mission.

The Arakan Project, a Rohingya rights group, says in the last month hundreds of unregistered Rohingyas in Bangladesh have been arrested or forced back to Burma.

Critchley told journalists in Bangkok that Rohingya fleeing the violence are forced to live in the Kutupalong camp’s unsanitary and crowded conditions.

He says they live under plastic sheeting held up by sticks. They are not allowed to work and are in desperate need of aid.

“This crackdown must stop,” Critchley said. “This population desperately needs the protection that the Bangladeshi government needs to give it. As it is responsible for the protection and security of everybody within its borders. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has to do more to protect this population.”

Critchley says there are about 29,000 Rohingya now at the camp, but the numbers are fast increasing and the situation could get worse.

Doctors Without Borders says in January alone 2,000 Rohingya arrived at the camp seeking help.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group from Burma who are not recognized by Burma’s military government. For decades they have fled abuse and poverty in Burma.

There are an estimated 200,000 Rohingya living in Bangladesh.

Doctors Without Borders says 28,000 are recognized as refugees and live in camps supported by the UNHCR. The rest, the group says, struggle to survive unrecognized and with little assistance.

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RIGHTS: This Time Around, Thailand Targets Karen Refugees

RIGHTS: This Time Around, Thailand Targets Karen Refugees
By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Feb 5, 2010 (IPS) – Thailand’s attempt to repatriate over 3,000 ethnic Karens who fled the conflict in military-ruled Burma last year has triggered strong local and international objections, including from 27 members of the United States Congress.

“We urgently request that you halt the repatriation of refugees back to Burma’s conflict zone and continue to offer them protection in Thailand,” stated the Feb. 4 letter by the bi-partisan group of U.S. legislators to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

“If forced to return, these refugees will suffer horrific human rights abuses,” added the letter, whose signatories included Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the committee on foreign affairs. “They will undoubtedly be subject to forced labour, executions, torture and mutilations, forced recruitment as soldiers, and theft and extortion, making their survival very difficult.”

By Friday afternoon, Bangkok appeared to have caved in to some of this pressure, including the cries of concern from the Bangkok-based Lawyers’ Council of Thailand and the Karen Women Organisation (KWO).

“Because of concerns raised, we have decided to temporarily halt the process,” Thani Thongphakdi, deputy spokesman of the Thai foreign ministry, told IPS. “We have asked those who want to return to do so voluntarily, and today 12 Karens from three families went back.”

However, Bangkok views the ground realities in the Karen areas of Burma, or Myanmar, as it is officially known, differently from how the U.S. legislators and the KWO do. “Since the fighting on the other side of the border has stopped, we felt it is safe for them to return,” Thani revealed.

The temporary suspension of the Karen repatriation has done little to ease their anxiety, said Blooming Night Zan, joint secretary of the KWO, which is based in the north-eastern Thai town of Mae Hong Son. “The people are really scared. They fear they will be sent back soon.”

Part of such fear of return stems from the treacherous route the refugees will have to walk through once they enter Burma. “The fighting may be over, but there are a lot of landmines,” Zan said during an IPS interview. “Five people from the area have been injured by landmine explosions in recent months. One of them was a pregnant woman, (who was injured) in January this year.”

The flight of the Karen refugees from eastern Burma in June last year followed a round of fighting between Burmese troops and the Karen National Union, a rebel group that has been waging a separatist struggle for six decades.

The over 3,000 refugees who entered Thailand in 2009 added to the estimated 120,000 refugees, most of them Karen, who had been living in camps on the Thai side of the border for over two decades.

The ongoing conflicts in Burma is also behind the estimated 540,000 internally displaced people who have sought refuge in forests and mountains after fleeing attacks, including the burning of villages, by the Burmese army.

Little of this, however, appears to concern Thailand’s powerful International Security Operations Command (ISOC), a Cold War relic that was resurrected with new powers by Bangkok’s last junta, which came to power following a September 2006 coup and ruled till January 2008.

Among the powers of ISOC is to determine the country’s border policies with its four neighbours – Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia. Permission for refugees from neighbouring countries to remain in Thailand or not is one of the powers of this institution, where the country’s powerful army chief hold sway.

“Thailand’s border policy has been placed in the hands of the military through ISOC,” said Sunai Phasuk, the Thai researcher of Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New York-based global rights lobby. “The military’s interpretation of refugee policy is very narrow and not in compliance with international law and humanitarian standards.

“The military will open the country’s borders if people are fleeing conflict,” Sunai confirmed in an IPS interview. “But they don’t care if people are fleeing human rights violations, political persecution, religion persecution and oppression.”

