Inter Press ServiceTales of the 21st Century: Rohingyas Without a State – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 11 Dec 2018 20:07:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Rohingya Protest Against Return to Myanmar and Halt Repatriationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/rohingya-protest-return-myanmar-halt-repatriation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-protest-return-myanmar-halt-repatriation http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/rohingya-protest-return-myanmar-halt-repatriation/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2018 08:37:00 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158693 Thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar, the southern-most coastal district in Bangladesh, protested on Thursday, Nov. 15, against an attempt to send them back to Myanmar. The voluntary repatriation was scheduled to begin Thursday as per a bilateral agreement reached at the end of October between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh. […]

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Rohingya refugees protested on Thursday, Nov. 15, against their voluntary repatriation to Myanmar. Credit: Mohammad Mojibur Rahman/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR/DHAKA, Nov 16 2018 (IPS)

Thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar, the southern-most coastal district in Bangladesh, protested on Thursday, Nov. 15, against an attempt to send them back to Myanmar.
The voluntary repatriation was scheduled to begin Thursday as per a bilateral agreement reached at the end of October between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh. They had agreed to the repatriation of 2,260 people from 485 families at the rate of 150 people per day over 15 days. However plans for repatriations were postponed in the face of massive demonstrations which started Thursday in several of the 27 camps that now host over a million refugees.

Men, women and even children began protesting soon after midday at one of the smaller camps in Unchiprang near the Myanmar border and protests soon spread across other camps, including the biggest camp Kutupalong.

They chanted slogans and waved placards that read—‘We won’t go back,’ ‘We demand safety,’ ‘We want citizenship,’ ‘We demand justice,’—as rows of buses arrived outside Unchiprang camp. The buses were to transport refugees some 15km from Cox’s Bazar to the Bangladesh border of Gundum, from where they would have been taken to Tumbru in Myanmar.

Bangladesh officials in charge of repatriation waited outside the camp asking the families to board the buses but none were willing.

Since last August, more than 700,000 Rohingya—some 60 percent of whom where children, according to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF)—fled atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh.

Many still carry fresh memories of their experiences, which include rape, sexual violence and the torching of homes with people still inside.

“Why should we return?” shouted Nahar, a 26-year-old mother of three who arrived last July. She said that returning to Myanmar means going to a death camp.
Yousuf Ali, a resident of neighbouring Shamlapur camp said, “You want us to commit suicide?” A fellow refugee from Jamtoli camp said, “There is no guarantee that we would survive once we return.”

The government of Bangladesh along with local and international aid organisations and U.N. agencies have been working together to provide shelter, medical services, schooling and food to almost one million people.

Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s Refugee, Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner, and also a magistrate attached with Cox’s Bazar district office, told IPS, “We were prepared for the repatriation. Earlier we had sought a voluntary decision and made informed choices on the return of the refugees. No one responded with the decision to return home in Myanmar and so we had to postpone the programme.”

On Tuesday, 50 of the identified families selected for return, were interviewed by the U.N. to find out whether families agreed to return. None agreed, according to Kalam.

“They refused to go now but we remain prepared to facilitate their return home. Our counterpart from Myanmar was also present on the other side of the border … So far we know Myanmar had also taken all preparations for the much-expected repartition [that was] to start today,” Kalam said.

The government of Bangladesh along with local and international aid organisations and U.N. agencies, have been working together to provide shelter, medical services, schooling and food to almost one million people. Credit: Mohammad Mojibur Rahman/IPS

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet this week urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, saying the move would violate international laws. “With an almost complete lack of accountability — indeed with ongoing violations — returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades,” Bachelet said.

In October chair of the U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar, Marzuki Darusman, said that the Myanmar government’s “hardened positions are by far the greatest obstacle” to repatriation. He had also said, “Myanmar is destined to repeat the cycles of violence unless there is an end to impunity.” The U.N. has called the full investigation into genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine State.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali briefed the media on Thursday evening in the capital Dhaka, saying that Bangladesh would not forcibly return Rohingyas to Myanmar.
“There have been campaigns [saying] that the Bangladesh government is sending them back forcibly. From the beginning we have been saying that it will be a voluntary return. There is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?” he said.

Mia Seppo, U.N. resident coordinator in Dhaka, told reporters at the joint press conference that, “The U.N. actually welcomes the commitment of the government of Bangladesh to stick to the principle of voluntary repatriation, which has been demonstrated today.”

Abu Morshed Chowdhury, President of Cox’s Bazar Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of Cox’s Bazar Civil Society NGO Forum, told IPS, “There were some flaws in the plans for the Rohingya repatriation. How can the refugees return, even if it’s voluntary, without ensuring their citizenship? The U.N. agencies have the responsibility to ensure this.”
He added that U.N. should have “been more active in their roles to allow smooth repatriation.”

Rezaul Karim Chouwhury, Executive Director of COAST Bangladesh, one of the leading NGOs working to address the Rohingya crisis also echoed the same concerns.

“There were flaws in the plans too, because we know that sooner or later the Rohingyas have to return to settle back. The bilateral agreement paved the way for the initiation of the repatriation and rehabilitation but the key players (international) in my opinion have not been so active,” he told IPS.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer, U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS that every refugee has the right to freely decide their own future and the right to return.  Their decisions should be based on relevant and reliable knowledge of the conditions within the country of origin.

“Access restrictions in Rakhine State currently limit UNHCR’s ability to provide such information. Only refugees themselves can make the decision to exercise their right to return and when they feel the time is right for them. It is critical that returns are not rushed or premature,” she said. She added that the UNHCR supported the voluntary and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees in safety and dignity to their places of origin or choice.

“We will work with all parties towards this goal. However, we do not believe that current conditions are conducive to returns in line with international standards. The responsibility for creating these conditions lies with Myanmar.”

*Additional Reporting by Mohammed Mojibur Rahman in Cox’s Bazar

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With Poor Human Rights Record, Repatriation Not Possiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/poor-human-rights-record-repatriation-not-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-human-rights-record-repatriation-not-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/poor-human-rights-record-repatriation-not-possible/#respond Fri, 26 Oct 2018 10:44:55 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158377 Policies that allow for impunity, genocide, and apartheid are “intolerable” and make repatriation of Rohingya refugees impossible, say United Nations investigators. While presenting an annual report to the member states at the U.N., Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed disappointment in Myanmar’s government under State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, stating […]

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Rohingya after they fled Myanmar in 2017 arrive at Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 26 2018 (IPS)

Policies that allow for impunity, genocide, and apartheid are “intolerable” and make repatriation of Rohingya refugees impossible, say United Nations investigators.

While presenting an annual report to the member states at the U.N., Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed disappointment in Myanmar’s government under State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, stating her hope that it “would be vastly different from the past, but it really is not that much different.”

“The government is increasingly demonstrating that it has no interest and capacity to establish a fully functioning democracy for all its people,” Lee said during a press conference.  

She also added that the Nobel peace prize laureate is in “total denial” about the mistreatment and violence against the Rohingya which forced over 700,000 to flee across the border to Bangladesh, and questioned her staunch support for the rule of law.

“If the rule of law were upheld, all the people in Myanmar, regardless of their position, would be answerable to fair laws that are impartially applied, impunity would not reign, and the law would not be wielded as a weapon of oppression,” Lee said.

The Chair of the U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar Marzuki Darusman, who also presented a report to the U.N., echoed similar sentiments, noting that the government’s “hardened positions are by far the greatest obstacle.”

“Accountability concerns not only the past but it also concerns the future and Myanmar is destined to repeat the cycles of violence unless there is an end to impunity,” he said.

One of conditions that contributed to the atrocities committed since violence erupted in August 2017 is the shrinking of democratic space, they noted.

While the arrests of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo gripped international headlines, the government has been increasingly cracking down on free speech and human rights defenders in the country.

Most recently, three journalists from Eleven Media—Nayi Min, Kyaw Zaw Linn, and Phyo Wai Win—were detained and are being investigated for online defamation. If charged and convicted, the journalists face up to two years in prison.

Lee and Darusman also expressed concern over the apartheid-like conditions in Myanmar that persist today including restrictions on movement and access to services such as healthcare and education.

While the government is building new infrastructure for both Rohingya still inside the country and those who fled, Lee noted they are usually segregated from Buddhist communities.

If a policy of separation rather than integration continues, atrocities will be committed yet again.

“It is an ongoing genocide,” Darusman said.

In the fact-finding mission report which looked into the past year’s events, investigators found that four out of five conditions for genocide were met: killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Of those, three conditions can still be seen in the country.

For instance, in 2015, Myanmar’s government imposed “birth spacing” restrictions on women, requiring a 36-month interval between children with forced use of contraception in the interim.

The Population Control Healthcare Bill was introduced in response to a 2013 government report that saw “the rapid population growth of the Bengalis [Rohingya] as an extremely serious threat.”

Prior to this, the government enacted a two-child limit on the Muslim community in Rakhine.

And it is because of these conditions that Rohingya refugees cannot go back.

“Repatriation is not possible now. Unless the situation in Myanmar is conducive, I will not encourage any repatriation. They should not go back to the existing laws, policies, and practices,” Lee said.

She urged for the civilian government to adopt laws that protect and advance human rights for all, and for Suu Kyi to use “all her moral and political power” to act.

“Myanmar now stands at a crossroads—they can respond as a responsible member of the United Nations and take up the call for accountability or they can be on the same self-self-destructive road,” Darusman said.

Of the actions that can be taken towards the path to accountability is the pardoning of human rights defenders and journalists who have been arbitrarily detained in order to restore democratic space.

Myanmar should also allow for unhindered access for humanitarian actors and U.N. investigators, Lee added.

“I think we are at a point where Myanmar and the international community both are at [a] juncture where the right choice to make will determine the future of not only Myanmar but peace and security in the region and the world,” she said.

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Q&A: An Uncertain Future Ahead for Rohingya in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/qa-uncertain-future-ahead-rohingya-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-uncertain-future-ahead-rohingya-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/qa-uncertain-future-ahead-rohingya-bangladesh/#respond Wed, 26 Sep 2018 08:45:09 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157770 IPS Correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage talks to AMBASSADOR MASUD BIN MOMEN, permanent representative of Bangladesh to the U.N about the Rohingya' crisis.

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A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 2018 (IPS)

Over one year ago, Bangladesh opened its doors in response to what is now the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. But questions still remain on how to rehabilitate the steadily growing population. 

After a military crackdown on suspected terrorists in August 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya fled from their homes in Rakhine State, Myanmar to Bangladesh, bringing with them stories of the horrors they have experienced.

The United Nations described the military offensive as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and a recent fact-finding mission called for the investigation and prosecution of top officials from Myanmar’s military for possible crimes of genocide.

However, recurring cycles of violence can be traced back to 1978 and now 1.3 million Rohingya reside in Bangladesh, leaving the small South Asian nation straining for resources to provide to grief-stricken refugees and overcrowded camps.

So far, only one third of the humanitarian appeal for refugees and local host communities have been met and still many challenges remain from environmental stress to trafficking to the lack of shelters.

Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina, who was in Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people of 2018, has been lauded for her humanitarian gesture and her government’s work in addressing the crisis.

Many international and national organizations are working to support the Rohingya refugees. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in particular and its head William Lacy Swing have worked relentlessly to not only provide support to the refugees but also to find a lasting solution to the crisis. Swing has worked closely with the prime minister and her government and engaged with the many parties involved to bring about an end to the tragedy.

In recognition of his untiring efforts, Inter Press Service (IPS) is honouring Swing with the Person of the Year Award at an event to be held at the U.N. headquarters on Sept. 27. The prime minster will receive the IPS U.N. North America’s Humanitarian Award for her decision to give shelter to the over one million Rohingya refugees who were driven out of their homes, tortured, burnt, raped and left stateless and hopeless.

Ahead of the Hasina’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly, which is expected to focus on the Rohingya crisis and call for international action to resolve the crisis, IPS spoke to ambassador Masud Bin Momen, permanent representative of Bangladesh to the U.N.about the ongoing challenges, support, and future action plans.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): Could you talk about the situation in Bangladesh—are refugees still arriving? What conditions are Rohingya refugees arriving in and what conditions are they seeing and living with in Bangladesh?

