Monday, May 25, 2015

On the trail of Myanmar's Rohingya migrants

24 May 2015 

BBC News

Malaysian authorities say they have discovered a number of mass graves near the border with Thailand.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lawyer detention calls into doubt Myanmar political prisoners' pardon

July 19, 2013
Human rights activists have called into doubt the Myanmar president's promise to free political prisoners following the detention of a prominent rights lawyer.

President Thein Sein made the pledge during a visit to London this week.
It is part of a series of democratic reforms initiated by his civilian government since taking power in 2011.

However, Amnesty International says a prominent Rohingya lawyer, U Kyaw Hla Aung, was detained in Myanmar's Rakhine state on the same day as the presidents announcement.

The rights group has accused Myanmar police of targeting the 74-year-old because of his work as a Rohingya human rights advocate.

Shibab Ahamed, the country director of Action Aid Myanmar, says while Thein Sein looks to be implementing his reforms, there are still areas of concern.

"So I think that it looks like political prisoner in Myanmar and Muslims are treating probably differently," he said.
The commitment from Thein Sein is to free all political prisoners by the end of the year.

British aid for Myanmar ethnic cleansing

July 19, 2013
Asia Times
Dr. Maung Zarni

LONDON - Britain, the largest donor country and former colonizer of Myanmar, is effectively aiding and abetting the unfolding "ethnic cleansing" of Muslim Rohingya by helping to finance the country's controversial 2014 national census.

Ex-general and head of Myanmar's quasi-civilian government Thein Sein made an official visit to Britain this week, during which his hosts announced a new 30 million-pound (US$45.6 million) development assistance package and resumption of arms sales. One third of that amount is earmarked to bankroll the former colony's census, "which is essential to make sure support isgetting to those who need it more", according to an official British government statement.

Because Thein Sein's government is forcing the Rohingya people to register as "Bengali", a continuation of a decades-old policy of stripping the Rohingya of both their citizenship and ethnic identity, Britain's financial support for this process is troubling. The coming census will no doubt be used to reinforce this racist policy and practice of forcibly registering the self-referenced Rohingya and erasing the fact that the Rohingya as an ethnic nationality group ever existed in Myanmar.

During a question and answer session following his beautifully written, liberal sounding speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, or Chatham House, Thein Sein was emphatic about his government's policy towards the estimated 800,000 to one million Rohingya whose cultural, economic and historical roots can be found on both sides of the once East Bengal and former Arakan State.

He stated that "to use the term Rohingya, in our ethnic history we do not have the term Rohingya". This official denial and the racist policies that perpetuate the marginalization of the Rohingya is tantamount to ethnocide, a blatant erasure of a verifiable fact that a distinct ethnic community, with all its typical sociological fluidity, exists in Myanmar.

Gregory Stanton of George Mason University, who is president of Genocide Watch and a world renowned scholar in genocide studies, sees in Myanmar's mistreatment of the Rohingya a Nazi-like "us versus them" classification in which the dominant group and its political state dish out discrimination, mistreatment and eventually "final solutions".

In his influential essay entitled "The Eight Stages of Genocide", Stanton writes: "We treat different categories of people differently. Racial and ethnic classifications may be defined by absurdly detailed laws - the Nazi Nuremberg laws, the "one (African blood) drop" laws of segregation in America, or apartheid racial classification laws in South Africa."

Classification is universal across all cultures and political systems. However, when it is carried out in a militaristic state with a deeply Islamophobic "Buddhist" society such as the present-day Myanmar, there is only a short jump between the deliberate act of mis-classifying the Rohingya as "illegal Bengali" or "Bengalis" and being dehumanized as "viruses", "ogres" or the local language equivalent of "niggers". The next stage is mass violence with state impunity against a given dehumanized community.

That is precisely what has happened to the Rohingyas of western Myanmar since 1978. In February that year, the Burma Socialist Programme Party-led government, a one-party, one-man dictatorship under General Ne Win, launched the country's first large-scale ethnic cleansing operation. Known as the Na-Ga-Min, or King of the Snakes, operation, inter-ministerial and inter-agency units from police, customs, immigration, army, navy, intelligence, civil administration and the home ministry's religious affairs department were mobilized against the Rohingya.

Even the government's conservative estimate put the number of Rohingya who fled to neighboring, newly independent Bangladesh at 150,000; other independent sources put the figure much higher. Since then the Rohingya have been living in security grids where virtually every aspect of their lives is severely restricted and monitored as a matter of policy.

A cursory glance at doctor-patient ratios, adult illiteracy and mortality rates among children under five speaks volume about the policy-induced dire conditions under which the Rohingya are forced to live. The doctor-patient ratio for the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State is 1:83,000, adult illiteracy is over 90%, and the mortality rate for under-five children is twice as high as Myanmar's already very high national average.