Such increasing militarisation of Thailand’s border policy was brought into relief in late December last year, when some 4,300 ethnic Hmong who had fled conflict in Laos were deported in a military-style operation.

That deportation, which also provoked howls of protest from the international community, did not trigger a policy rethink by the one-year-old Abhisit administration, which came to power as a result of political deals shaped by the Thai military rather than through a popular mandate.

Bangkok dismissed criticism of being cold towards refugees by reminding the world of its impressive record of hospitality since the 1970s, when tens of thousands of refugees from the U.S. war in Indo-China fled to Thailand for safety. The South-east Asian country has, in fact, been home to some 1.5 million refugees over nearly four decades.

But until the powerful ISOC was resurrected, refugee policy was shaped by the prime minister’s office, the foreign ministry, the military and the national security council. “It was a delicate balance between these four that ensured a sense of checks and balances on refugee policy,” a highly placed Thai source said on condition of anonymity.

The first signs of a more military twist to refugee policy under ISOC emerged with Thailand’s treatment of the Rohingyas, a Muslim ethnic minority fleeing persecution in western Burma. “It started after the coup when the military started to define the Rohingyas as a national security threat,” the Thai source added. “They were linked to the insurgency in southern Thailand because the insurgents happen to be Muslims.”

ISOC’s attitude towards the Rohingya refugees gave the Abhisit administration its first black eye soon after it came into office. The military was exposed in the international media of forcing back to sea boatloads of Rohingya refugees.

“ISOC has two clear policies about the Rohingya refugees,” said Sunai of HRW. “They should be intercepted before entering Thai territorial waters, but if they do, they should be arrested and detained.”


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Electoral preparations dominating junta actions

Electoral preparations dominating junta actions
Monday, 01 February 2010 16:28
Larry Jagan

Bangkok (Mizzima) – Although there is as yet no election date set, campaigning by supporters of the junta is in full swing. “The New Light of Myanmar is full of reports and photographs of government ministers inaugurating community and development projects, shaking hands with local leaders and handing out financial assistance,” a western diplomat just back from Burma told Mizzima. “Its electioneering by any other name, clearly the military is now trying to win the hearts and minds of the people.” thanshwe

“Democracy in Burma today is at a fledgling stage and still requires patient care and attention,” Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe told the country last year in his annual speech to mark Armed Forces Day. Since then he has said little on the subject, though in January he warned potential political parties and politicians not to be foolish and to follow the rules.

“Plans are under way to hold elections in a systematic way this year. In that regard, the entire people have to make correct choices,” he cautioned.

But the elections are already dominating everything in Burma, even without the unveiling of the election or political parties laws. All over Burma preparations are quietly being made for the nation’s first elections in twenty years, government administration has been put into suspended animation while government ministers and civil servants have in effect started political campaigning.

“No decision is being taken that does not relate to the election preparation,” a senior UN official in Rangoon told Mizzima on condition of anonymity. Some crucial new projects can only start after the election, government ministers also told another UN aid official.

Meanwhile, weekly cabinet meetings in the capital Naypyitaw have been brought back to Wednesday, to allow ministers to use the four days between Thursday and Sunday to do politics in the areas that they are responsible for in the forthcoming elections, according to senior military sources. This not only involves handing out largesse to targeted communities, he said, but also collecting finances for the actual election campaign when it is finally announced.

General Than Shwe has put the powerful minister Aung Thaung in charge of the election campaign and providing funds for pro-junta candidates, according to sources close to the senior general. “He’s become the old man’s bag man,” a senior manager in one of the company’s of the businessman Tayza told Mizzima. His secret mission is to get the support of the Rohingyas for pro-junta candidates, and make sure the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) party and the National Unity Party (NUP) secure the popular vote, said a government official.

thein-seinIn the last elections, held 27 May 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won convincingly, but Burma’s military rulers never allowed them to form a civilian government. This time the generals are not planning to make the same mistake, and are tightly controlling everything to ensure they do not lose. In the meantime, they are deliberately keeping everyone in the dark.

“The electoral and political parties laws are now 97 percent complete,” Burma’s foreign minister Nyan Win recently told his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, at a meeting of the regional bloc, ASEAN, in Hanoi. “It will take another two or three months to make it 100 percent. So, I think the elections will most probably be in the second half of the year,” he reportedly said.

Beijing, Burma’s closest ally, also believes it will be sometime in the last three months of this year, according to Chinese diplomats.

It will be on the 10th of the 10th month 2010, senior military sources in the new Burmese capital told Mizzima late last year. And only 10 political parties will be allowed to run, the prime minister, Thein Sein, told his Asian counterparts at the ASEAN Summit in Hua Hin last October, according to an Indonesian diplomat at the briefing. But there was no mention of Aung San Suu Kyi or the National League for Democracy, he added.