Masud Bin Momen (MBM): The situation in Cox’s Bazar is terrible. Having to shelter more than 700,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which is the fastest-growing crisis of its kind in the world, and provide them with humanitarian support is an onerous responsibility. It was the bold decision of our honourable prime minister to take up such a huge responsibility responding to humanity’s call. It takes a lot of courage and magnanimity of heart to make such a politically sensitive decision.

And the influx of Rohingyas has not stopped. It is continuing although in much smaller numbers. The freshly-arrived Rohingyas are still giving a grim picture of the ground situation in the Rakhine state. They are telling us about insecurity, threat, persecution, hunger, lack of livelihood opportunities, which is forcing them to leave Myanmar.

IPS: What has the government been doing as of late with regards to supporting Rohingya refugees there now? What have been some of the challenges to support these refugees?

MBM: The camp conditions in Cox’s Bazar may not be perfect and surely, one would understand how difficult it is for a developing country to cater to the humanitarian needs of such a huge population. But our government is trying its best to further improve the camp conditions to ensure basic necessities of the Rohingyas.

The challenges are manifold, I would mention only a few. Providing them with the basic amenities has been the biggest challenge.

For firewood, the Rohingyas have destroyed the forest and vegetation around the camps creating serious threat to the ecology of the area. The shelters that they have built on the slope of the hills are vulnerable to landslide during the monsoon.

For livelihood they are competing with the locals. This is reducing employment opportunities of the local population thus creating concern among the host communities. Their presence is affecting the local law and order situation. The possibility of radicalisation looms large. As their stay lingers, there is the possibility of mingling with the local population which could make their repatriation more difficult.

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

IPS: Could you talk about the controversies surrounding repatriation? Why has it been stalled, and are conditions favourable or safe for Rohingya refugees to go back to Myanmar right now? 

MBM: Although Rohingyas want to return to their homes in Rakhine they would not return to Myanmar until and unless the ground condition in the Rakhine state is conducive for their return. This is the singular impediment to return. Improving ground conditions is entirely Myanmar’s responsibility. Since the ground condition is not yet conducive, the Rohingyas are not signing the declaration for voluntary return and hence repatriation is being delayed.

IPS: If refugees cannot return to Myanmar yet, what does Bangladesh plan to do with regards to support? Are there future actions planned to enhance camps and living conditions?

MBM: If they do not return in the foreseeable future we perhaps have no other option but to continue to give them refuge. We would not send them back against their will. As our prime minister said, we would share our meals with them (Rohingyas). There cannot be a more poignant message of our goodwill to the Rohingyas. Our government is relentlessly working to improve the camps and the living conditions therein. We are also developing an island for relocation of some of the Rohingyas.

IPS: What are your thoughts to the criticism that the island which you mentioned is not safe to live, particularly due to violent weather and high risk of floods? 

MBM: This is an entirely wrong perception. Keeping the entire Rohingya population in a geo-politically sensitive place like Cox’s Bazar is not feasible at all. Cox’s Bazar simply does not have the physical capacity or the infrastructure to sustain such a huge Rohingya population. So, they have to be relocated and the island you are talking about is one such place for possible relocation.

Initially about 100,000 Rohingyas are planned to be relocated. The criticism that you have referred to is baseless coming from ill-informed quarters. Our government is working hard to make the island livable with self-sustaining livelihood options. And until it is made entirely livable, Rohingyas are not going to be relocated there.

IPS: What are your thoughts on the International Criminal Court (ICC) launching a preliminary examination? 

MBM: We feel that this is a positive development in ensuring accountability of the perpetrators. If the ICC can come up with some concrete outcome, it might also serve as an important factor in building confidence among the Rohingyas which will facilitate their repatriation.

IPS: Do you have a response or message to Myanmar’s government regarding the crisis? And perhaps a message to the International community in addressing the situation? 

MBM: We would urge upon Myanmar to make ground conditions in the Rakhine state conducive for return and take back the Rohingyas as soon as possible. The comprehensive implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission’s recommendations would be able to address the root causes of the Rohingyarians.

We urge upon the international community is to take custodianship of the bilateral arrangements for return that Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed and impress upon Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas.

*Interview has been edited for length and clarity

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Excerpt:

IPS Correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage talks to AMBASSADOR MASUD BIN MOMEN, permanent representative of Bangladesh to the U.N about the Rohingya' crisis.

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“We Should Not Wait” — Action Needed on Myanmarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/not-wait-action-needed-myanmar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-wait-action-needed-myanmar http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/not-wait-action-needed-myanmar/#comments Tue, 04 Sep 2018 08:57:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157443 After the release of a scathing report on Myanmar’s human rights violations, next steps to achieve accountability and justice remain elusive and uncertain.   A year after the re-escalation of violence that forced almost a million people to flee to neighbouring countries, a fact-finding mission found a “human rights catastrophe” in Myanmar. “The gross human […]

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Rohingya alight from a boat as they arrive at Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh in 2017. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 4 2018 (IPS)

After the release of a scathing report on Myanmar’s human rights violations, next steps to achieve accountability and justice remain elusive and uncertain.  

A year after the re-escalation of violence that forced almost a million people to flee to neighbouring countries, a fact-finding mission found a “human rights catastrophe” in Myanmar.

“The gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States are shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity,” the report states.

“Many of these violations undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law,” it continued.“The U.N. system really failed the people of Myanmar particularly the Rohingya by treading softly.” -- Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Louis Charbonneau

Triggered by insurgent attacks on security forces, the report pointed a finger to Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, for committing the gravest of crimes including indiscriminate killing, burning of houses, and sexual violence.

The investigators identified six generals, including the commander in chief of the Tatmadaw Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and recommended that they be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) or at an alternative tribunal.

“There needs to be an unequivocal message sent that Myanmar’s military cannot act with impunity against ethnic minorities in Myanmar again,” Amnesty International’s Asia Advocacy Manager Francisco Bencosme told IPS.

“Never again has to mean never again – and the entire world is watching to see what the international community does,” he continued.

Like Bencosme, Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Louis Charbonneau also told IPS that the Security Council should refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC or create a special criminal tribunal for prosecution.

But how did we get here?

Years of systematic oppression against Myanmar’s ethnic minorities made the crisis “foreseeable”—so what happened?

A System-Wide Failure

In 2008, the U.N. failed to heed warnings of increasing violence between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and did not report evidence of widespread government violations and casualties.

A 2012 internal review found that various U.N. agencies including the Security Council failed at every level to protect civilians and meet their responsibilities in the last months of the civil war in the South Asian nation.

In the wake of the fiasco, the U.N. implemented the Human Rights Up Front Initiative to ensure a better system of monitoring and responding to international crises. Though Myanmar was identified as a situation requiring the Action Plan’s human rights response to crises, the approach was rarely, if ever, used, the report stated.

Instead, U.N. agencies continued to prioritise development goals, humanitarian access, and quiet diplomacy—an approach which “demonstrably failed.”

“The U.N. system really failed the people of Myanmar particularly the Rohingya by treading softly,” Charbonneau told IPS.

“Now instead of us saying ‘never again’ after Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Srebrenica—here we are saying well yet again it happened. The U.N. didn’t do what it was supposed to be doing, it didn’t raise the alarm bells to the extent that they could have,” he continued.

The Security Council’s response, or lack thereof, has been equally disappointing. The U.N. organ has had only a handful of meetings on Myanmar and none have resulted in any resolution.

In contrast, Syria has received special attention over the last seven years with numerous meetings in the “triple digits.”

“Given the scale of the crisis in Myanmar, it is difficult to reconcile the different responses of the Security Council particularly given a situation where the U.N. for sometime has been warning about the possibility of the ‘g’ word that is genocide,” Charbonneau said.

“It would be good to see an attempt to really push the Council to try something. We haven’t seen that yet and I don’t know if we will see it,” he continued.

China and Russia, Security Council members with veto power, have consistently pushed back on efforts to act on Myanmar’s crisis, stating that the crisis should only be resolved by the parties directly affected including Bangladesh where over 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to.

In the Security Council’s first open meeting on Myanmar in eight years, Russia’s ambassador Vasily Nebenzya warned against claims of ethnic cleansing and blaming Myanmar’s authorities as it “will make it more difficult to achieve lasting interethnic peace inside the country.”

Whether it is genocide or crimes against humanity, Bencosme highlighted the need for the international community to act with respect to Myanmar.

“We don’t need a legal diagnosis to understand that something desperately tragic and clearly unlawful has been happening in Myanmar. What matters most is that a civilian population is under attack because of its race or religion, and that these violations must stop immediately,” he told IPS.

Myanmar has repeatedly denied accusations of violations including those most recently published through the fact-finding mission’s report.

“Myanmar authorities have shown themselves to be both unable and unwilling to investigate and prosecute those responsible. As a result, the ICC is the appropriate route to deliver justice,” Bencosme said.

However, since Myanmar is not a member of the ICC, only a member of the Security Council can bring the case to the tribunal.

“The time for rhetoric is over – there needs to be action. There needs to be genuine accountability and justice. There needs to be an honest conversation about referring the situation to the International Criminal Court. We need to pursue all avenues of justice for these victims and their families who are the heart of the crisis,” Bencosme concluded.

Urgent Action Needed

While Charbonneau expressed hope that the new report will “reenergise” the U.N., he noted that we should not idly wait.

“I don’t think we should be waiting around for the Security Council—too often the Council doesn’t move on issues and it’s more deadlock than ever these days. We may have to keep using these work-arounds like the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council,” he told IPS.

Among the alternative avenues for action is the establishment of an impartial mechanism by the Human Rights Council or General Assembly to collect, analyse, and preserve evidence for future potential criminal proceedings in the ICC or another criminal tribunal.

The report also recommends that the U.N. urgently adopt a common strategy to address human rights concerns in Myanmar in line with the Human Rights Up Front Action Plan, as well as a comprehensive inquiry into whether the U.N. did everything possible to prevent or mitigate Myanmar’s crisis.

“The time has past for these feeble condemnations or expressions of concern that we are so used to from the U.N.—we just really need action,” Charbonneau said.

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The Plight of Women & Young People in the Rohingya Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/plight-women-young-people-rohingya-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plight-women-young-people-rohingya-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/plight-women-young-people-rohingya-refugee-crisis/#respond Fri, 31 Aug 2018 12:37:46 +0000 Asa Torkelsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157424 Asa Torkelsson is the representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Bangladesh

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Young Rohingya girls are given life skills education in the camps of Cox's Bazar through modules adapted by UNFPA for the refugee camps. (Image: UNFPA Bangladesh/Allison Joyce)

Young Rohingya girls are given life skills education in the camps of Cox's Bazar through modules adapted by UNFPA for the refugee camps. (Image: UNFPA Bangladesh/Allison Joyce)

By Asa Torkelsson
DHAKA, Aug 31 2018 (IPS)

August 25, 2018 marked one year since violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, triggering the massive Rohingya exodus to neighbouring Bangladesh. As the crisis continues with no immediate end in sight, it is crucial to expand and sustain health and life skills services for Rohingya women, girls and youth to locate opportunities amid challenges.

As humanitarian actors strategise a long-term response to this protracted crisis, there must be a strong emphasis on the interactions between the obvious pillars of aid – food, water, health, sanitation, shelter and protection – and the special needs of women, girls and young persons, including safer pregnancy and childbirth; the prevention of, and response to, gender-based violence; and education and life skills for children and youth who will, in all probability, become adults in the camps of Cox’s Bazar.

A year ago, renewed violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State ripped 14-year-old *Fathema’s family apart. Her father and brothers were killed, her widowed mother became the head of a household on the run, escaping with Fathema and her other daughters to the crowded Rohingya refugee camps in neighbouring Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Given the atrocities experienced by so many thousands of Rohingya women and girls, the immediate humanitarian response focused on providing urgent medical attention and health supplies, along with psychosocial counselling for traumatized survivors, including those who became pregnant through rape.

Much of this help came through Women Friendly Spaces in Cox’s Bazar – the “shanti khana” or “homes of peace” – which have long provided a safe space for women and girls to avail of essential services, or simply to bond with others, as they seek to heal. The help and information provided there have also inspired many Rohingya women to become community volunteers themselves.

40-year-old Zarina* recalls, “In Myanmar, I didn’t know child marriage was bad.  Here, through the caseworkers at the Women Friendly Space, I’ve learnt about it and other issues like domestic violence.  My eyes are now open, my brain is working. I realise that child marriage is bad for health, it robs a girl of her youth and her life.  I want to end child marriage.”