No longer able to endure decades of a myriad forms of sexual violence, summary execution, forced labor, extortions, and other means of abuse, many Rohingya families - including women, children and the elderly - have attempted to flee the country, willingly risking their lives in rickety boats on the Andaman Sea and facing an uncertain future as stateless people in countries as varied as Canada, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and neighboring Bangladesh.

Unconscionable policy
Ethnocide may sound like esoteric academic jargon but its consequences are grave and of growing international concern. A policy of ethnocide sets the ideological and social-psychological stage for an otherwise peaceful people to carry out unspeakable and unconscionable atrocities against those whom they have been trained to consider an existential threat.

The military-controlled state in Myanmar - now headed by ex-general Thein Sein and his quasi-civilian government in Naypyidaw - has both paved the way for and carried out ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. Ethnocide of the Rohingya has empowered the racist, ultra-nationalists among the local Buddhist Rakhine, national leaders and Buddhist society at large to dehumanize the Rohingya.

The fact that Thein Sein felt comfortable enough to repeat his government's ethnocidal stance on the Rohingya at the prestigious Chatham House should ring alarm bells among the British public. His speech spoke volumes about the extent to which Myanmar's former colonial master has become officially complicit in the atrocities against the Rohingya, London's expressed "human rights concerns" notwithstanding.

Apparently designed to hit Britain's subliminal colonial guilt, Thein Sein framed the Rohingya as a problem which the former British colony inherited from the Raj upon achieving independence in 1948. In Thein Sein's words: "During the colonial administration there was a migration of economic migrants from other countries into the Rakhine State (formerly known as Arakan) to work on the lands... So they grew their crops and then they did the harvest and then they went back home. But later on they decided to settle in the region. During the colonial administration there were 50,000 Muslims in that region... Now we have 800,000 Muslim population in the region. That of course caused a lot of tension."

Colonial-era statistics have proven more often than not unreliable and the racial conceptualizations and classifications on which these demographic data rest were often full of racist and pseudo-scientific methodologies that were part and parcel of colonial rule. In 1824, the year of the British annexation of the Arakan, itself a pre-British feudal colony that was depopulated by both Buddhists and Muslims by repressive military conquest, around one-third of the population of Arakan was Muslim, according to colonial records.

Today, out of the estimated three million who live in Rakhine State, around a third are Muslim. This is hardly a demographic threat to the local Rakhines and certainly not a national threat to the predominantly Buddhist country of 50-plus million people. Beyond the numbers' games, there are other people-centered - as opposed to nation state-centric - perspectives that are far more convincing and far closer to Arakan's historical realities than is Thein Sein's dubious explanation.

In a public seminar on the Rohingya held at Columbia University in September last year, Amartya Sen, the world renowned Bengali philosopher and economist and Harvard University professor, perceptively observed: "The Rohingya did not come to Burma. But Burma came to the Rohingya."

Like other borderland ethno-cultural communities, the Rohingya as a people can be found on both sides of the borders of modern nation states, namely the former Burma, which since 1989 has been known as Myanmar, and former East Pakistan, which since 1971 has been known as Bangladesh. The boundaries of once boundary-less feudal kingdoms, many characterized by fluctuating territorial control and administrative powers, were abruptly locked and divided into post-colonial nation states.

In fact, there is nothing strange or persecution-worthy about numerous ethno-cultural and linguistic communities being split and scattered across these manufactured borders as nation states emerged out of wars, conflicts and other processes of exploitation. Even in the case of Myanmar, there are other groups such as the Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Mon, Shan, Tai, and, yes, even the Buddhist Rakhine, who also belong to different neighboring nation states. Notably, none of these communities are facing ethnocide or genocide by Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, India or China.

Twisted history
The truth is that the Rohingya were not always denied their existence by the Myanmar state. In contrast to Thein Sein's ethnocidal perspective, and in spite of the contemporary debates as to whether the Rohingya are historical or ancestral "children of the land", four successive Myanmar governments - the parliamentary democracy government of prime minister U Nu (1948-58), the caretaker government of General Ne Win (1958-60), the Union Government of premier U Nu (1960-62) and General Ne Win's early military government, namely the Revolutionary Council (1962-74) - had all officially recognized the Rohingya as a distinct ethno-cultural community.

The Rohingya had their own national ethnic language program based at the state's sole national broadcasting service (Burma Broadcasting Service, or BBS) alongside other national ethnic language programs such as Shan, Lahu, Bama and others. The official social studies textbooks described them as Myanmar's Rohingya ethnic nationality and placed them on the ethnic map of the country.