People are increasingly tipping the 10/10/2010 as the date because of the junta’s fixation on numerology. In the past, the country’s military made many key decisions on the basis of what astrologers had decreed as auspicious dates, including the 1990 election date and the mass move to the new capital. Nonetheless, while the election is certain now to be held in October or November – after this year’s rainy season – the current favorite date may just be a hoax. What is true is that the elections will be held on a Sunday, the peoples’ normal rest-day.

Until the election laws are made public there is little potential political players can do but bide their time. Until then nobody knows how the election will be conducted, and more importantly who will be competing. Officially there are no political parties registered to stand candidates in the election – this can only happen after the political parties law is passed and an electoral commission established to oversee the campaign and the polls.

“The political parties and election laws will be unveiled at the last minute,” Win Min, a Burmese academic based at Chiang Mai University in Thailand told Mizzima. “They want to keep any potential opposition wrong-footed and not allow them time to organize.”

The last time elections were held the electoral law was made public 20 months before the elections and junta leaders are anxious to avoid making that mistake again. But 20 years on Burma is a very different country than it was then. Repression, harassment and economic decay have left many Burmese bewildered and angrier than every at the military, though whether this will be translated into a strong anti-government vote at the polls remains an open question.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy activists are split on whether or not to run in the elections.

“Why should we contest these elections – the military will tightly control everything,” a spokesman for the exiled Burmese Zin Linn told Miizzima. “How can there be free and fair elections when many of our leaders are in prison for their political activities. The constitution was forced on us, written by them, and then everyone was coerced to vote for it in a sham referendum [in May 2008].”

Many believe that the elections are in fact only a means for the military to pretend that they have moved to democratic civilian rule. Under the constitution, a quarter of the seats are reserved for army officers. Over the past year or so junior officers have been given intensive instruction in political and economic matters as part of their senior officer training courses to prepare them for possible service as military MPs, according to Burmese military sources. Many who attended the prestigious officers school, the National Defense College, are now earmarked to take up positions in a new parliament.

“In 2010, it will only be an election of the dictators – as they take off their uniforms and pretend to be civilians,” said Soe Aung, a leading Burmese pro-democracy activist based in Thailand. Many government officials in Burma have confided privately that the process will certainly be a selection, not an election.

While there may be elections this year, there will be no transfer of power, whether Aung San Suu Kyi or her party runs, according to Chinese diplomats who follow Burma closely. “Things will remain the same, there will be no change in political power,” a senior Chinese government official told Mizzima.

Even though the parties have not yet been formed, nor officially have candidates been chosen to run for office in 2010, the military government is preparing the ground for the campaign and the election. Businessmen with close connections to the regime have already been told they must support the pro-government candidates and provide funds for their campaign. So detailed are the initial plans that the junta has allocated specific electorates to certain businessmen and demanded their financial backing.

“We cannot afford to lose this election,” Burma’s prime minister, General Thein Sein, told some of the leading businessmen last year. “Otherwise we have wasted the last twenty years for nothing,” he concluded, according to western diplomats with close connections to the Burmese business community.

But fixing the elections to get the desired result still poses major problems for the military leaders. Those who stand will have to attract the popular vote – which in Burma now will be no mean feat if the election is at all free and fair. At least a dozen of the current ministers have been selected by the Senior General to run for office. These people will have to resign from the present government to contest the elections.

The ministers have until April, the end of the current financial year, to put their ministries in order. They have been instructed to make sure their books are balanced, creating a race to privatize much of the government’s existing assets. More than 11,000 blocks of land and buildings, owned by various government ministries, are up for sale in Rangoon, according to a western businessman with strong links to many of the top Burmese leaders.

At that point an interim government, with only executive not legislative powers, will be formed to run the country for the six months up until the elections and then for around another six months afterwards before the newly elected parliament meets. “It will take the regime several weeks or months to tally the votes across the nation and finalize the results,” said a Burmese academic based inside the country. And if that is not enough, the new parliament building will not be finished for at least another year, a Burmese construction manager working on the project, Pe Tun, told Mizzima.

In the next few months there will be a major shake-up in the military and the government. The government administration is to be streamlined and many civil servants will also be retired. The number of ministries will be halved, with only 17 ministers left in charge. Already two ministers who are destined to become politicians have resigned and their portfolios merged with other ministries. The rest will resign and become politicians after Buddhist New Year celebrations [Thingyan] in mid-April. All of them will also have to declare their assets before registering as candidates, according to government sources in Burma.