Zarina and other community volunteers are also seeking to improve a key health indicator.  Currently, only about one in five pregnant women in the refugee camps will give birth in a proper health facility, despite the availability of dozens of trained midwives and other personnel.

Sometimes they are prevented by their husbands – or, in the case of women who have been raped, they fear stigma and discrimination from the wider community.

“Giving birth is like a war, it can be so challenging,” said 35-year-old Nasreen*, another community volunteer. “Every month I help four to five women to the facility here for deliveries. If girls or women don’t willingly want to go to the delivery services, I convince them to access health points and ensure safer pregnancy and childbirth.”

Back in Myanmar, Fathema would probably have been married by now, and, at 14, may already have become a mother. But, just as Zarina and other women were provided with key information about life and love, a new youth-focused initiative at these Women Friendly Spaces is transforming them into learning centres for Fathema, her sisters and other young persons, teaching them about the spectrum of gender equality and rights through the prism of sexual and reproductive health and well-being.

The module – adapted from the global Gender Equity Movement in Schools (GEMS) prototype – underscores how crucial it is to impart life skills education as early as possible, to better equip young persons to navigate the often difficult choices faced during the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, including issues such as gender equality, pubertal changes and hygiene, relationships and conflict management.

For young girls in particular, long constrained by the complexities of patriarchy and sexism, the sessions can be liberating, showing them how they should be in charge of making decisions about their own lives – including if and when to marry and to whom, whether to have children and how many, and how to better address and protect themselves from gender-based violence and child marriage.

 

UNFPA Bangladesh Representative Asa Torkelsson surveys monsoon preparedness in the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox's Bazar. (Image: UNFPA Bangladesh/Allison Joyce)

UNFPA Bangladesh Representative Asa Torkelsson surveys monsoon preparedness in the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar. (Image: UNFPA Bangladesh/Allison Joyce)

 

These concepts can be overwhelming for any young person, and all the more so for those raised in particularly conservative environments. But by bringing such issues to the forefront in a gentle, non-threatening way, multiple points of view can be discussed and debated openly and safely.

Fathema learnt so much from the sessions at the Women Friendly Space, she’s become a volunteer herself. “The first people I talk to are my parents,” she said. “And then I talk to other young people in my area. I knew nothing about the changes that happen to girls. Now I know how to cope, and I can help other girls as well.”

Putting all these lessons into practice will not be easy for Fathema and her peers, just as it hasn’t been for Zarina and older refugee women, but introducing them to these ideas is an important first step towards moving from disempowerment to empowerment, even in this challenging context.

As humanitarian actors strategise a long-term response to this protracted crisis, there must be a strong emphasis on the interactions between the obvious pillars of aid – food, water, health, sanitation, shelter and protection – and the special needs of women, girls and young persons, including safer pregnancy and childbirth; the prevention of, and response to, gender-based violence; and education and life skills for children and youth who will, in all probability, become adults in the camps of Cox’s Bazar.

“Initially I faced violence from my husband because I had four daughters which he wasn’t happy about,” Zarina said. “But I now teach my husband and others about gender equality.”

*Not their real names

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Excerpt:

Asa Torkelsson is the representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Bangladesh

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Damning U.N. Report Outlines Crimes Against Rohingya As Children Suffer from Trauma One Year Laterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/damning-u-n-report-outlines-crimes-rohingya-children-suffer-trauma-one-year-later/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=damning-u-n-report-outlines-crimes-rohingya-children-suffer-trauma-one-year-later http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/damning-u-n-report-outlines-crimes-rohingya-children-suffer-trauma-one-year-later/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 23:38:55 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157366 At 12, Mohammed* is an orphan. He watched his parents being killed by Myanmar government soldiers a year ago. And he is one of an estimated half a million Rohingya children who have survived and been witness to what the United Nations has called genocide. According to accounts in a U.N. fact-finding report released today, […]

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A damning reporting by the United Nations on the Myanmar’s army crimes against the Rohingya may come too late for these Rohingya children, many of whom remain traumatised as witnesses of the genocide. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
DHAKA, Aug 27 2018 (IPS)

At 12, Mohammed* is an orphan. He watched his parents being killed by Myanmar government soldiers a year ago. And he is one of an estimated half a million Rohingya children who have survived and been witness to what the United Nations has called genocide.

According to accounts in a U.N. fact-finding report released today, the children were likely witnesses to their homes and villages being burnt down, to mass killings, and to the rape of their mothers. As girls, they would have likely been raped themselves.

It has been a year since the atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state led to the exodus of some 700,000 Rohingya—some 60 percent of whom where children, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF)—into neighbouring Bangladesh and to the coastal Cox’s Bazar district were the refugee camps have been set up.

And life remains difficult for the children in these camps.

While some who live in the squalid camps find it hard to envision themselves returning to a normal life; others, like Mohammed, dream of justice.

“I want justice… I want the soldiers to face trial,” he tells IPS, saying he wants justice from the soldiers who “ruined his life”.

“They killed our people, grabbed our land and torched our houses. They killed both my mother and father. I am now living with my sister,” he says.


A year ago, on Aug. 25, Myanmar government forces responded to a Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attack on a military base. But, according to the report by the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, “the nature, scale and organisation of the operations suggests a level of preplanning and design on the part of the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] leadership.”

The report outlines how  “the operations were designed to instil immediate terror, with people woken by intense rapid weapons fire, explosions, or the shouts and screams of villagers. Structures were set ablaze and Tatmadaw soldiers fired their guns indiscriminately into houses and fields, and at villagers.”

It also notes that “rape and other forms of sexual violence were perpetrated on a massive scale” and that “sometimes up to 40 women and girls were raped or gang raped together. One survivor stated, “I was lucky, I was only raped by three men.””

The report calls for a full investigation into genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, calling for Myanmar’s top generals to be investigated for genocide in Rakhine state.

Senior-general Min Aung Hlaing is listed in the report as an alleged direct perpetrator of crimes, while the head of state, Aung San Suu Kyi, was heavily criticised in the report for not using her position “nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events, or seek alternative avenues to meet a responsibility to protect the civilian population.”

While rights agencies have responded to the report calling on international bodies and the U.N. to hold to account those responsible for the crimes, local groups have been calling for long-term solutions to aid the surviving Rohingya children.

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Since their arrival in Bangladesh many Rohingya children have not received a proper education, while the healthcare facilities have been strained by the large numbers of people seeking assistance.

While scores of global and local NGOs, aid groups, U.N. agencies and the Bangladesh government are working to support the refugees, aid workers are concerned as many of the children remain traumatised by their experiences.

While they are receiving trauma counselling, it is still not enough.

“Whenever there is a darkness at night, I’m scared and feel somebody is coming to kill us… sometimes I see it in my dream when I’m asleep… sometimes I see our room is filled with blood,” 11-year-old Ayesha Ali*, who was studying at a madrassa at Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, tells IPS.

UNICEF in an alert last week warned that denial of basic rights could result in the Rohingya children becoming a “lost generation”.

“With no end in sight to their bleak exile, despair and hopelessness are growing among the refugees, alongside a fatalism about what the future has in store,” the alert states.

It is estimated that 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are housed in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh. Credit: Mojibur Rahaman Rana/IPS

A number of children in the camps have lost either one or both parents. Last November, Bangladesh’s department of social services listed 39,841 Rohingya children as having lost either their mother or father, or lost contact with them during the exodus. A total of 8,391 children lost both of their parents.

“Most of the children saw the horrors of brutality and if they are not properly dealt with, they might have developed a mind of retaliation. Sometimes the small children talk like this: ‘We’ll kill the army…because they killed our people.’ They are growing up with a sort of hatred for the Myanmar army,” aid worker Abdul Mannan tells IPS.

And while there are 136 specialised, child-friendly zones for children and hundreds of learning centre across Cox Bazar, UNICEF notes it is only now “developing a strategy to ensure consistency and quality in the curriculum.”

BRAC, a development organisation based in Bangladesh, points out current learning centres and other facilities for children are not enough for the proper schooling and future development of the children.

“What we’re giving to the children is not enough to stand them in good stead,” Mohammed Abdus Salam, head of humanitarian crisis management programme of BRAC, tells IPS.

Newly arrived Rohingya refugees enter Teknaf from Shah Parir Dwip after being ferried from Myanmar across the Naf River. Credit: Farid Ahmed/ IPS

Salam says that the children and women in the camps also remain vulnerable. “Especially the boys and girls who have lost their parents or guardians are the most vulnerable as there was no long-term programme for them,” he says, adding that many were still traumatised and suffered from nightmares. Cox Bazar is a hub of drugs and human traffickers, and children without guardians remain at risk.

Both the Bangladesh government and international aid officials say that they are trying hard to cope with the situation in Cox Bazar which is the largest and most densely-populated refugee settlement in the world.

But Salam says that it is urgent to formulate long-term plans for both education and healthcare if the repatriation process was procrastinated. “Otherwise, many of the children will be lost as they are not properly protected,” he says.

*Names changed to protect the identity of the children.

Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams in Johannesburg.

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Rohingya Refugees Left in Limbo One Year Onhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/rohingya-refugees-left-limbo-one-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-left-limbo-one-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/rohingya-refugees-left-limbo-one-year/#respond Wed, 22 Aug 2018 16:05:44 +0000 Jan Egeland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157318 Jan Egeland is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council

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Rohingya refugees now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Credit: ASM Suza Uddin/IPS

By Jan Egeland
OSLO, Aug 22 2018 (IPS)

Aid funding for refugee relief is running out while conditions are still not in place for the safe return of over 700,000 people forced to flee Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh after violence broke out one year ago.

The mass human exodus of refugees from Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, which started on 25 August 2017, was one of the fastest growing refugee crises last year. It then attracted huge international attention, but one year on only 34 percent of the United Nations aid appeal to help the refugees and the host community has been funded.

The Rohingya refugees are living in limbo. The safety of families returning to Myanmar cannot be guaranteed, yet they’re receiving scant international support in Bangladeshi camps.

We urgently need to scale up the support. The international community must shoulder more of the enormous responsibility that the Bangladeshi authorities and local communities have taken on, as well as show persecuted Rohingya refugees they are not forgotten.

Facts

Around 900,000 refugees from Myanmar are currently sheltering in Bangladesh. About 725,000 have arrived after 25 August 2017, according to UNHCR.

By 21 August the UN appeal for support to the Rohingya refugee crisis joint response plan was less than 34 percent funded, according to Financial Tracking Service.

NRC is working in Myanmar and through partners in Bangladesh.

NRC’s expert deployment capacity, NORCAP, has worked in Cox’s Bazar since the onset of the disaster last year. So far more than 40 experts have provided shelter, education opportunities, health, water and sanitation services.

Today, Cox’s Bazar is the world´s largest refugee settlement. Most of the displaced are Rohingya, a Muslim minority who have escaped extreme violence and persecution. In total, around 900,000 refugees from Myanmar are currently sheltering in Bangladesh, with the humanitarian aid system overwhelmed by the vast scale of needs.

“I have not cooked any food for my children today. I do not feel safe enough to go out and collect firewood, so I exchanged some food items for fuel, but now I do not have enough to eat,” Janoara, a single mother of two sons, told the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The humanitarian emergency was further compounded by the onset of the monsoon season in June, with heavy rain, flooding, landslides and high winds damaging or destroying refugees’ shelters. Despite ongoing relocations to safer land, the camps are still dangerously overcrowded, with the average usable space reported to be a mere 10.7 square meters per person.

Far more appropriate land is needed – a major challenge in one of the already most densely populated countries in the world. In Cox’s Bazar, rumours abound and people are worried about being expected to return to their villages before their own preconditions for repatriation are met.

“I will not return before Rohingyas get citizenship, equal rights, free movement and compensation for the houses they burned down and my land. I will not return with my family before we feel completely safe,” Nurul Amin (35) told the Norwegian Refugee Council. He fled Rakhine about one year ago and his demands are echoed by many others in the camps.

The Rohingya people have the right to return. One year after the start of this crisis, we urgently need to speed up efforts to ensure conditions for voluntary, safe and dignified return, in line with international standards.

Access for humanitarian agencies to people requiring assistance in northern Rakhine State is currently restricted and it is not possible to independently verify information about conditions in the locations of return. There are also no guarantees in place that returnees will be allowed to return to their original homes and land, or to a place of their choice.