The household lists and national identification cards bore the word "Rohingya" for those who self-identified as such. All cabinet offices of these aforementioned governments used the word "Rohingya" in their official dispatches and records, while senior military generals in the ministry of defense addressed the Rohingya community and its religious leaders as 'esteemed Rohingya leaders' in the former's public remarks and speeches. The government's official Burmese Encyclopedia (published in 1964, two years after the military government came to power) had a specific section on the Rohingyas of northern districts of the country.

Since the first genocidal operation against the Rohingya in February 1978, successive military leaderships have been relentless in their drive to cleanse western Myanmar of the ethnic group - whom they now derisively and officially insist on calling "Bengali" - both from state discourse and from the land. Ethnocide began under Ne Win's whimsical dictatorship, which was steeped in nationalist and anti-colonial ideologies that justified draconian policies towards the Rohingya. As a result, Myanmar now has an apartheid system for the Rohingya, who have survived various waves of ethnic cleansing since 1978.

Instead of confronting Thein Sein over his past and present role in the ethnocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the British government instead gave 10 million pounds for his government's 2014 census, a project that will almost surely drive the final nail into the coffin of the Rohingyas' existence in Myanmar.

This also puts Britain's plan to involve the British Ministry of Defense in training Myanmar's armed forces in the areas of human rights and civil-military relations in a new light. For while British officials talk of human rights and accountability in military classrooms, they will simultaneously be financing a census that will be used to facilitate ethnic cleansing with British tax-payers' money.

For those familiar with Britain's international trajectory, its decision to help fund Myanmar's ethnocidal census, which in turn will be technically assisted by the United Nations Population Fund, should not come as a surprise. Nor should the British government's decision to reward Thein Sein with the export of made-in-UK arms worth $5 million. Foreign Office spin-masters will, one can be sure, soon be justifying this questionable arms deal as one to help end the country's ethnic conflicts.

On July 19, 1947, made-in-England bullets killed independence hero Aung San and a group of the country's co-founders in a British-assisted but locally carried out assassination. Aung San, a staunch anti-imperialist nationalist, was then seen as an obstacle to the unfettered pursuit of Britain's post-colonial, post-World War II commercial and strategic interests in Myanmar.

Sixty years on, the resumption of export of made-in-UK arms to Thein Sein's military-backed, genocidal regime sends an ominous signal to those ethnic and religious minorities who may not be as open to British official and corporate interests as the ethnic Burman military generals and their cronies.

In pursuit of its own hidden and not-so-hidden strategic and corporate interests, Britain is simply repeating the old colonial policy of ethnic divide and exploit. In the days of the British Raj of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the British pursued their imperialist aims and interests through the use of the country's non-Buddhist ethnic minorities along the country's borderlands, then referred to as the "frontier peoples".

In 2013, Britain's new design in Myanmar is about pursuing British interests through the dominant "Buddhist" generals and their repressive state while looking the other way when their colonial era ethnic instruments, namely the frontier or borderland ethnic peoples of the Rohingya, Karen, Kachin, and others are being further marginalized, militarily overwhelmed or ethnically cleansed.

Maung Zarni ( is a Burmese dissident blogger and a Visiting Fellow at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics. 

Why is the UK so silent on Burma's human rights abuses?

 July 18, 2013
Michael Harris

Thein Sein
President of Myanmar, Thein Sein, left, in 10 Downing Street Photo: EPA

Unless the Foreign Secretary ups the pressure on Burma the apparatus of the military dictatorship will remain, writes Michael Harris

 If you want to know how much has changed in Burma since the much-vaulted transition, try and put on a punk gig in the capital, Rangoon. It’ll take two months and require the signatures of eight bureaucrats from varying levels of government. You may never get permission. But to punks in Burma, the idea they may even be able to play publicly at all is progress.
This is transition Burma, a country full of contradictions where the military no longer hold captive Aung San Suu Kyi and have released some of the thousands of her fellow political prisoners – yet the full apparatus of the military state still exists. The worry is, while the UK and US drop sanctions and William Hague took the time to congratulate President Thein Sein in London for the progress made, little is being done to keep this progress on track. With the army implicit in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims and the country on the verge of widespread unrest, Burma is merely a few steps away from a full blown military dictatorship.
The transition to civilian rule is supposed to be making steady progress, yet power lies in the same place – with the military. As one journalist told us, “the generals have only changed their suits”. The sight of Aung San Suu Kyi alongside 43 of her National League for Democracy compatriots elected to Parliament in 2012 was hugely symbolic. But it is no more than symbolism for the League to hold an eleventh of the seats in the lower house.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a front for the old military junta, still controls all the main institutions of state. The USDP controls the presidency, nearly half the seats in the lower house and over half the seats in the upper house of the Burmese parliament. When the seats directly appointed by the military are included, the USDP has an overwhelming majority in both chambers. The majority of these USDP parliamentarians are former army officers or government officials with strong military connections. The lifting of economic sanctions will prompt new trade with Burma, but the West will be dealing directly with these generals who control both the state and many of the major economic interests.
So it’s surprising to see that even with power lying with the military and its associates, Burma is still far freer than it was. The generals have responded positively to the tough sanctions imposed by the EU and US. The last time Index visited Burma in 2010, our researcher had to go undercover and feared for his liberty. Before meeting dissidents, he would be taken to at least two separate locations by go-betweens.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Special Report: Thai authorities implicated in Rohingya Muslim smuggling network