In the next few months, after the political parties law is revealed, the mass community organization USDA – set up by Than Shwe more than fifteen years ago to support the military government at the grassroots – is expected to announce the formation of a political party that will contest this year’s elections.

While some time ago the plan may have been to field three political parties, it now seems that only one party under the control of the USDA will be created, state reliable Burmese sources. Current ministers who have been forced into the political arena will join the party, according to military sources. The NUP though is seen as part of the new era. The top general has instructed soldiers and government officials to see the NUP as “a sister to the army”, said a close confidant of the top generals.

In the coming months there will be massive changes in the army as well as government. A major overhaul of the military is expected with hundreds, if not thousands, of senior officers retiring to make way for the new generation of younger officers, as Than Shwe intends to rigidly enforce the retirement rule of 60 years of age. This is largely in preparation for new relationships that will emerge after the elections.

Regional commanders will in theory will to answer to local civilian authorities, something that runs counter to the military practice of the last 20 years. Already there are tensions in some areas between local authorities and the central government, especially related to forced-labor issues and the mandate of the International Labor Organization.

Local courts have overruled executive orders to return confiscated land, and farmers who have returned are being prosecuted for trespassing – as many as 60 in one area are facing stiff prison sentences for attempting to reclaim land unlawfully seized in the first place. This may just be a forerunner of things to come.

This year’s election process is likely to be fraught and tensions will rise. “Already people are suffering from increased nervousness and anxiety, especially in Rangoon, because of the uncertainty surrounding the coming elections, according to Burmese doctors.

The outcome of the elections is far from certain, according to some Asian diplomats. “The race is certainly on but as the weeks roll by, the regime is increasingly worried that they may not be able to control the results,” said an Asian diplomat based in Rangoon.

Restrictions and controls are also likely to increase as the election draws nearer. Already UN representatives and international aid workers are finding it increasing difficult to get visas to the country and permission to travel outside Rangoon. Multi-entry visas seem to be a thing of the past, said one NGO staff-member.

Censorship and control of the media is also tightening. While the election itself can be mentioned in the country’s publications, anything about the formation of parties is spiked, according to several editors of independent publications.

The election is going to be a real test for the regime. But the key will be how the Burmese population regards the election process. “While this regime has ruled largely through fear, don’t discount an Iran-style reaction if the result appears to have been overly-manipulated by the military,” a young budding Burmese politician who intends to stand in the elections told Mizzima, but declined to be identified for fear of being detained.

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Education for Rohingya refugee children: Save our generation from losing their future

Source from Mulim News UK @

By Muhammad Saifullah

Today, the children of Rohingya refugees are struggling with their future to be saved as they are not recognized as refugees by the both Malaysian government to have access to education and UNHCR as mandated refugees to get resettlement like other refugees. They are marginalized and are languishing in horror situation. Their children are deprived of basic right to education, victims of exploitation and going to be a generation of beggars in Malaysia.

As per we know, two things can destroy a nation, illiteracy and poverty. Unfortunately, if we see the ethnic Rohingya, an estimated literacy rate of the Rohingya children both in home and exile are less than 0.5%. Literacy rate in Malaysia is “0”%.

It is very pitiful situation for the Rohingya community and true that Rohingya nation has lost their future. So, the education is most important to develop to any nation and to know what is the right and wrong things to get the basic rights in the future.

According to statistics issued by UNHCR Malaysia as of last October 2009, about 67,800 refugees and asylum-seekers were registered with the Refugee Agency. Of this figure, 62,000 are refugees from Burma, comprising 28,100 Chin, 16,100 Rohingya, 3,700 Burmese Muslims, 2,900 Kachin and other ethnic minorities.

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. Believe there is also being a large number of children who are not yet granted refugee status.

The children of the Rohingya community in Malaysia do not have the privilege to study in government schools as they do not have birth certificates or any other official documents. Under the Malaysian Education Act (1966) only three categories of foreigners are permitted to enroll in government schools i.e the children of foreign embassies, children of foreigners who have legal work permits and those who have been granted permanent resident status.

Rohingyas arrived in Malaysia in early 1980s. More than 70% of Rohingya children are of school age. They could enter public schools, but as refugees, they were expelled out from the government school in early 2006, while very few numbers of Rohingya children got chance to study in public school as adopted children of local Malaysian. But still there is no any record a single Rohingya child from refugee community could manage to be a university student ever. Some managed to go through the categorized as “permanent resident,” which means they must pay higher fees, buy their own books and face a lot of red tape. Most cannot afford the extra costs. Access is also restricted as most of the refugee children do not have birth certificates, a legal prerequisite for admission.