Humanitarian agencies need full access to people in need in northern Rakhine State to make independent assessments, provide assistance and protect communities who want to return.

 

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Excerpt:

Jan Egeland is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council

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Support of Influential World Leaders Not Enough to End Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis/#respond Thu, 19 Jul 2018 21:04:56 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156793 Despite having the strong support of influential global leaders, Bangladesh has “missed” the opportunity to mobilise the world’s superpowers and place pressure on Myanmar to allow for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.  Experts specialising in international affairs expressed their disappointment to IPS that despite the recent joint visit by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres […]

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Rohingya refugees now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Credit: ASM Suza Uddin/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Jul 19 2018 (IPS)

Despite having the strong support of influential global leaders, Bangladesh has “missed” the opportunity to mobilise the world’s superpowers and place pressure on Myanmar to allow for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. 

Experts specialising in international affairs expressed their disappointment to IPS that despite the recent joint visit by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, the world’s biggest refugee crisis remains unresolved.

“No single event of such magnitude ever drew so much global attention and solidarity, not even the ethnic cleansing in the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina where tens of thousands of Muslims were killed in conflicts among the three main ethnic groups,” professor Tareq Shamsur Rehman, who teaches International Relations at Jahangirnagar University, told IPS.

Since the influx of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees from August last year, leaders from around the world have visited Bangladesh, travelling to the coastal Cox’s Bazar district were the refugee camps are. 

Foreign ministers from Japan, Germany and Sweden; a high-level delegation from 58 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation; a delegation from the U.N. Security Council and the European Union; a United States Congressional fact-finding mission and Dhaka-based diplomats have all heard the recounts of the refugees. In February, Nobel Laureates Mairead Maguire, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman travelled to Cox’s Bazar to highlight the plight of the Rohingya.

During his visit earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Guterres said he heard “heartbreaking” accounts of suffering from the refugees and expressed concern about the conditions in the camps ahead of the monsoon season.

The World Bank announced almost half a billion dollars in grant-based support to Bangladesh for health, education, sanitation, disaster preparedness, and other services for the refugees until they can return home safely, voluntarily and with dignity.

But the aid may have come too late. In Bangladesh some 63 million of the country’s 160 million people live below the poverty line. The influx of over one million refugees has impacted not only the country’s monetary resources, but natural resources also. The environmental impact is significant as over a million refugees are now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Trees on over 20 acres of land near the camps are being cut down daily for firewood for cooking.

And there has been a social impact too. Some locals have said that since the arrival of the refugees the crime rate in Ukhiya has increased, with many accusing the Rohingya of assault, murder, human trafficking and drug dealing.

“The solution to the Rohingya crisis is possible if two-way pressure on Myanmar is possible. The way the U.S. imposed sanctions on North Korea, like preventing remittance and imposing economic sanctions, it has really had the desired impact,” Mohammad Zamir, a former ambassador and international relations analyst, told IPS.

“If the world imposes a similar ban on Myanmar that there will be no foreign investment in Myanmar, I think they would then be under tremendous pressure and may bow to the demands to repatriate the Rohingya refugees. If the world adopts these preventive measures on Myanmar then there will be a possibility to solve the Rohingya problem.”

It is estimated that over one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are housed in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh. Credit: Mojibur Rahaman Rana/IPS

IPS visited Cox’s Bazar early this month and spoke to a number of people in the 21 Rohingya camps, including those in the largest camps of Kutupalong and Balukhali.

Mohammad Mohibullah, a spokesperson for the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, told IPS that while they welcomed the visit of U.N. and World Bank chiefs, “the money they pledged is for our survival and not for resolving our crisis.”

“We have not noticed any effective role of the leaders in pressurising Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya,” Abdul Gaffar, another spokesman for the group told IPS. “They come and go but leave us with no hope of any permanent solution. We want to return to our ancestral home and not live in shambles like we are doing now.”

In January, the Myanmar government agreed with Bangladesh to take back Rohingya refugees. However, weeks after the agreement they allowed only about 50 families, mostly comprising Hindus, to return. Then the so-called repatriation process stopped after Myanmar demanded that a joint Bangladeshi/Myanmaris team first identify the Rohingya as their citizens.

The U.N. and other international agencies have previously been denied access to Rakhine State to assess the conditions for returning refugees, however, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi was allowed entry in May. Then in June the Myanmar government signed an agreement with the U.N. Refugee Agency and U.N. Development Programme as a first step in setting up a framework for the return of the refugees.

But the process is slow.

Just this week the country’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, urged U.N. Special Envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener to persuade Myanmar to take back the refugees.

Experts have pointed out the “misreading in diplomacy” by Bangladesh towards resolving the Rohingya crisis has resulted in the current deadlock.

“Instead of using influential powers like China and Russia, Bangladesh engaged itself in bi-lateral negotiation, which is a stalemate. They [Myanmar] have clearly demonstrated defiance once again. For instance, every demand we put forward, like the demand for fixing the start of repatriation date, Myanmar instead of complying with the bilateral agreement insisted on verifying their citizens – a tactic used to delay the process and ultimately enforce deadlock,” professor Delware Hossain from the International Relations Department at the University of Dhaka told IPS.

“What we really need is lobbying with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council who have the powers to impose economic, military and political sanctions. It is sad though that until now we have not seen our foreign ministers visiting Moscow, Beijing, London and Paris in mobilising them acting in favour of Bangladesh,” Rehman said, adding that in other international cases of genocide, military leaders have been identified, tried and punished because of the strong commitment and involvement of leading nations.

Others argue that despite such powerful political support, even from the United States, Myanmar remains unmoved continuing their mission of ethnic cleansing.

Human rights organisation, Fortify Rights, stated in a report released today, Jul. 19, that the lack of action by the international community against the 2016 attacks against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State allowed Myanmar to proceed with genocide. The report is based on over 250 interviews conducted over two years with eyewitnesses, survivors of attacks, and Myanmar military and police sources, among others.

“The international community failed to act after the Myanmar Army killed, raped, tortured, and forcibly displaced Rohingya civilians in October and November 2016. That inaction effectively paved the way for genocide, providing the Myanmar authorities with an enabling environment to make deeper preparations for more mass atrocity crimes,” the report stated.

But professor Amena Mohsin who teaches International Relations at the University of Dhaka believes that there is significance to the recent visits of Guterres and Kim.

“Let us not forget that the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly will open in September next and their visits act as a pressure. We hope that the Rohingya issue will be discussed during the assembly and Myanmar will further feel the pressure,” Mohsin told IPS.

World Bank Group spokesperson in Washington, David Theis, responded to questions from IPS, saying they were collaborating closely with the U.N. and other partners to encourage Myanmar to put in place the conditions for “the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees and to improve the welfare of all communities in Rakhine State.”

He said they would incentivise further progress through a proposed project focused on employment and economic opportunities for all communities in Rakhine State.

“This is part of our strategy to stay fully engaged in Myanmar’s economic transition, with a greater focus on social inclusion in conflict-affected areas.”

However, noted journalist Afsan Chowdhury told IPS that the U.N. had not been very effective since the Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh. “One of the reasons is that the U.N. is effective only when big powers are interested. The World Bank’s impact in this issue is very low end, not a high end impact, as I see it.”

Additional reporting by A S M Suza Uddin from Cox Bazaar.

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Myanmar Unlikely to Resolve Rohingya Problem Without International Helphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/myanmar-unlikely-resolve-rohingya-problem-without-international-help/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-unlikely-resolve-rohingya-problem-without-international-help http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/myanmar-unlikely-resolve-rohingya-problem-without-international-help/#respond Wed, 25 Apr 2018 09:53:14 +0000 Trevor Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155462 Trevor Wilson is a retired Australian diplomat who served as Australian Ambassador to Myanmar from 2000-03, and has been Visiting Fellow at The Australian National University since 2003.

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Trevor Wilson is a retired Australian diplomat who served as Australian Ambassador to Myanmar from 2000-03, and has been Visiting Fellow at The Australian National University since 2003.

By Trevor Wilson
CANBERRA, Apr 25 2018 (IPS)

The lead-up to the Australia-ASEAN Summit in Sydney on 16-18 March 2018 was characterised by widespread and well-publicised protests in Sydney against human rights abuses occurring in several ASEAN member countries – namely Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

These protests dominated pre-summit media coverage and likely surprised some ASEAN leaders who might not have expected such a public outcry. In some instances, the protests were accompanied by quite negative commentary in Australian media.

Trevor Wilson

As Myanmar’s State Counsellor and de facto head of government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended the Australia-ASEAN summit for Myanmar. This was her first official visit to Australia, although she had visited in late 2013 when she was a mere member of parliament, before her National League for Democracy (NLD) won a resounding victory in the November 2015 general elections.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was accorded the courtesy of a full state visit to Canberra. Yet throughout her visit, she faced constant criticism from the Australian public over her government’s handling of its Muslim minority group, the Rohingya.

Australians are naturally dismayed by the disastrous humanitarian circumstances confronting the Rohingya, large numbers of whom had fled to Bangladesh after heavy-handed military operations against them by the Myanmar Army in August and September 2017.

Both Australian government and non-government responses have led to additional humanitarian assistance flows from Australia to help relief efforts.

So far, this assistance is mainly going to Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh. This does not really get to the heart of the problem, which is ultimately for Myanmar to resolve.

The Rohingya question was reportedly raised in confidential sessions of the Australia-ASEAN Summit but was not mentioned in any official media coverage. In fact, Myanmar’s policy on the Rohingya remains in stalemate.

One important challenge for Suu Kyi is to demonstrate how her government would implement the policies she announced in her 19 September 2017 speech to the Myanmar nation. The world has yet to hear how her policies of inclusion and realising the peace dividend for all Myanmar’s people might be achieved in Rakhine State as a credible part of a compact involving the Rohingya.

Even if tangible and satisfactory outcomes will take time to achieve, Suu Kyi needs to articulate how any truly relevant action plan might be seriously pursued. The people of Myanmar and international donors alike are keen to know that a way forward is worth pursuing.

Any internal solution of the Rohingya issue in Myanmar will eventually need to address the vexed question of citizenship for the Rohingya. However, this seems to be more than Myanmar’s Buddhists can tolerate at the moment, obsessed as they are with any perceived threats to national sovereignty.

Even Aung San Suu Kyi may not have sufficient authority on her own to forge a new national consensus in Myanmar that means treating Rohingya more fairly, and she is still apparently reluctant to entrust finding a way forward to the United Nations.

But it is meaningless to hold her alone morally responsible or to single her out for not doing more when the Rohingya problem has been mismanaged by all concerned for so long.
Whatever transpires, Myanmar will probably not be able to fashion a solution to its Rohingya problem without additional direct international assistance, but any Myanmar government response to the Rohingya problem will be constrained by growing public hostility in the country towards the Muslim population.

There has been some press reporting that the Myanmar Government had decided to allow the United Nations access to the areas where the Rohingya were forced to leave, but UN access to Rakhine State is not confirmed.

A UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission has been waiting for permission to enter Myanmar since late 2017 in order to investigate allegations of human rights abuses against the Rohingya.

The issue of whether or not Australia should provide direct assistance to Myanmar will now need delicate consideration, free from any additional constraints from ASEAN. This is especially the case since achieving an ‘ASEAN consensus’ may not be feasible.

Australia has a strategic interest in having the Rohingya problem resolved on an enduring basis, but Australia does not necessarily have the clout to do this on its own.

It would require working more intensively to persuade all stakeholders to take the Annan Commission recommendations seriously, to establish a better and more transparent regional basis for cross-border migrant workers, and to ensure that those whose claims to refugee status can be verified are granted protection in countries like Australia, where Rohingya have proved to be excellent citizens.

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Excerpt:

Trevor Wilson is a retired Australian diplomat who served as Australian Ambassador to Myanmar from 2000-03, and has been Visiting Fellow at The Australian National University since 2003.