Narunisa, a 25-year-old Rohingya woman, is reunited with her children after returning to a shelter for Rohingya women and children in Phang Nga June 18, 2013. REUTERS-Damir Sagolj
Narunisa, a 25-year-old Rohingya woman, is reunited with her children after returning to a shelter for Rohingya women and children in Phang Nga June 18, 2013.
REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
 July 17, 2013 
Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings

Reuters(Reuters) - The beatings were accompanied by threats: If his family didn't produce the money, Myanmar refugee Abdul Sabur would be sold into slavery on a fishing boat, his captors shouted, lashing him with bamboo sticks.
It had been more than two months since Sabur and his wife set sail from Myanmar with 118 other Rohingya Muslims to escape violence and persecution. Twelve died on the disastrous voyage. The survivors were imprisoned in India and then handed over to people smugglers in southern Thailand.
As the smugglers beat Sabur in their jungle hide-out, they kept a phone line open so that his relatives could hear his screams and speed up payment of $1,800 to secure his release.
"Every time there was a delay or problem with the payment they would hurt us again," said Sabur, a tall fisherman from Myanmar's western Rakhine state.
He was part of the swelling flood of Rohingya who have fled Myanmar by sea this past year, in one of the biggest movements of boat people since the Vietnam War ended.
Their fast-growing exodus is a sign of Muslim desperation in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma. Ethnic and religious tensions simmered during 49 years of military rule. But under the reformist government that took power in March 2011, Myanmar has endured its worst communal bloodshed in generations.
A Reuters investigation, based on interviews with people smugglers and more than two dozen survivors of boat voyages, reveals how some Thai naval security forces work systematically with smugglers to profit from the surge in fleeing Rohingya. The lucrative smuggling network transports the Rohingya mainly into neighboring Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country they view as a haven from persecution.
Once in the smugglers' hands, Rohingya men are often beaten until they come up with the money for their passage. Those who can't pay are handed over to traffickers, who sometimes sell the men as indentured servants on farms or into slavery on Thai fishing boats. There, they become part of the country's $8 billion seafood-export business, which supplies consumers in the United States, Japan and Europe.
Some Rohingya women are sold as brides, Reuters found. Other Rohingya languish in overcrowded Thai and Malaysian immigration detention centers.
Reuters reconstructed one deadly journey by 120 Rohingya, tracing their dealings with smugglers through interviews with the passengers and their families. They included Sabur and his 46-year-old mother-in-law Sabmeraz; Rahim, a 22-year-old rice farmer, and his friend Abdul Hamid, 27; and Abdul Rahim, 27, a shopkeeper.
While the death toll on their boat was unusually high, the accounts of mistreatment by authorities and smugglers were similar to those of survivors from other boats interviewed by Reuters.
The Rohingya exodus, and the state measures that fuel it, undermine Myanmar's carefully crafted image of ethnic reconciliation and stability that helped persuade the United States and Europe to suspend most sanctions.
At least 800 people, mostly Rohingya, have died at sea after their boats broke down or capsized in the past year, says the Arakan Project, an advocacy group that has studied Rohingya migration since 2006. The escalating death toll prompted the United Nations this year to call that part of the Indian Ocean one of world's "deadliest stretches of water."
For more than a decade, Rohingya men have set sail in search of work in neighboring countries. A one-way voyage typically costs about 200,000 kyat, or $205, a small fortune by local standards. The extended Rohingya families who raise the sum regard it as an investment; many survive off money sent from relatives overseas.
The number boarding boats from Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh reached 34,626 people from June 2012 to May of this year - more than four times the previous year, says the Arakan Project. Almost all are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar. Unprecedented numbers of women and children are making these dangerous voyages.
A sophisticated smuggling industry is developing around them, drawing in other refugees across South Asia. Ramshackle fishing boats are being replaced by cargo ships crewed by smugglers and teeming with passengers. In June alone, six such ships disgorged hundreds of Rohingya and other refugees on remote Thai islands controlled by smugglers, the Arakan Project said.
Sabur and the others who sailed on the doomed 35-foot fishing boat came from Rakhine, a rugged coastal state where Rohingya claim a centuries-old lineage. The government calls them illegal "Bengali" migrants from Bangladesh who arrived during British rule in the 19th century. Most of the 1.1 million Rohingya of Rakhine state are denied citizenship and refused passports.