The children of Rohingya in Malaysia are not recognized and are at greater risk of statelessness than their parents. Though they get birth certificates but they do not get any right to attend school. In past two decades, our unfortunate Burmese ethnic Rohingya children who have been born and grown up in Malaysia do not have access to government schools although primary school education is compulsory and available free to all in this country. And hence, the stateless children have not been able to develop their knowledge, skills, personality, talents etc.

Approximately there are more than 5,400 Rohingya refugee children in Malaysia are of school age. According to UNHCR report, they have not received basic education due to financial and bureaucratic obstacles. But I believe the main feature is that Rohingya children cannot enroll in public schools because Malaysian law does not recognize their refugee status.

That resulted most of them are working in odd jobs like construction sites, garbage collectors which should be considered as child labor.

Education is backbone of the Nation; Today’s children are tomorrow’s future. Peculiarly, Rohingya children in Malaysia don’t have access to get education. Rohingyas existence as a nation or ethnic group of Burma is depends on their children. Without education they are blind and unable to fight for their future due to lack of knowledge. We can for see what will happen to the Rohingya refugees and their children living in Malaysia if nothing is done to help them?

However, in 1998, Yayasan Salam came up to help to educate some Rohingya children in Kampung Cheras Baru as an implementing partner of UNHCR and that project was terminated in 2000.

From the year 2001, ABIM stood to fund for that school with a view to giving read and writeable education to some 50 children.

Similarly, the UN refugee agency partnered with a non-governmental organization, the Taiwan Buddhist Tzu-Chi Foundation, opened five new education centers within the Klang Valley in 2008, serving some 300 Rohingya refugee children. The project received funding from the United States government, bringing education to the Rohingya community on an unprecedented scale in Malaysia.

Likewise, from January 2008, UNHCR extended a supportive hand to facilitate primary education to the Rohingya refugee children in Tasik Permai, Tasik Tambahan, Taman Muda, Kampung Pandang and Selayang respectively. As per my study, those schools are also not fully equipped.

But those 5 schools are based within klang valley only. Mostly the Rohingya live in Penang and Johor. But their children are still deprived of basic right to formal education. Thanks to a humanitarian NGO, JUMP Network Group, while helping Rohingya children in penang in 3 schools.

Recently there is another school supported by Muslim Welfare Association of Malaysia (PERKIM), a local NGO chaired by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia since September 2009. That school is situated in Lamba Jaya, Ampang. There are 3 teachers including a religious teacher and 120 students enroll regular classes. All the expenditures of school and students such as rental, accommodation, text books for children, necessary material are conducted by PERKIM. The sad reality is that two of UNHCR’s five schools closed down as all the students shifted to PERKIM School.

In Johor Baru, there are some schools set up by privet initiative of Rohingya community to educate their own children but due to lack of fund unable to go further and waiting to get any assistance from UNHCR or any GNO to develop school curriculums as minimum standard.

According to strategic country plan by UNHCR, the 2010-2011 UNHCR budgets for the protection of children is USD $209, 825 and for the refugee education in Malaysia is listed USD $1, 555, 717. Rohingya community hope on that issue, UNHCR may set up some more schools for Rohingya children in different places like Klang, Johor and Penang if the decision of government remains unchanged.

In addition, Harvest Centre Sdn Bhd, set up an informal school in Sentul. About half of the centre’s students are Rohingya refugee children. Believed to be Malaysia’s first Montessori school for marginalized children, Harvest Centre was set up in 2004 with seed funding from World Vision and is run on public donations. The school, which has qualified and full-time staffs and a host of volunteers, and entered as an implementing partner with UNHCR but there is not more than 200 Rohingya refugee children studying.

After nearly two decades in Malaysia without education for their children, Malaysia’s 16,100 registered Muslim Rohingya refugees from Arakan state of Burma are especially hungry for formal schooling.

Future Global Network Foundation (FGN) a local NGO has been helping the local coordinators of the Rohingya communities in some settlement areas. FGN only supports 500 ringgits for 12 religious teachers in 9 different education sectors since 2007.

There is another school namely “Darul Uloom Blossom Garden” Kampung Sungai Pinang, Klang, Two teachers are in charge of religious studies; 1 teacher for teaching English, Maths and science. FGN can only support for two religious teachers due to insufficient funds. There is no teacher available for the teaching of Bahasa Malaysia at the moment.

The complaints of Rohingya children have been spread out that most of them are involved in beggar’s path. Why they are begging and what is the main reason behind it? In my study, the key spur is education. So I hope and strongly believe that 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’.

It is true to be heard that there are two groups of Rohingya children who took to the streets as beggars in Malaysia.