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The Nowhere People: Rohingyas in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/nowhere-people-rohingyas-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nowhere-people-rohingyas-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/nowhere-people-rohingyas-india/#respond Wed, 25 Apr 2018 00:04:26 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155451 A devastating fire in a shanty at Kalindi Kunj, a New Delhi suburb, that gutted the homes of 226 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, including 100 women and 50 children, has trained a spotlight on India’s ad hoc policy on international migrants. Already persecuted in their country of origin, Rohingyas — the largest stateless population in […]

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Rohingya refugees in India face discrimination and threats of deportation back to Myanmar. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Rohingya refugees in India face discrimination and threats of deportation back to Myanmar. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Apr 25 2018 (IPS)

A devastating fire in a shanty at Kalindi Kunj, a New Delhi suburb, that gutted the homes of 226 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, including 100 women and 50 children, has trained a spotlight on India’s ad hoc policy on international migrants.

Already persecuted in their country of origin, Rohingyas — the largest stateless population in the world at three million — have found shelter across vast swathes of Asia including in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh alone, who now face the onset of the monsoon season in flimsy shelters."As a big regional player, the refugee crisis presents India with a unique opportunity to set an example and work out a long-term resolution to this humanitarian crisis." --Dr. Ranjan Biswas

Demographers note that the Rohingyas’ displacement, while on a particularly dramatic scale, is illustrative of a larger global trend. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the world is witnessing the highest level of displacement on record with 22.5 million refugees, over half of them under 18, languishing in different parts of the world in search of a normal life.

Often referred to as the boat people – because they journey in packed boats to escape their homeland — around 40,000 Rohingyas have trickled into India over the past three years to cities like New Delhi, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Jammu where their population is the largest. Some had settled in the Kalindi Kunj camp that was set up in 2012 by a non-profit on a 150-odd square metre plot that it owns.

The camp’s occupants worked as daily wage labourers or were employed with private companies. A few even ran kirana (grocery) kiosks near the camp. Most of these refugees had landed in Delhi after failed stints in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh or Jammu (a northern Indian city), where they were repeatedly targeted by radical Hindu groups.

Nurudddin, 56, who lost all his belongings and papers in the Kalindi Kunj fire, told IPS that he has been living like a vagabond since he fled Myanmar with his wife and four children in 2016. “We left Myanmar to go to Bangladesh but we faced a lot of hardships there too. I couldn’t get a job, there was no proper food or accommodation. We arrived in Delhi last year with a lot of hope but so far things haven’t been going too well here either,” said the frail man with a grey beard.

Following the Kalindi Kunj fire, and public complaints about the government’s neglect of Rohingya camps, the Supreme Court intervened. On April 9, the apex court asked the Centre to file a comprehensive status report in four weeks on the civic amenities at two Rohingya camps in Delhi and Haryana, following allegations that basic facilities like drinking water and toilets were missing from these settlements.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Rohingyas told the court that the refugees were being subjected to discrimination with regard to basic amenities. However, this was refuted by Additional Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta who, appearing for the Centre said there was no discrimination against the Rohingyas. The court will again take up the matter on May 9.

A Rohingya campsite in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

A Rohingya campsite in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The Rohingya issue entered mainstream public discourse last August when the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party government abruptly asked the country’s 29 states to identify illegal immigrants for deportation –  including, the guidance said, Rohingya Muslims who had fled Myanmar.

“As per available estimates there are around 40,000 Rohingyas living illegally in the country,” India’s junior home minister Kiren Rijiju then told Parliament: “The government has issued detailed instructions for deportation of illegal foreign nationals including Rohingyas.”

In its affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Centre claimed that Rohingya refugees posed a “serious national security threat” and that their deportation was in the “larger interest” of the country. It also asked the court to “decline its interference” in the matter.

The Centre’s decision to deport the Rohingyas attracted domestic as well as global opprobrium. “It is both unprecedented and impractical,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told Scroll.in. “It is unprecedented because India has never been unwelcoming of refugees, let alone conducting such mass deportation,” she said. “And I would call it impractical because where would they [the Indian government] send these people? They have no passports and the Myanmar government is not going to accept them as legitimate citizens.”

Some critics also pointed out that the Rohingyas were being targeted by the ruling Hindu Bhartiya Janata Party government because they were Muslims, an allegation the Centre has refuted.

Parallels have also been drawn with refugees from other countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have comfortably made India their home over the years. However, to keep a strict vigil against the Rohingyas’ influx, the Indian government has specially stationed 6,000 soldiers on the India-Bangladesh border.

Activists say that despite thousands of refugees and asylum seekers (204,600 in 2011 as per the Central government) already living in India, refugees’ rights are a grey area. An overarching feeling is that refugees pose a security threat and create demographic imbalances. A domestic legal framework to extend basic rights to refugees is also missing.

Since the government’s crackdown, Rohingya groups have been lobbying to thwart their deportation to their native land. In a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India titled Mohammed Salimullah vs Union of India (Writ Petition no. 793 of 2017), they have demanded that they be allowed to stay on in India.

However, the government has contented that the plea of the petitioner is untenable, on grounds that India is not a signatory to the UN Convention of 1951. The convention relates to the status of refugees, and the Protocol of 1967, under the principle of non-refoulement. This principle states that refugees will not be deported to a country where they face threat of persecution. The matter is now in the Supreme Court of India which is saddled with the onerous task of balancing national security with the human rights of the refugees.

However, as Shubha Goswami, a senior advocate with the High Court points out, while India may not have signed the refugee convention, it is still co-signatory to many other important international conventions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the principle of non-refoulement, and it is legally binding that India provide for the Rohingyas.

There’s growing public opinion as well that the government should embrace and empower these hapless people.

“Rather than resent their presence, India should accept the Rohingyas as it has other migrants,” elaborates Dr. Ranjan Biswas, ex-professor sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “As a big regional player, the refugee crisis presents India with a unique opportunity to set an example and work out a long-term resolution to this humanitarian crisis which will usher in peace and stability in the region.”

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First They Came for the Rohingyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/first-came-rohingya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-came-rohingya http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/first-came-rohingya/#respond Thu, 12 Apr 2018 17:31:48 +0000 Azeem Ibrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155256 Other ethnic minorities will be Myanmar’s next victims.

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Rohingya people wait after arriving to Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Credit: IPS

By Azeem Ibrahim
Apr 12 2018 (IPS)

In recent months, international media coverage of Myanmar has focused on the plight of the Rohingya people in the west of the country. And for good reason: Since August 2017, brutal army attacks on this Muslim ethnic minority have sent more than 750,000 people — 90 percent of the Rohingya population living in Rakhine state — fleeing over the border to Bangladesh, in what can only be described as a coordinated campaign of genocide.

The numbers are staggering, but the hate isn’t new: The Rohingya, one of the world’s largest stateless groups, have long been a favorite target for persecution by the country’s Buddhist central authorities. The Rohingya have a different religion, a different skin color, and speak a different language than most of their neighbors.

The campaign against the Rohingya has radically expanded the military’s capacity for ethnic cleansing and, perhaps more importantly, seems to have emboldened it, as the bulkof the population appears to support the army’s aggression toward the group.

Yet their well-publicized tragedy has obscured a darker truth about Myanmar: The country is in the midst of one of the longest multifront civil wars in the world. Each facet of this conflict cleaves along ethnic or religious lines — often both. The assault on the Rohingya is thus far from Myanmar’s only active military campaign against a minority group. And as soon as the Rohingya are completely removed from the country, the military will be free to redeploy its resources elsewhere.

When that time comes, Myanmar’s remaining minorities are likely to experience similar treatment. Many of these groups have been in the military’s crosshairs for more than half a century. Yet the persecution to come will far exceed anything they’ve suffered before. The campaign against the Rohingya has radically expanded the military’s capacity for ethnic cleansing and, perhaps more importantly, seems to have emboldened it, as the bulk of the population appears to support the army’s aggression toward the group.

To understand why all these conflicts have endured for as long as they have and why they are accelerating now, consider Myanmar’s demographic and political dynamics. Sixty-eight percent of the country’s population is Bamar (ethnic Burmese). The Bamar are primarily concentrated around the Irrawaddy Valley, the country’s heartland. Myanmar is also 88 percent Buddhist, and the majority of that group adheres to the conservative Theravada doctrine.

Surrounding the Irrawaddy Valley are a range of border areas home to a plethora of ethnic and religious minorities — almost all of which have sought independence from the central government at one time or another since 1948, when Myanmar, then known as Burma, gained independence from the British.

These secessionist movements stem from the fact that, soon after independence, Bamar Theravada Buddhists won overwhelming control of the government and the military and soon stamped theirs as the official identity of the state. In the years that followed, as a succession of military dictatorships attempted to build a unified nation, they systematically marginalized and repressed religious and ethnic minorities using a variety of extremely heavy-handed measures.

Numerous groups were denied citizenship, saw their villages demolished, and had their marriage rights curtailed. Authorities in Rakhine state have limited the number of children Rohingya Muslims are allowed to have — typically a maximum of two, just below the population replacement rate.

In the past few years, skirmishes between the army and the secessionist movements have intensified once again as the federal army has found new resolve. In 2011, battles between Myanmar’s military and the separatist Kachin Independence Army in the country’s north displaced nearly 100,000 Kachin people. Seven years later, the displaced are still living ininternal refugee camps, with few prospects for rebuilding their lives. And in the last two years, the army has increasingly taken to shelling targets in or near the civilian camps and villages.

In nearby northern Shan state, the military and the Taang National Liberation Army recently reopened hostilities — a continuation of a conflict that dates back to 1963. Over the last nine years, fighting between the army and the nearby ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army has sent tens of thousands of refugees over the border to China. To the south, the army has targeted Christians among the Karen people, driving more than 100,000 refugeeinto Thailand over the last couple of decades.

It’s not just such displacements that darkly echo the Rohingya situation. Kachin and Karen women have reported that the military has used rape against them as a form of repression, much like the mass rapes reported by Rohingya refugees.

This story was originally published by Foreign Policy

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Excerpt:

Other ethnic minorities will be Myanmar’s next victims.

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Rohingya Crisis May Be Genocide, UN Officials Sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/rohingya-crisis-may-genocide-un-officials-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-crisis-may-genocide-un-officials-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/rohingya-crisis-may-genocide-un-officials-say/#comments Wed, 14 Mar 2018 09:51:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154806 In the wake of persistent violence against the Rohingya community, UN officials have expressed growing fears that genocide is being incited and committed in Myanmar. Since violence renewed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Often arriving to limited food and shelter, refugees have brought […]

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A Rohingya refugee woman carries relief supplies to her makeshift shelter. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 14 2018 (IPS)

In the wake of persistent violence against the Rohingya community, UN officials have expressed growing fears that genocide is being incited and committed in Myanmar.

Since violence renewed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

Often arriving to limited food and shelter, refugees have brought with them stories of serious human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and the deliberate burning of entire villages.

“I am becoming more convinced that the crimes committed following 9 October 2016 and 25 August 2017 bear the hallmarks of genocide and call in the strongest terms for accountability,” UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

She expressed concern that the “repressive practices of previous military governments were returning at the norm once more.”

Spreading Hate through Social Media

Lee highlighted the toxic use of social media to incite violence and particularly pointed to the role of Facebook in spreading high levels of hate speech against the Rohingya minority in the Southeast Asian nation.

“Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar…it was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities,” she said.

A UN fact-finding mission also recently found that social media had a “determining role” and was “substantively contributing” to the violence in Myanmar.

Most recently, Facebook suspended the account of Buddhist monk Wirathu who is known for his nationalist, anti-Muslim messages particularly disseminated through social media.

Though he has denied fueling violence in Rakhine, Wirathu recently claimed that the state was experiencing “terrorism of Bengalis,” a label implying that Rohingya are from Bangladesh rather than Myanmar.

“I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast,” Lee said.

A Systematic Removal

Having been denied access to the country, Lee presented a report to the council this week based on her visits to neighboring countries of Bangladesh and Thailand which revealed the extent of Myanmar’s human rights violations.

Among the issues raised by refugees, the Special Rapporteur was especially saddened by the targeting of Rohingya children.

She estimates that at least 730 children under the age of five were killed in the first month of violence alone.

While approximately 60 percent of the refugee population is children, the UN estimates that up to 200,000 children are still in Rakhine.

Earlier this month, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that Rohingyas who try to leave their villages “are taken away and never return” and found a “recurring theme” of women and girls being abducted.

The agency also found an ongoing systematic campaign of “terror and forced starvation” which are forcing Rohingya out of the country.

In a recent report, Amnesty International reported that forces are bulldozing land and building military bases where Rohingya villages were burned down.

Not only does this prevent refugees from returning, but it also hides authorities’ crimes.