Machete-wielding Rakhine Buddhists destroyed Sabur's village last October, forcing him to abandon his home south of Sittwe, capital of Rakhine state. Last year's communal unrest in Rakhine made 140,000 homeless, most of them Rohingya. Myanmar's government says 192 people died; Rohingya activists put the toll as high as 748.
Before the violence, the Rohingya were the poorest people in the second-poorest state of Southeast Asia's poorest country. Today, despite Myanmar's historic reforms, they are worse off.
Tens of thousands live in squalid, disease-ridden displacement camps on the outskirts of Sittwe. Armed checkpoints prevent them from returning to the paddy fields and markets on which their livelihoods depend. Rohingya families in some areas have been banned from having more than two children.
Sabur's 33-member extended family spent several months wandering between camps before the family patriarch, an Islamic teacher in Malaysia named Arif Ali, helped them buy a fishing boat. They planned to sail straight to Malaysia to avoid Thailand's notorious smugglers.
Dozens of other paying passengers signed up for the voyage, along with an inexperienced captain who steered them to disaster.
The small fishing boat set off from Myengu Island near Sittwe on February 15. The first two days went smoothly. Passengers huddled in groups, eating rice, dried fish and potatoes cooked in small pots over firewood. Space was so tight no one could stretch their legs while sleeping, said Rahim, the rice farmer, who like many Rohingya Muslims goes by one name.
Rahim's last few months had been horrific. A Rakhine mob killed his older brother in October and burned his family's rice farm to the ground. He spent two months in jail and was never told why. "The charge seemed to be that I was a young man," he said. Rakhine state authorities have acknowledged arresting Rohingya men deemed a threat to security.
High seas and gusting winds nearly swamped the boat on the third day. The captain seemed to panic, survivors said. Fearing the ship would capsize, he dumped five bags of rice and two water tanks overboard — half their supplies.
It steadied, but it was soon clear they had another problem - the captain admitted he was lost. By February 24, after more than a week at sea, supplies of water, food and fuel were gone.
"People started dying, one by one," said Sabmeraz, the grandmother.
The Islamic janaza funeral prayer was whispered over the washed and shrouded corpses of four women and two children who died first. Among them: Sabmeraz's daughter and two young grandchildren.
"We thought we would all die," Sabmeraz recalled.
Many gulped sea water, making them even weaker. Some drank their own urine. The sick relieved themselves where they lay. Floorboards became slick with vomit and feces. Some people appeared wild-eyed before losing consciousness "like they had gone mad," said Abdul Hamid.
On the morning of the 12th day, the shopkeeper Abdul Rahim wrapped his two-year-old daughter, Mozia, in cloth, performed funeral rites and slipped her tiny body into the sea. The next morning he did the same for his wife, Muju.
His father, Furkan, had warned Abdul Rahim not to take the two children - Mozia and her five-year-old sister, Morja. The family had been better off than most Rohingya. They owned a popular hardware store in Sittwe district. After it was reduced to rubble in the June violence, they moved into a camp.
On the night Abdul Rahim was leaving, Furkan recalls pleading with him on the jetty: "If you want to go, you can go. But leave our grandchildren with us."
Abdul Rahim refused. "I've lost everything, my house, my job," he recalls replying. "What else can I do?"
On February 28, hours after Abdul Rahim's wife died, the refugees spotted a Singapore-owned tugboat, the Star Jakarta. It was pulling an empty Indian-owned barge, the Ganpati, en route to Mumbai from Myanmar. The refugee men shouted but the slow-moving barge didn't stop.
But as the Ganpati moved by, a dozen Rohingya men jumped into the sea with a rope. They swam to the barge, fixed the rope and towed their boat close behind so people could board. By evening, 108 of them were on the barge.
Mohammed Salim, a soccer-loving grocery clerk, and a young woman, both in their 20s, were too weak to move. Close to death, they were cut adrift; the boat took on water and submerged in the rough seas.
"He was our hope," said Salim's father, Mohammad Kassim, 71, who emptied his savings to pay the 500,000 kyat ($515) cost of the journey.
Of the 12 who died on the boat, 11 were women and children.
What happened next shows how the problems of reform-era Myanmar are rapidly becoming Asia's.
The tugboat captain mistook the Rohingya for pirates and radioed for help, said Bhavna Dayal, a spokeswoman for Punj Lloyd Group, the Indian company that owns the barge. Within hours, an Indian Coast Guard ship arrived. Officers fired into the air and ordered the Rohingya to the floor.
Rahim, the rice farmer, said he and five others were beaten with a rubber baton. With the help of some Hindi picked up from Bollywood films, they explained they were fleeing the strife in Rakhine state. After that, everyone received food, water and first aid, he said.
Another Indian Coast Guard ship, the Aruna Asaf Ali, arrived. It took the women and children to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian archipelago a short voyage to the south, before returning for the men.