On one side, the children were in the clutches of a triad from some their own ignorant people 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 which is believed to be a part of exploitation.

“The other group is that who have no choice but to beg and begging is the easiest form of earning a livelihood on the name selling books”.

A notable example of such inconsistencies relates to the government’s statements regarding Rohingyas in Malaysia In 2004, the Government announced that it would consider regularizing the status of existing stateless Rohingyas in Malaysia, to enable them to legally work and live without fear of arrest from the enforcement agencies… The Rohingya were so glad and hoped their children would be able to attend for public school. However, to date, this policy does not appear to have been implemented.

Issues also arise with regards to the status of the children of Rohingya refugees who are born in Malaysia. Since their parents are undocumented, such children are more often than not, hindered in obtaining birth certificates and other identification documents which would facilitate their access to basic needs including medical care and education.

“To me, the only way to get these people out from the clutches of poverty is through education. We can give them food, for few days or give them money but money is never enough. “We need to empower them, especially the children, teach them how to find out food, not just giving them packets of food, so they can stand on their own two feet and become the master of their own destiny. What if one day we are not here anymore and also the people who are helping them?

“I have been teaching refugee children for 3 years, now in Klang. That school was set up in 2006 by some Rohingyas and still all the expenses are born by the community. The children are great, very responsive and excited to learn but being refugees they are unable to enjoy their full rights to education with full equipments like public schools.

It is satisfying to see the glow on their innocent faces as they respond to my teaching. They also love drawings, playing football and netball.

“They are practically living with no hope, no dreams and no tomorrow, nothing. I am helping them straight from my heart. My goal is, let’s say out of 63 students, if I can get one into university or can get a doctor or engineer; this is already a huge reward for me in my life. May be it will take some time but I am willing to do this forever.

Thus, there is still room for optimism notwithstanding the current plight of refugees in

Malaysia. As long as the authorities accept deficiencies in the current status quo and are willing to engage in dialogue to redress the situation, there is still room for hope. For everyone’s part, we can continue to work to increase awareness of children’s rights, and to encourage the government to adopt comprehensive and long-term refugee children protection policies, beginning with accession to the Child Convention and amendment to relevant immigration laws and other policies affecting refugees in Malaysia. For the time-being, we can also continue to encourage the government to adopt interim measures to alleviate at least some of the problems faced by refugee children, for instance, by encouraging the government to grant registered refugees with the right to seek and obtain employment lawfully, and to have access to basic needs such as shelter, food, healthcare and particularly education.

Malaysia has ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is thus obligated to protect all children, including migrant, asylum-seekers and refugee children. In the 2007 Concluding Observations of the Committee of the Rights of the Child, the Committee has expressed concerns over various aspects of migrant, asylum-seekers and refugee children including detention.

The Committee specifically recommends the Malaysian Government to stop detention of children in relation to Immigration proceedings and to develop a legislative framework for the protection of asylum-seekers and refugee children.

We would like to request to the Malaysian Government to fulfill its obligation to protect the rights of children, regardless of the child’s citizenship. In addition, the Government is obligated to provide protection to asylum seekers and refugee children as according to Article 22 of the CRC.

We believe the Government will ensure that the refugee children are secured and not subjected to any violence or negligent treatment during arrest and detention and provide basic assistance through formal education.

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2 lakh unregistered Rohingyas being exploited : UN expert She is unhappy at way poverty being fought

UNB, Dhaka
Bangladesh must design an integrated and comprehensive social protection strategy as poverty reduction strategies, particularly the ones related to social safety net programmes, are being implemented in a disconcertingly fragmented manner, said a UN independent expert Thursday.

Magdalena Sepulveda, the UN Independent expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, said poverty remains very high, particularly in rural areas, despite progress in poverty reduction during the last decade.

“Around 40 per cent of the population is still poor of which at least 20 per cent live in extreme poverty,” she said.

Magdalena Sepulveda and another UN independent expert on water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque carried out the joint study from December 1 to 10 in some areas of the country. They held a press conference at a city hotel yesterday afternoon to reveal their findings along with some recommendations to the government.

The two experts visited Ralmat Camp, Wapda building and Rupnagar in Mirpur, and Korail and Kamrangir Char in Dhaka, Kutu Palong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Moradnagar and Comilla.

They also had meetings with the Prime Minister and secretaries and high officials of various ministries as well meeting with UN agencies, donor community and civil society organizations.

The duo will present their report on this visit to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010.

Magdalena Sepulveda said 200,000 Rohingya refugees live in Bangladesh just outside camps with no registration or legal status which results in their exploitation and inability to access basic services and access to justice as well.