“The bulldozing of entire villages is incredibly worrying. Myanmar’s authorities are erasing evidence of crimes against humanity, making any future attempts to hold those responsible to account extremely difficult,” said Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director Tirana Hassan.

This has raised concerns for both Amnesty International and the Special Rapporteur over the Bangladesh-Myanmar arrangement to repatriate Rohingya refugees as they will return to find their homes gone and face continued discrimination.

“No one should be returned to Myanmar until they can do so voluntarily, in safety and dignity – something that is clearly not possible today,” Amnesty International said.

Accountability for Peace

In light of Myanmar’s denial that any atrocities were committed, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who also suggested acts of genocide may be taking place, called for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“What we’re saying is…there are strong suspicions, yes, that acts of genocide may well have taken place. But only a court, having heard all the arguments, will confirm this,” he said.

In her report, Lee urged for steps towards accountability in order to bring long-lasting peace and stability in Myanmar.

“This must be aimed at the individuals who gave the orders and carried out violations against individuals and entire ethnic and religious groups…the government leadership who did nothing to intervene, stop, or condemn these acts must also be held accountable,” she told the Council.

Lee called for an impartial and comprehensive investigation not only in Myanmar, but also into actions by the UN system in the lead-up to and after the reported attacks in 2016.

“The external review should assess whether the UN and international community could have prevented or managed the situation differently,” she said.

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Fear and Uncertainty Grip Rohingya Women in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/fear-uncertainty-grip-rohingya-women-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fear-uncertainty-grip-rohingya-women-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/fear-uncertainty-grip-rohingya-women-india/#respond Tue, 06 Mar 2018 01:57:38 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154637 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Rohingya refugee women in Jammu, India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Rohingya refugee women in Jammu, India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
JAMMU, India, Mar 6 2018 (IPS)

In the semi-lit makeshift tent covered with strips of cardboard, five women sit in a huddle. As their young children, covered in specks of mud and soot, move around noisily, the women try to hush them down. Hollow-eyed and visibly malnourished, all the women also appear afraid.

Aged 19-30, they have two things in common: one, they are Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and two, they all live in fear of being sent back to the country they were forced to flee.“In Burma, they are still killing our people. Here, they say we are Bangladeshis. We do not even speak Bangla. Where shall we go? --Ansari

“I came here when I was 13. Now I am 19,” says Nur Kalina, the youngest. She faintly remembers running with her parents from their village in Myanmar’s violence-wracked Rakhine state.

“From Akhyep (Akyab, currently known as Sittwe) we started. We ran through rice fields, then by the river. When we came to Cox’s Bazar (across the border in Bangladesh), our fellow villagers were there. My aunt was there. They said, there is no food, no work, no future here. So my parents came here.”

All the other women in the room – Leila, Shamshida, Taiyyaba and Rahena – nod. Their stories are not very different from Kalina’s. Each one of them came to Jammu in 2012. Since then, the rows of huts in the Kiriyani Talav neighborhood of northern India’s Jammu city have been their home. They all got married here and became mothers.

Each one of them has relatives who are still living in Sittwe who call every now and then to talk about the current situation. Every time, they share news of fresh attacks and new names of relatives and neighbors who have been murdered. “They always tell us, don’t come back here,” says Laila.

Rohingyas in Jammu

There are around 5,743 Rohingyas in Jammu & Kashmir state, according to the state government. Scattered over Jammu, the summer capital of the state, and neighboring Samba district, their number is a fraction of that in Bangladesh (858,898) or Pakistan (350,000).

Yet this tiny population is at the center of a controversy with some local factions accusing them of indulging in criminal activities such as land grabs, illegal settlement and aiding terrorists, and demanding their repatriation.

One of the political parties spearheading the opposition against the Rohingyas is the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JNKPP), a Jammu-based right-wing group led by Harshdev Singh. Singh, formerly a minister in the state, would not talk to IPS despite granting an appointment, but his party has been very vocal in demanding a quick repatriation of the Rohingyas. On March 3, he led a protest march in Jammu and urged the home minister of India to send back the Rohingyas, who he described as a security threat.

“The illegal immigrants pose a threat to communal harmony and pluralism of Jammu. The Union Home Minister should personally intervene and direct the state government to take necessary action in this regard otherwise the situation in Jammu could take an ugly turn like in Kashmir,” Singh was quoted as saying by local media.

Opposition to the Rohingyas intensified after a terrorist attack on an army camp in Sunjwan, an area on the city outskirts. Right after the attack, Kavinder Gupta, a local politican, accused the Rohingyas of being involved in the attack. Although he was criticized by other lawmakers, his party members stood by him.

India, which has not signed the International Refugee Convention, asked the states in August 2017 to identify the Rohingyas for a possible deportation. The decision, however, has since been challenged in the Supreme Court of India by some Rohingya refugees.

A child plays outside a makeshift home in a Rohingya camp, Jammu, India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A child plays outside a makeshift home in a Rohingya camp, Jammu, India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Fear in the air

Hazara, who asked to go by her first name only, is a 29-year-old Rohingya refugee woman living in a hut bordering the army camp in Sunjwan. Like all the other women Rohingya refugees, Hazara never went to school. With no education and no specific skills, the single mother of two was earning her livelihood by shelling walnuts for her non-Rohingya neighbors. The wages of INR 12 (less than a quarter) for each kilogramme of walnuts were not very high, but they helped the woman feed herself and her family.

However, since the attack on the army camp, it has become difficult to find work.

“The next day when I went to work, they said, ‘You are troublemakers, we don’t want you here.’ Everyone was looking at me suspiciously, as if I have done something very bad,” recalls Hazara, who is now working as a part time domestic for a Kashmiri Muslim family. This will help her pay the rent for the hut – a princely sum of INR 500 (about 7 dollars) – but not enough to feed herself and her children. Hazara is largely dependent on a Madrasa (religious school) run by fellow Rohingyas for her survival.

Mushtaq Ahmed, one of the 16 teachers at the school, says that right after the attack on the army camp, security forces entered the school to question them about the assailants. Since then, the attitude of the neighbors changed dramatically.

“Since 2017, we have been hearing things like we are collabrating with militants, helping them, etc, but this time, the attacks are more direct. Some women are still shelling wallnuts, but once the season is over, who knows what will happen?” Ahmed said.

Illiteracy, child marriage and poor health

There are 40 Rohingya refugee families in Kiriyani Talav locality. None of the women in these families has had a formal education. Uneducated and unskilled, they were married before the age of 18.

Nur Kalina was married at 14. “The elders in the community said it’s a sin to stay unmarried for long. So my parents got me married soon after I started to menstruate,” recalls Kalina. All of 19, the young woman already has three children.

“Child marriage is rampant in the Rohingya refugee community,” says Ravi Hemadri, who heads the Development and Justice Initiative (DAJI), a Delhi-based NGO that partnered with UNHCR until last month in documenting the Rohingya refugees and helping them access the aid and support they are entitled to.

At DAJI, activists have been campaigning against early marriage, Hemadri says, but the progress is slow. The refugees live in extreme poverty which drives the families to marry off their daughters early, he explains.

Laila Begum, 34, and Taiyyaba, 29, have asthma, while Taiyyaba has a 3-year-old daughter with stunted growth and weak limbs. As many as 12 women in the camp said they are suffering from respiratory diseases, while some, including Kalina’s mother Medina, 54, has tuberculosis. Kalina also has chronic lower back pain that often keeps her in bed.

None of the women gets regular medical treatment because they can’t afford it. Laila, who has visited the government-run hospital a few times for free medicine, says that the hospital asked her to pay INR 2000 (about 30 dollars) for medicine the last time.

“I don’t have so much money,” she said, adding that only the widows among them are entitled to some aid – 10 kgs of free rice each month.

Hope in the middle of hopelessness

Early this year, the UNHCR ended its partnership with DAJI in Jammu. The UN organization also advised the Rohingyas to move elsewhere in view of the growing political opposition. Since then, some of the Rohingya refugees – about 200 of them – have indeed moved out of Jammu.

But the women refugees say that despite the growing threat to their safety, leaving is not an option. “In Burma, they are still killing our people. Here, they say we are Bangladeshis. We do not even speak Bangla. Where shall we go? Why shall we leave? There is no safe place for us, so only way is to keep quiet,” says Ansari, a Rohingya woman.

The post Fear and Uncertainty Grip Rohingya Women in India appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Women Peace Laureates Condemn Inaction on Rohingya “Genocide”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/women-peace-laureates-condemn-inaction-rohingya-genocide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-peace-laureates-condemn-inaction-rohingya-genocide http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/women-peace-laureates-condemn-inaction-rohingya-genocide/#respond Fri, 02 Mar 2018 15:37:46 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154587 Nobel Laureates Mairead Maguire, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman met with more than 100 women refugees in camps in the coastal Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh this week, as well as travelling to the “no man’s land” where thousands of Rohingya have been stranded between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Shirin Ebadi […]

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Rohingya people alight from a boat as they arrive at Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Credit: IPS

Rohingya people alight from a boat as they arrive at Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Credit: IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Mar 2 2018 (IPS)

Nobel Laureates Mairead Maguire, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman met with more than 100 women refugees in camps in the coastal Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh this week, as well as travelling to the “no man’s land” where thousands of Rohingya have been stranded between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Shirin Ebadi of Iran spoke to IPS correspondent Naimul Haq in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka.

Maguire is a co-founder of Peace People, a movement committed to building a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland. She and Betty Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976. She is well known for her work with victims of conflict around the world.

Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer, former judge and human rights activist and founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially women’s, children’s, and refugee rights.

From left to right (center), Tawakkol Karman, Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire. IPS correspondent Naimul Haq stands behind Ms. Maguire. Credit: IPS

From left to right (center), Tawakkol Karman, Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire. IPS correspondent Naimul Haq stands behind Ms. Maguire. Credit: IPS

Following are excerpts from the exclusive interviews.

IPS: You have called for trials of the Myanmar leaders in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for committing alleged genocide. How do you intend to seek justice when the world seems to be so divided over the Rohingya issue?

Mairead Maguire: “The leaders in Myanmar have committed genocide and we have all the witnesses for that. We heard women [speak of] being tortured, raped and their homes being burnt.”

Maguire related the story of a woman who was raped repeatedly and left for dead.

“The unconscious woman was later picked up by an elderly woman who took her to safety. That story of that woman being raped can be multiplied many times and you can well imagine the situation. So obviously we can understand that this is a policy of the Myanmar government to terrorize and expel the Rohingya people. They don’t even recognize them as their citizens. So the international community must take steps to do something. And we must take the Myanmar government to the ICC.

“A lot of people are working on this, like international lawyers, and we will continue until this is fulfilled. The second thing that we want to do is that Aung San Suu Kyi is our sister laureate. We believe that as long as she remains silent about what the Myanmar government is doing she is complacent with the genocide. But we want to go and see Aung San Suu Kyi and we want to ask her to break her silence.”

Maguire explained that she and her colleagues wish to speak to envoys of as many countries as possible.

“We would continue to pursue this dialogue with the ambassadors and leaders of the governments. We would also contact the United Nations and the European Parliament until this is taken to the international court.

IPS: What is your opinion on the voices of the global community, especially the influential leaders, remaining silent to a large extent on the Rohingya issue?

“I think many governments have interests in Myanmar, especially economic. In Rakhine state there are lot of resources like diamonds and costly stones. It’s all about money and oil. China also has interests in Maynmar because of these reasons. Unfortunately, many governments put profits before people. It should be other way around – governments should be responsible for taking care of their people. But they don’t want to say anything on human rights and justice because of political interests. However, we have to say as leaders, as Nobel Laureates, people are important, every person is important and it is wrong because of economic and political ties to allow people to be destroyed like this. We have to speak out and move the world’s conscience.

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

IPS: Do you believe that the United Nations has played its due role?

“No, the UN has not done enough. Human beings have a right to life, right to security and the governments must defend those rights of their people. And we have seen what the Myanmar government has done. I was there as part of a Nobel delegation 18 years ago on the Thai border with Myanmar and witnessed Karen people living in refugee camps who had to flee Burma. I had met many women then who were raped and carrying children of Burmese soldiers. So what we have seen in Cox’s Bazar [Rohingyas] the situation is not new. The Burmese military has been doing this for a long, long time.”

IPS: How can media coverage help bring justice to the victims?