In Diglipur, the largest town in North Andaman Island, immigration authorities separated the men from women and children, putting them all in cells. Guards beat them at will, Rahim said, and rummaged through their belongings for money. He lost 60,000 kyat ($62) and hid his remaining 60,000 kyat in a crack in a wall.
Rupinder Singh, the police superintendent in Diglipur, denied anyone was beaten or robbed.
After about a month, the Rohingya were moved to a bigger detention center near the state capital Port Blair. They joined about 300 other Muslims, mostly Rohingya from Myanmar, who had been rescued at sea. The men went on a one-day hunger strike, demanding to be sent to Malaysia.
The protest seemed to work. Indian authorities brought all 420 of them into international waters and transferred them to a double-decker ferry, said the Rohingya passengers.
"They told us this ship would take us straight to Malaysia," said Sabur.
It was run, however, by Thailand-based smugglers, he said.
Commander P.V.S. Satish, speaking for the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard, said there was "absolutely no truth" to the allegation that the Navy handed the Rohingya to smugglers.
After four days at sea, the Rohingya approached Thailand's southern Satun province around April 18. They were split into smaller boats. Some were taken to small islands, others to the mainland. The smugglers explained they needed to recoup the 10 million kyat ($10,300) they had paid for renting the ferry.
Thailand portrays itself as an accidental destination for Malaysia-bound Rohingya: They wash ashore and then flee or get detained.
In truth, Thailand is a smuggler's paradise, and the stateless Rohingya are big business. Smugglers seek them out, aware their relatives will pay to move them on. This can blur the lines between smuggling and trafficking.
Smuggling, done with the consent of those involved, differs from trafficking, the business of trapping people by force or deception into labor or prostitution. The distinction is critical.
An annual U.S. State Department report, monitoring global efforts to combat modern slavery, has for the last four years kept Thailand on a so-called Tier 2 Watch List, a notch above the worst offenders, such as North Korea. A drop to Tier 3 can trigger sanctions, including the blocking of World Bank aid.
A veteran smuggler in Thailand described the economics of the trade in a rare interview. Each adult Rohingya is valued at up to $2,000, yielding smugglers a net profit of 10,000 baht ($320) after bribes and other costs, the smuggler said. In addition to the Royal Thai Navy, the seas are patrolled by the Thai Marine Police and by local militias under the control of military commanders.
"Ten years ago, the money went directly to the brokers. Now it goes to all these officials as well," said the smuggler, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A broker in Myanmar typically sends a passenger list with a departure date to a counterpart in Thailand, the smuggler said. Thai navy or militia commanders are then notified to intercept boats and sometimes guide them to pre-arranged spots, said the smuggler.
The Thai naval forces usually earn about 2,000 baht ($65) per Rohingya for spotting a boat or turning a blind eye, said the smuggler, who works in the southern Thai region of Phang Nga and deals directly with the navy and police.
Police receive 5,000 baht ($160) per Rohingya, or about 500,000 baht ($16,100) for a boat of 100, the smuggler said.
Another smuggler, himself a Rohingya based in Kuala Lumpur, said Thai naval forces help guide boatloads to arranged spots. He said his group maintains close phone contact with local commanders. He estimated his group has smuggled up to 4,000 people into Malaysia in the past six months.
Relatives in Malaysia must make an initial deposit of 3,000 ringgit ($950) into Malaysian bank accounts, he said, followed by a second payment for the same amount once the refugees reach the country.
Naval ships do not always work with the smugglers. Some follow Thailand's official "help on" policy, whereby Rohingya boats are supplied with fuel and provisions on condition they sail onward.
The Thai navy and police denied any involvement in Rohingya smuggling. Manasvi Srisodapol, a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that there has been no evidence of the navy trafficking or abusing Rohingya for several years.
Anti-trafficking campaigners have produced mounting evidence of the widespread use of slave labor from countries such as Myanmar on Thai fishing boats, which face an acute labor shortage.
Fishing companies buy Rohingya men for between 10,000 baht ($320) and 20,000 baht ($640), depending on age and strength, said the smuggler in Phang Nga. He recounted sales of Rohingya in the past year to Indonesian and Singapore fishing firms.
This has made the industry a major source of U.S. concern over Thailand's record on human trafficking. About 8 percent of Thai seafood exports go to supermarkets and restaurants in the United States, the second biggest export market after Japan.
The Thai government has said it is serious about tackling human trafficking, though no government minister has publicly acknowledged that slavery exists in the fishing industry.
Sabur, his wife Monzurah and more than a dozen Rohingya thought slavery might be their fate. The smugglers held them on the Thai island for five weeks. The captors said they would be sold to fisheries, pig farms or plantations if money didn't arrive soon.