She suggested the government to consider some form of registration for this community with a view to ensuring their protection from exploitation.

Referring to her visit to Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, the UN independent expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty said the refugees from Myanmar are living in extremely difficult condition and welcomed the solidarity of the government and the gradual improvement in the refugee camps wherein 28,000 refugees live.

She said Bangladesh has experienced significant economic growth in the past 15 years but the economic growth of the country is not yet reaching its poorest citizens. “Even if poverty indicators point to a decline in poverty, some regions are lagging behind and segments of the population are not reaping the benefits. So, inequality is on the rise.”

Over the last decades, she said, Bangladesh has been recognized for its efforts in poverty reduction through initiatives implemented by the state as well as by civil society organizations, especially in microfinance and social safety net. “However, much more needs to be done to reach the poorest of the poor.”

On slum people, she said the government must provide slum dwellers with security of tenure. “Forced eviction is contrary to the obligations imposed by the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”

Prior to evicting anyone, she said, the state must explore all feasible alternatives in consultation with the affected people and eviction must not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of human rights.

She emphasized coordination among ministries, civil society organizations and donor agencies as it is essential to realize all components of a social protection strategy which includes ensuring access to social services, providing social assistance like safety nets and protecting labour standard for all.

She felt alarmed by the condition of people living in extreme poverty. Admitting the government’s resource constraint, she urged the international community to continue its support to Bangladesh’s poverty reduction. “Nonetheless, the government can do more within its limited resources to fight extreme poverty.”

Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN independent expert on water and sanitation, said Bangladesh has made substantial achievements in ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation to all. “The commitment of the government to ensure safe drinking water for all by 2011 and sanitation by 2013 is laudable.”

Regarding sanitation, she however said though Bangladesh has made great progress but still 64 percent of the population has no access to safe drinking water.

Referring to difficult living condition of slum people, she said rights of slum dwellers must be recognized. “This is not a matter of charity, but a legal entitlement.”

She also expressed unhappiness for the lack of wastewater treatment in Bangladesh saying that faeces, urine and industrial waste are polluting rivers and other surface water of the country, and threatening the quality of drinking water as well as the overall environment.

She suggested the government to continue and strengthen its efforts to identify alternative sustainable water sources in the entire country.

Catarina de Albuquerque urged the government to establish an independent regulator for water and wastewater that would inter alia be component for establishing water tariffs, controlling water quality and ensuring access for all.

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A relationship of difference

Joseph Allchin
Dec 9, 2009 (DVB)–A detained Indian rebel’s confession has opened a window into a fetid, ambiguous relationship between Burma and its western neighbour, as a senior Indian delegation heads to Naypyidaw.

Indian minister of external affairs, S.M. Krishna, will arrive in Burma this week for a BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation) ministerial conference, with speculation that he will address problems on the troubled shared border.

The trip comes in the wake of a confession by a member of the banned separatist United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) that the group holds bases across the border in Burmese territory. The claim is not new, but his assurance that the group sought refuge in Burma has lead to a painful confirmation: while the Indian government is chasing alliances with their counterparts in Naypyidaw on macro issues, the cross-border trickle of contraband and nuisances has not been stemmed after years of similar, now-clichéd, agreements.

The macro voice boomed last week that trade between the two nations could reach $US1 billion per year, with machines going one way and raw produce the other. These will no doubt be echoed by Mr. Krishna in public, but India’s relationship with her neighbour has been tempered by ambiguity from the generals in Burma. The Indian position is born, it seems, from a no-nonsense sense of commercial and strategic pragmatism; countering China’s hegemony and squabbling for gas.

The open arms that India has extended have not necessarily been matched by Burma. The generals famously have rejected Indian bids for oil in favour of lesser Chinese bids. For Nava Thakuria, a senior journalist based in Assam, “New Delhi has achieved success in convincing Bhutan and Bangladesh to take actions against the ULFA militants. But the [Burmese government] remains clever, as they got almost everything from India with doing little.”

In effect, the two other countries in the neighbourhood have been able to combat India’s thorn, yet Burma’s massive military has not been able to. India it seems is willing to forgive a lot in this race, and it may at some point wonder quite what a superpower in the making was doing kowtowing to what history will no doubt dub a ‘gaspot’ despotism.

The problems, one must suspect, run deeper than the depth of gas bids. The story of these two peoples drawn together inexorably by the colonial administration in India is often one of resentment and racism that persist to this day. “It’s something to do with the colonial legacy” says Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst. It is an at times bitter, hypocritical resentment, which in the political climate of Burma for the last 50 or 60 years has pervaded the top echelons of power. “The presence of the Indians in the country was considered by the Burmese as the second occupation,” he contends. “That animosity has continued.”