“Women told us their stories of children being beaten, women being raped and their husbands being killed and houses burnt, which were absolutely horrific. The surviving women wanted us to tell their stories to the world so that their sufferings are known and they can then seek justice. They can have their national identity and go back to where they belong. So IPS can tell the real stories because when people hear these stories they cannot ignore them. We need the media like you. Because people don’t believe. It is diabolical what the Burmese soldiers have done to the Rohingya people, thinking nobody will know – but when you bring the truth to the light of day they cannot continue like this.”

Asked about the role of Bangladesh in welcoming the Rohingya refugees, she said, “It’s a wonderful example to other countries who have refugees on their borders. You have opened doors for a million or more and Europe is closing their doors. It is indeed a contrasting situation. When we went to the camps I was so astonished to see how well-organised they were. It’s wonderful to see how the government and the NGOs were working together.”

IPS: How can Myanmar be brought before the ICC?

Shirin Ebadi: Unfortunately, Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute [convention] for the ICC. So the only way this can happen is for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to decide to send the case of Myanmar to the ICC as they did in the case of Sudan.

What has happened to the Rohingya people is indeed a crime of genocide. In fact, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union has all acknowledged that it is genocide. That is why I am very much hopeful that the UNSC will debate this case but my only concern is China as a member of the UNSC may use its right to veto because of its economic interests in Myanmar.”

Ebadi also called on the wealthy Muslim countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, to do more for the Muslim-minority Rohingya.

“They are not giving any assistance, or they are giving very little. They prefer to spend their money on buying weapons which they use for killing people. So, my message to them is come and see the plight of the fellow Muslims and how they are being treated and my message is also to the Islamic countries – shame on you for not helping.”

What message would you give to your fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi? And do you also hold her responsible for the situation?

“I am indeed very sorry Aung San Suu Kyi, a person whom I had campaigned for on many occasions when she was under house arrest to secure her release, has now become complacent in the crime against the Rohingyas. My message to Aung San Suu Kyi is you have to break your silence now. You have to stop the genocide otherwise you would be held responsible and you must answer for your crimes at the international criminal court.”

The Nobel Women’s Initiative, in partnership with the local Bangladeshi women’s organization, Naripokkho, hosted the delegation of the Nobel Laureates to Bangladesh to witness and highlight the situation of the Rohingya refugees and the violence against Rohingya women.

Tawakkol Karman was known as “The Mother of the Revolution” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 in recognition of her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding work in Yemen.

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Monsoon Season Threatens More Misery for Rohingyashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/monsoon-season-threatens-misery-rohingyas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=monsoon-season-threatens-misery-rohingyas http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/monsoon-season-threatens-misery-rohingyas/#comments Wed, 28 Feb 2018 00:09:37 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154530 More than half a million Rohingya refugees crammed into over 30 makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh face a critical situation as the cyclone and monsoon season begins in a few weeks’ time. The United Nations and international and local NGOs, along with the Bangladeshi government, have issued emergency calls to safeguard the […]

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Labourers urgently construct new roads ahead of the monsoon season in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong Rohingya camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Labourers urgently construct new roads ahead of the monsoon season in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong Rohingya camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Feb 28 2018 (IPS)

More than half a million Rohingya refugees crammed into over 30 makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh face a critical situation as the cyclone and monsoon season begins in a few weeks’ time.

The United Nations and international and local NGOs, along with the Bangladeshi government, have issued emergency calls to safeguard the population, especially those who are most vulnerable.

Already burdened with the world’s largest refugee crisis, the host country and its partners remain concerned at the slow pace of action on the ground, although preparations are already underway.

The biggest threat is the terrible conditions in the camps, most of which are frail shelters made up of bamboo sticks and plastic tarpaulins unlikely to stand up to gusting winds and heavy downpours.

In mid-January, Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Country Representative in Bangladesh, sent out a press statement saying, “As we get closer to the cyclone and monsoon seasons, what is already a dire humanitarian situation risks becoming a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of children are already living in horrific conditions, and they will face an even greater risk of disease, flooding, landslides and further displacement,”

“Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene conditions can lead to cholera outbreaks and to Hepatitis E, a deadly disease for pregnant women and their babies, while standing water pools can attract malaria-carrying mosquitoes,” he added. “Keeping children safe from disease must be an absolute priority.”

Rohingya women stand next to their partially constructed new home in Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya women stand next to their partially constructed new home in Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Meanwhile, massive preparations are underway in the coastal district located some 350 kilometers southeast of the capital Dhaka, where storms and cyclones are common.

At least 138,000 people along the coastal regions of Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong were killed in the April 1991 cyclone, one of the deadliest of the last century.

“The UN migration agency is providing search and rescue training, setting up emergency medical centres, establishing bases for work crews and light machinery, and upgrading shelters to mitigate disasters when the monsoon and cyclone season hits the world’s biggest refugee settlement in the coming weeks,” Fiona MacGregor, Public Information Officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS.

“As Bangladesh’s annual wet season approaches, IOM is also working to secure infrastructure and boost resilience among Rohingya refugees and the local community,” MacGregor added. “This includes the creation of disaster risk reduction safety committees to warn the refugees of what to expect and how to prepare for the wind and rain that are expected to bring deadly floods and landslides to the Cox’s Bazar camps.”

Most of the Rohingya refugees now live in crowded tarpaulin shelters on extremely slippery and muddy slopes. Unlike in the rest of the country, the terrain in Ukhiya and Teknaf, where the camps are located along the coast, is not flat but hilly.

This man’s strenuous journey shows how difficult it can be to navigate the steep, muddy terrain of Bangladesh’s camps even in clear weather. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

This man’s strenuous journey illustrates how difficult it can be to navigate the steep terrain of Bangladesh’s camps even in clear weather. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

During the heavy monsoon, rushing water along with mud and uprooted trees play havoc, as witnessed in previous years.

Rehana Begum, one of the refugees living in Kutupalong, the biggest camp told IPS, “I experienced losing my own home in 2011. I have also witnessed people being killed during heavy rainfall. Water rushes in from upstream and spares nothing on its way. Even children are known to have been killed in such situations.”

Noor-e-Khatum, a newcomer settling in at Balukhali camp, said, “I feel unsafe at night when howling wind from the sea often blows hard on my roof. It is frightening to sleep at night with children crying for help.”

Studies prepared by IOM and its partners indicate that at least 100,000 refugees and vulnerable families in the local community face life-threatening risks from landslides and floods. Thousands more refugees are also at risk from disease and may be unable to get aid if flooding cuts off access to parts of the camps.

But given the scale of the refugee population, the lack of suitable land, and the challenging environmental conditions, it will be impossible to move everyone at risk. Rapid emergency response action will be vital to reduce loss of life, IOM says.

The government is also coordinating the efforts to safeguard the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who have long faced unprecedented persecution in their ancestral homeland in Rakhine state in neighbouring Myanmar.

A complete fatality count of Rohingyas in Myanmar is unknown, but hundreds of villages have been burned to the ground and a least 6,700 Rohingya met violent deaths in Rakhine in the month after the military’s scorched-earth campaign, according to Doctors Without Borders.

According to numerous eyewitness accounts from refugee women who arrived in Bangladesh, rape and sexual violence were also used as a widespread weapon of war and to force to Rohingya from their homes.

Ali Hussain, Deputy Commissioner of Cox’s Bazar told IPS, “We have identified about 35 percent of the refugee population as vulnerable to extreme weather and plan to shift them immediately to a nearby location on 500 acres of land. We also plan to remove all obstructions on the way of the natural drainage of water and also excavate fish ponds to catch rainwater so that the areas are not flooded.”

Hussain said that the government has sufficient food stocks for the refugees to last until end of the monsoon. Soldiers deployed around the camps are also constructing new asphalt roads to facilitate movement of vehicles coming to the camps.

An anonymous army captain told IPS, “We have massive works of constructing new roads while strengthening the existing ones to facilitate smooth movement of vehicles, especially emergency vehicles like ambulances.”

Hassan Abdi, sexual and reproductive health emergency coordinator from UNFPA, The United Nations Population Fund told IPS, “We are especially concerned about the approximately 48,000 pregnant women who live in these camps and are most vulnerable, moving them to safe shelters within a short period of time can be logistically challenging.  As part of the emergency preparedness we have identified some stable facilities that can then be used to shelter pregnant women who are on their due dates (around 16,000) or expected to deliver within a week till their safe deliveries.

“At the same time,” Abdi continued, “We are also focusing on ensuring there is enough prepositioned stocks of emergency reproductive health kits like clean delivery kits for clean and safe deliveries which will be distributed to visibly pregnant mothers in the camps. Mobile medical teams will be made available to help in screening, pregnancy check-ups and facilitating safe deliveries during the monsoon.”

To enhance resilience in face of the extreme weather ahead, at least 650 people from the refugee and local communities are receiving search and rescue and first aid training from IOM, in collaboration with local Fire Service and Civil Protection Department.

Those trained will act as community focal points in emergency situations, giving early warning messages in the event of any threats of weather disasters and also assisting in first line emergency response, says the deputy commissioner’s office.

With landslides and soft slippery mud expected to cause roadblocks and obstructions of major drains and waterways, it will be crucial to be able to clear these as quickly as possible.

Light machinery will be installed and work crews established at ten strategic points across the camps as part of the Site Maintenance Engineering Project – a joint initiative between IOM, UNHCR and WFP.

Five specialist medical centres are also being established across the district to deal with outbreaks of acute diarrhoea, which are expected due to the impact of flooding on water and sanitation in the camps. This can often lead to fatalities, particularly among children.

Meanwhile, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to start repatriating some 6,000 refugees, although Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam clarified in remarks on Feb. 25 that no one would be forced to return against their will.

In the meantime, the influx of refugees – which less than it was – continues in the face of ongoing atrocities, now mostly in Maungdaw province, where homes have reportedly been burned, leaving villages like ghost towns.

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Nobel Women Laureates at Zero Point with Rohingya Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/nobel-women-laureates-zero-point-rohingya-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nobel-women-laureates-zero-point-rohingya-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/nobel-women-laureates-zero-point-rohingya-refugees/#respond Tue, 27 Feb 2018 09:47:19 +0000 NOBEL WOMENS INITIATIVE http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154539 Nobel Laureates, Mairead Maguire (Northern Ireland), Shirin Ebadi (Iran) and Tawakkol Karman (Yemen) speak to Rohingya refugees stranded in the no-man’s land between Myanmar and Bangladesh. They promise to seek justice for the Rohingya genocide.

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Mairead Maguire and Tawakkol Karman meet refugees in Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp February 25, 2018 in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo by Allison Joyce. Courtesy Allison Joyce for Nobel Women's Initiative.

Mairead Maguire and Tawakkol Karman meet refugees in Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp February 25, 2018 in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo by Allison Joyce. Courtesy Allison Joyce for Nobel Women's Initiative.

By NOBEL WOMEN'S INITIATIVE
ZERO POINT, Myanmar-Bangladesh border, Feb 27 2018 (IPS)

Nobel Laureates, Mairead Maguire (Northern Ireland), Shirin Ebadi (Iran) and Tawakkol Karman (Yemen) speak to Rohingya refugees stranded in the no-man’s land between Myanmar and Bangladesh. They promise to seek justice for the Rohingya genocide.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

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Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees."Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable." --Caroline Gluck of UNHCR

A high-ranking Bangladeshi foreign ministry official who requested anonymity told IPS, “The Myanmar government has been repeatedly requested to allow access to press and international organisations so they can see the situation on the ground. Unless the world is convinced on the security issues, how can we expect that the traumatized people would volunteer to settle back in their homes where they suffered being beaten, tortured and shot at?”

He says, “The crimes committed by the Myanmar regime are unpardonable and they continue to be disrespectful to the global community demanding access for investigation of alleged genocide by the regime and the dominant Buddhist community.

“The parties who signed the deal need to consider meaningful and effective and peaceful refugee protection. In Myanmar, as a result of widespread human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country and are living as refugees in camps or settlements also in Thailand and India. The same approach of reconciliation and effective intervention by the international community must be in place.”

A human right activist pointed out that the very people who are to return to Myanmar have no say in the agreement. Their voices are not reflected in the agreement which does not clearly outline how and when would the Rohingyas return home.

Asked about the future of the Rohingyas, Fiona Macgregor, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Formal talks on repatriation have been held bilaterally between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and IOM has not been involved in these.”