"We were too scared to sleep at night," said Monzurah, 19 years old.
Arif Ali, the family patriarch in Kuala Lumpur, managed to raise about $21,000 to secure the release of 19 of his relatives, including his sister Sabmeraz, Sabur, and Monzurah. They were taken on foot across the border into Malaysia in May. But 10 of the family, all men, remained imprisoned on the island as he struggled to raise more funds.
As Ali was interviewed in early June, his cellphone rang and he had a brief, heated conversation. "They call every day," he said. "They say if we call the police they will kill them."
Some women without money are sold as brides for 50,000 baht ($1,600) each, typically to Rohingya men in Malaysia, the Thai smuggler said. Refugees who are caught and detained by Thai authorities also face the risk of abuse.
At a detention center in Phang Nga in southern Thailand, 269 Rohingya men and boys lived in cage-like cells that stank of sweat and urine when a Reuters journalist visited recently. Most had been there six months. Some used crutches because their muscles had atrophied.
"Every day we ask when we can leave this place, but we have no idea if that will ever happen," said Faizal Haq, 14.
They are among about 2,000 Rohingya held in 24 immigration detention centers across Thailand, according to the Thai government.
"To be honest, we really don't know what to do with them," said one immigration official who declined to be named. Myanmar has rejected a Thai request to repatriate them.
Dozens of Rohingya have escaped detention centers. The Thai smuggler said some immigration officials will free Rohingya for a price. Thailand's Foreign Ministry denied immigration officials take payments from smugglers.
When Rahim, Abdul Hamid and the other Rohingya finally arrived in Thailand, smugglers met them in Satun province, which borders Malaysia.
They were herded into pickup trucks and driven to a farm, where they say they saw the smugglers negotiate with Thai police and immigration officials. The smugglers told them to contact relatives in Malaysia who could pay the roughly 6,000 ringgit ($1,800).
"If you run away, the police and immigration will bring you back to us. We paid them to do that," the most senior smuggler told them, the two men recalled.
After 22 days at the farm, Rahim and Hamid escaped. It was near midnight when they darted across a field, cleared a barbed-wire fence and ran into the jungle. They wandered for a day, hungry and lost, before meeting a Burmese man who found them work on a fruit farm in Padang Besar near the Thai-Malaysia border. They still work there today, hoping to save enough money to leave Thailand.
If the smugglers get paid, they usually take the Rohingya across southern Thailand in pickup trucks, 16 at a time, with just enough space to breathe, the smuggler in Thailand said. They are hidden under containers of fish, shrimp or other food, and sent through police checkpoints at 1,000 baht ($32) apiece, the smuggler said. Once close to Malaysia, the final crossing of the border is usually made by foot.
Abdul Rahim, the shopkeeper who lost his wife and toddler, arranged a quick payment to the smugglers from relatives in Kuala Lumpur. He was soon on a boat to Malaysia with his surviving daughter and his sister-in-law, Ruksana. They were dropped off around April 20 at a remote spot in Malaysia's northern Penang island.
For Abdul Rahim and many other Rohingya, Malaysia was the promised land. For most, that hope fades quickly.
At best, they can register with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and receive a card that gives them minimal legal protection and a chance for a low-paid job such as construction. While Malaysia has won praise for accepting Rohingya refugees, it has not signed the U.N. Refugee Convention that would oblige it to give them fuller rights.
Those picked up by Malaysian authorities face weeks or months in packed detention camps, where several witnesses said beatings and insufficient food were common. The Malaysian government did not comment on conditions in the camps.
The UNHCR has registered 28,000 Rohingya asylum seekers out of nearly 95,000 Myanmar refugees in Malaysia, many of whom have been in the country for years. An estimated 49,000 unregistered asylum seekers can wait months or years for a coveted UNHCR card. The card gives asylum seekers discounted treatment at public hospitals, is recognized by many employers, and gives protection against repatriation.
The vast majority, like Sabur, Abdul Rahim and their families, don't obtain these minimal protections. They evade detention in the camps but live in fear of arrest.
By early July, Sabur had found temporary work in an iron foundry on Kuala Lumpur's outskirts earning about $10 a day. He will likely have to save for years to pay back the money that secured his release.
Abdul Rahim's family now lives in a small, windowless room in a city suburb. His late wife's sister, Ruksana, coughed up blood during one interview, but is afraid to seek medical help without documentation.
By early July, Abdul Rahim had married Ruksana. He was picking up occasional odd jobs through friends but was struggling to pay the $80 a month rent on their shabby room. Despite that, and the loss of his first wife and daughter, he still believes he made the right decision to flee Myanmar.
"I don't regret coming," he said, "but I regret what happened. I think about my wife and daughter all day."