Whilst much of Burmese culture springs from India, not least Buddhism, the country’s rulers and military seem enthralled by a racial superiority complex that has seen ethnic purges, everyday persecution and public racial outbursts. Like anti-Semite Christians, they are purporting to represent Lord Buddha, yet persecute those of his kin.

It is no surprise that by the busy bridge linking Mae Sai in Thailand to Tachilek in Burma, a 42-year-old physics graduate of Indian origin told DVB that he touts for business and commission from tourists now because he receives no favour and is unable to get work from the Burmese authorities. He said that it is because of his skin colour. Kicked out of Thailand a number of times, he skillfully uses four to five different languages in skimming a small living from the trickle of tourists who cross the bridge. In Arakan state in western Burma, the treatment of the Muslim Rohingya population by the military takes it to another level.

India made an about turn in regards to their Burma policy in the early nineties, when they inaugurated a ‘Look East’ policy. In short, it was an attempt to increase trade with the other powerful Asian economies in the face of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and probably a correct reading of the future of the global economy. But prior to this the Indian government had been staunchly pro-democracy in Burma, with Indian intelligence supporting rebel groups. What is more, the nation awarded opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi one of its highest honours, the Jawarhalal Nehru award. It is named after one of India’s great freedom fighters, a man whom Daw Aung San Suu Kyi no doubt took inspiration from, particularly in her days studying in India.

Aung Naing Oo believes this too is partly why the military government could have propagated an anti-Indian stance. “The Indian support for the prodemocracy movement; that memory has not been lost on the part of the military,” he says.

The nature of the military in Burma means it has a monopoly on political life. It defines itself by its unifying power; its raison d’être is unity. In the post-socialist era the notion of nationalism has become even more entrenched. So whilst there is only one voice, and that voice’s sole political or philosophical position is nationalism for the sake of unity, this doesn’t accommodate sensitivity to other peoples. “There has not been any proper education as to how to treat someone who is different from you, which is the crux of the problem in Burma,” says Aung Naing Oo.

For the military, ‘difference’ is and always has been the big ‘threat’. The Burmese government’s annexation of power came as Karen and Communist forces in the 1960s neared Rangoon, and since then there has been no real appraisal of the diversity that is Burma. Racial or communal divisions are common throughout the world, and Burma is by no means the worst place for the treatment of ‘different’ people. But any society run by the military is likely to represent some regimented, idealised vision of the more conservative end of society. An “imagined notion” as the revered thinker Benedict Anderson would have it.

Whether a small degree of plurality of thought is allowed in the coming years is yet to be seen. Many have speculated that the increase of foreign business would somehow engender progress in Burma, but this has ultimately been proven fallacious.

The fact that the sole voice, the military, preaches unity, means it is not possible to teach diversity due to fear of retaliation. Because the notion of unity, according to a nationalistic definition, is exclusive, the military needs to keep fighting to keep this promised dream alive. This, in turn, will keep that slippery downward slide wet with xenophobia and nationalism. The seeds of thinking about a country from an official perspective, about its peoples and what they mean, need to start somewhere. It could come like lambs dressed as wolves, but ultimately it needs to come not from one sole voice, but from somewhere DIFFERENT.

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Yangon invites investment from Bangladesh

UNB Dhaka: Yangon on Wednesday proposed that Bangladesh set up joint-venture industries and agricultural farms in Myanmar utilizing its huge workforce and Myanmar’s abundant land.

Myanmar Ambassador Phae Tham Oo made the proposal when he called on Industries Minister Dilip Barua at his office and discussed bilateral issues, including Rohingya refugee problem, maritime-boundary disputes and transport facility for mutual benefit.

“If Bangladesh sets up its world-standard industries like textiles, ceramics, medicines and jute in Myanmar through transferring their technology, both the neighbouring countries will be gainer economically,” the envoy said.

He stressed the need for resolving the current disputes between the two countries, including Rohingya refugee problem and maritime-boundary dispute, through mutual understanding.

He stressed strengthening South-South cooperation for enhancing socioeconomic conditions of Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Dilip Barua said the two neighbours would able to develop their industrial sectors through introducing smooth and easy rail-and road-transport networks.

Recalling historical relationship between Bangladesh and Myanmar, he said the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led government was committed to maintaining harmonious and cooperative relationship with neighbouring countries.

“Bangladesh is willing to work together with Myanmar for achieving bilateral socioeconomic development of the two countries,” the minister told the envoy.

He sought cooperation from Myanmar side through playing a positive and comprehensive role at the climate conference in Copenhagen for tackling the impacts of global climate change

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