“According to IOM principles it is crucial that any such return must be voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. At present Rohingya people are still arriving from Myanmar every day who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. IOM continues to focus efforts on supporting the needs of these new arrivals, as well as those who have arrived since August 25, those who were living here prior to August and the local host community in Cox’s Bazar.”

Recently, top brass in the Myanmar regime said that it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh” for return to Myanmar.

The deal outlines that Myanmar identify the refugees as “displaced residents.” Repatriation will require Myanmar-issued proof of residency, and Myanmar can refuse to repatriate anyone. Those who return would be settled in temporary locations and their movements will be restricted. In addition, only Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh after October 2016 will be repatriated.

According to official sources, a meeting of the Joint Working Group supervising the repatriation will be held on January 15 in Myanmar’s capital to determine the field arrangement and logistics for repatriation with a fixed date to start repatriation.

As of January 7, a total of 655,500 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar after a spurt of violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya people beginning in August 2016, which left thousands dead, missing and wounded.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is currently appealing for 83.7 million dollars until the end of February 2018 to fund humanitarian operations.

In March, the UN and its partners will launch a Joint Response Plan, setting out funding needs to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities for the 10-month period to the end of the year.

Regarding the repatriation process, Gluck said, “Many refugees who fled to Bangladesh have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost their loved ones and their homes have been destroyed. Any decision to return to Myanmar must be based on an informed and voluntary choice. Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable.

“While UNHCR was not party to the bilateral arrangement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we are ready to engage with the Joint Working Group and play a constructive role in implementing the modalities of the arrangement in line with international standards.”

She added that UNHCR is ready to provide technical support to both governments, including registering the refugees in Bangladesh and to help determine the voluntary nature of their decision to return.

“As the UN Secretary-General has noted, restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access and addressing the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

“Equally important is the need to ensure that the refugees receive accurate information on the situation in areas of potential return, to achieve progress on documentation, and to ensure freedom of movement. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place.”

Gluck noted that while the numbers of refugees have significantly decreased, their needs remain urgent – for food, water, shelter and health care, as well as protection services and psychosocial help.

“The areas where the refugees are staying are extremely densely populated.  There is the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and fire hazards,” she said. “And, with the rainy season and monsoon rains approaching, we are very concerned at how this population, living in precarious circumstances, will be affected. UNHCR it working with partners to prepare for and minimize these risks.”

She said UNHCR has already provided upgraded shelter kits for 30,000 families; and will expand distributions for around 50,000 more this year. The kits include bamboo pieces and plastic tarpaulin, which will allow families to build stronger sturdier, waterproof shelters, better able to withstand heavy rains and winds.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 12:11:41 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153857 The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical. Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view […]

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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 14 2018 (IPS)

The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view Bangladesh should not have rushed into the bilateral ‘arrangement’ and especially without the involvement of the United Nations or consulting the refugees themselves."It is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar." --Shireen Huq

“Bangladesh should have engaged in a diplomatic tsunami to gain the support of its neighbours and in particular to win the support of China and Russia. The international community has to step up its pressure on Myanmar to stop the killings, the persecution and the discrimination.”

The uncertainty deepened with Myanmar regime still refusing to recognize the refugees as their citizens, throwing the possibility of any peaceful return into doubt.

UNHCR estimates there have been 655,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, bringing the total number of refugees to 954,500.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 23, 2017 on the repatriation of Rohingya people who fled their ancestral home in Rakhine state in the wake of military assaults on their villages.

But Huq notes that a similar 1993 bilateral agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh was not very successful as the voluntary repatriation was opposed by the majority of the refugees.

She describes Bangladesh government’s generosity and the subsequent responsibilities as a ‘job well done’ but she fell short of praising the deal, saying, “This is going to be a repeat of the 1993 agreement where involving only bilateral efforts clearly showed that it does not work.”

“They [Rohingyas] are going to be here for a long time,” Huq predicted. “If we understand correctly, the Rohingyas will not be allowed to return to their previous abode, their own villages, but moved to new settlements. In that case, it is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar. It will be another humanitarian disaster.”

She continued, “If this arrangement is implemented as it is, it will be like another ‘push back’ of the refugees by Bangladesh, unless the international community oversees the repatriation and can guarantee their safe and peaceful settlement and rehabilitation.”

While the deal has been welcomed by the international community, including the US, the European Union and the United Nations, others urged the government to involve a third party to ensure a sustainable solution to the crisis.

They say that Bangladesh has little experience in managing an international repatriation process and unless it fulfills the international repatriation and rehabilitation principles, the agreed terms may not be strong enough to create a lasting solution.

Muhammad Zamir, a veteran diplomat, told IPS that the world should not leave Bangladesh to shoulder the complex problem alone.

“It is unfair to burden Bangladesh with such a huge task that requires multiple factors to be considered before initiating the process of repatriation. The foremost issue is ensuring security or protection of the refuges once they return.”

Zamir, who just returned from a visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, says, “The situation in the camps is already a humanitarian disaster and it is getting worse by the day. These people [Rohingya] are already traumatized and confused. They have suffered enough with the ordeals they have gone through. There is no guarantee that with the nightmares still fresh in their minds they would want to return so early unless there are strong and serious efforts to guarantee their protection in the long run.”

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees. The first meeting of the JWG is due to take place on Jan. 15, 2018.

Former army general M Sakhawat Husain, a noted columnist and national security and political analyst, told IPS, “The Rohyngas’ legitimate and minimum demand to be recognised as citizens of their native land is completely ignored in the agreement. In the face of continuous persecution still going on, as widely reported, how can voluntary repatriation take place?”

“The most damaging clause seems to be agreeing on the terms of Myanmar that is scrutiny of papers or authenticity of their being residence of Rakhaine,” he added.

“Most of these people fled under sub-humane and grotesque torture. It would be difficult for Bangladesh to send them back voluntarily. The report suggests that unless a guarantee of security and minimum demand of citizenship not given these people may not go back.”

Former ambassador Muhammad Shafiullah said, “It is quite uncertain to execute such a huge repatriation process without involving the UN system although Myanmar has outright rejected involving the UN. In such a situation how can we expect a smooth repatriation process?”

Shafiullah expressed deep concern about the inadequate financial support for humanitarian aid to the Rohingya camps.

“The UN system so far could garner funds for six month. Another pledging meeting is expected before the fund is exhausted. Bangladesh cannot support such an overwhelming burden alone for a long time. Precisely for this reason Bangladesh signed the agreement for repatriation although the terms were not favorable to her.”

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Marooned in Bangladesh, Rohingya Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/#respond Wed, 03 Jan 2018 23:30:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153729 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Excerpt:

In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 15:00:33 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153586 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 16 2017 (IPS)

Ferdous Begum was cleaning her child after he had defecated in the open, using leaves she collected from a nearby tree at Bangladesh’s Teknaf Nature Park. The settlement is packed with Rohingya refugees who fled military persecution in Myanmar since August.

“Access to water is terrible here,” Begum said. “We’ve only a couple of hand-dug shallow wells and we don’t get enough water from the wells for so many people living in the camp.”“Initially we received patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.” --Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma

Other camps near Teknaf are also facing acute shortages of water, especially access to drinking and clean water, while aid workers face difficulties with hygiene management for the refugees crammed in squalid camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar.

The latest UN report shows an estimated 655,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh after fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, increasing the total Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar to 867,000 since Aug. 25.

The report said new arrivals were living in spontaneous settlements with increasing demand for humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, clean water, and sanitation.

Ferdous Begum said her son was unwell last night, with a stomach upset. “Misfortune follows us anywhere we go,” Begum said.

Aid workers said refugees, especially pregnant women, lactating mothers and children were exposed to the risk of health hazards because of water shortages that led to poor hygiene management.

Diphtheria is rapidly spreading among Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned last week.

In one month, as of Dec. 12, a total of 804 suspected diphtheria cases, including 15 deaths, were reported among the displaced Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar.

The first suspected case was reported on Nov. 10 by a clinic of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Cox’s Bazar, according to the WHO.

A number of aid workers working in the field said hygiene was very important to prevent disease outbreaks in these overcrowded camps.

Many of the latrines made initially were already overflowing and faecal sludge was seen in the open in almost every camp. And many of the tubewells or hand-pumps are broken, shortening the supply of safe water.

Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma of Dhaka Community Hospital Trust, who has been working with Rohingya refugees since the latest influx began in August, said, “Initially we received maximum patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.”

Dr. Sharma said a large number of his patients were women and children suffering from acute malnutrition and anaemia, as most of the pregnant and lactating women were very young – many still in their teens.

“Hygiene is very crucial for them, but it seems they are not aware,” he said.

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya refugee named Gul Nahar rushed to a BRAC aid centre with her six-month-old boy, Mohammad Haras, seeking help. “He’s been suffering from high fever along with diarrhoea for the last 10 days,” Nahar said.

Nahar said the seven members of her family were living together in a single shanty room.

WaterAid Bangladesh country director Dr. Md Khairul Islam told IPS he was aware of water shortages in the camps in Teknaf. “The situation might be exacerbated when local farmers start irrigation for their crops in the area soon,” he added.

Executive director of the government’s Institute of Water Modelling, Professor M Monowar Hossain, told IPS there were plans to initiate a survey to ascertain the level of ground water there.

“It’s a part of the national survey… It’s not particularly for the Rohingya issue. [But] Until we do the survey, we can’t say there is any scarcity of water,” said Prof Hossain, a former dean of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

Local people fear the presence of over half a million Rohingyas will put additional pressure on water sources and that would worsen the situation in the coming months.

They warned about a severe water crisis in the later part of winter, when the groundwater level naturally goes down.

Rohingyas in the Jadimora area said that they were trying to collect water from tubewells in local communities, but on many occasions they’d been barred.

In the absence of safe water, Rohingyas in makeshift camps in Damdamia Nature Park, Jadimora, Alikhali, and Unchiprang areas of Teknaf are collecting water from ponds, waterfalls and other untreated sources.

“Nobody is supplying drinking water for us. We collect water from a nearby pond,” said a Rohingya community leader in the Damdamia area, Rashid Ullah.

Many Rohingyas built makeshift shelters in forest preserves, felling trees and setting up shanties on hilly slopes. Other have taken refuge at overcrowded registered and unregistered camps.

The haphazard sprouting of camps makes it hard to supply safe drinking water to Rohingyas, aid workers said.

Department of Public Health Engineering officials said for the Rohingyas who took shelter in wild forests and hills, safe drinking water facilities like tube wells are nonexistent.

“We can’t say we have reached all Rohingyas with safe drinking water and other facilities as they are living scattered,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam of Cox’s Bazar told IPS.

“Particularly in Teknaf, we wanted to relocate those Rohingyas facing shortage of water to other camps, but they were not interested,” Kalam said.

Aid workers say the Rohingya influx has slowed down, but several hundred refugees still arrive every day, adding pressure on both the government and humanitarian relief groups.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has constructed more than 3,800 latrines and 159 wells in six host community locations – Whykong, Palonkhali, Jaliapalong, Kutupalong, Rajapalong and Baharchora.

“Access to clean water and safe sanitation services is a problem for the communities hosting refugees in Cox’s Bazar,” said Alessandro Petrone, WASH Programme Manager for IOM’s Rohingya Response, in a statement earlier this month.

“A global and up to date WASH assessment providing a proper gaps analysis and an activities plan is urgently needed. IOM is developing a rated assessment tool and will deploy teams to the field in the coming days to support this work,” said Petrone.

The Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), of which IOM is a part, reported this week that the humanitarian situation for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remained dire.

The inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2017-18 identified the areas of WASH, health, nutrition and food security and shelter for immediate scale-up to save lives in both settlements and host communities, it said.

As per the HRP, the Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar is highly vulnerable, many having experienced severe trauma, and are now living in extremely difficult conditions.

The limited WASH facilities in the refugee established settlements, put in place by WASH sector partners, including UNICEF, prior to the current influx, are over-stretched, with an average of 100 people per latrine, the report said.

New arrivals also have limited access to bathing facilities, especially women, and urgently require WASH supplies including soap and buckets.

Given the current population density and poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, any outbreak of cholera or Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD), which are endemic in Bangladesh, could kill thousands of people residing in temporary settlements, the report warned.

he series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

The post Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisis appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

The post Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisis appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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