(Stuart Grudgings reported from Kuala Lumpur. Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Bangkok and Sruthi Gottipati in New Delhi. Editing by Bill Tarrant and Michael Williams)

Rohingya struggle in Bangladesh refugee camps

 Jul 17, 2013
ABC Australia,
Stephanie March

Bangladesh capital Dhaka has cracked down on migration from neighbouring Myanmar, closing its border, refusing to support asylum seekers and turning back boats.
Surakatun and her family have been eating boiled leaves and rice for the past three days.
It's a normal lunch at the unofficial refugee camp in Kutupalong - once the pots are empty, that's it.
"My husband is old now so if I don't go out and beg we go hungry," she said.
Like everyone in the camp, Surakatun is a Rohingya who has fled violence in Myanmar - she would rather endure this harsh existence than go back there.
"If you see your daughter being dragged in front of you and being violated sexually would you bear that? Would you allow that to happen?" she said.
In June and October last year, violence broke out between Buddhists and the Muslim minority Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
According to the United Nations, the fighting displaced 140,000 people.
Myanmar President Thein Sein rejects that the violence in Rakhine state was fuelled by religion or ethnicity - he says his government is trying to help the communities there coexist in harmony.
The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for 200 years, but Thein Sein's government does not recognise them as citizens.
They are regarded as Bangladeshi immigrants, but authorities in Dhaka do not recognise them either.
Jing Song, UNHCR Bangladesh spokeswoman, says Rohingya are denied the basic rights afforded to citizens.
We are repeatedly urging the government to open the border to people who are coming to seek safe haven - we all know what is happening in Rakhine state.
Jing Song, UNHCR Bangladesh spokeswoman

"When you are living in the country, the rights are given by the country, by your government," she said.
"Where you are stateless it means you don't have access to the basic rights like the rights to employment, the rights to education, the rights to medical care - you have lots of restrictions."
Thirty thousand Rohingya get aid agency assistance in official refugee camps.
However, the government refuses to recognise the remaining 200,000 who fend for themselves in one of the many "unofficial" camps.
To discourage the Rohingya from coming, last year the Bangladeshi government banned aid agencies in the camp and started turning away boats
"We are repeatedly urging the government to open border to people who are coming to seek safe haven - we all know what is happening in the Rakhine state," Jing Song said.
"There could be economic reasons but also the fundamental reason is lack of access to basic rights so it is an international standard to open the border, not to push back people."
People inside the camp don't get any official support when it comes to food, health, or shelter and they desperately need it.
Houses are covered with garbage bags, so when the monsoon rains come they flood very easily.
There are only a handful of toilets to service a population of 50,000 people.
Despite the government crackdown, Rohingya keep coming - newly arrived refugees Zakir, and his 20-year-old daughter Yasmin live in the camp.
Before fleeing Myanmar four months ago, Yasmin was working as a language teacher for the UNHCR when violence broke out.
"The UNHCR people were being targeted and blacklisted and already many of them had been arrested," Zakir said.
"The authorities have gone to the homes of the UNHCR workers to look for them, so I was afraid my daughter would get arrested because she worked for UNHCR."
As one of the poorest nations on earth, Bangladesh can barely look after its existing population, let alone others from neighbouring countries.
Each day last year, 23,000 people were forced to flee their homes, twice as many compared with a decade ago.
No matter how difficult it is at the border, people will still cross because they are desperate.
Nilima Sakar, environmental refugee

Adil Kham, a human rights advocate, says legislation cannot stop the movement of people.
"Human history is the history of migration - people migrate and the laws can't stop that," he said.
Like Bangladesh, India has reason to be worried about a potential influx of asylum seekers - it's already home to one third of the world's poor.
To counter this, India is building a fence along the border and hopes to eventually have the entire 4,000 km frontier walled off.
People still find ways to get across, bribing border guards or sneaking across in the dark.
The fence has also created a new problem - over the past decade, killings have been widespread on the borderline.
"This is the bloodiest border I think in this world context," Adil Khan said.
"It is more bloody than Palestine-Israel border and I think it is more bloody than the Mexico-USA border, so it is the bloodiest border and we can call it the killing fields."
In the past, the Bangladesh government has criticised India for its decision to try to fence off the entire border.
Now, Bangladesh has decided to build a fence too, but this one will be along the border it shares with Myanmar.
"Fencing the people, it's like putting people in a kind of prison," Adil Khan said.
"This is not a solution, the solution is how you can have a more friendly relationship with the people."
Rohingya asylum seeker Zakir is now trying to bring his wife and the nine children he left behind in Myanmar to Bangladesh.
"I am afraid. I am really concerned, they are all young children," Zakir said.
"Our house is on the west side of the hills so they have to walk across those hills to come to Bangladesh, it takes at least four hours to cross."
He isn't sure if the Bangladesh government will have built its fence by the time he has enough money to get them across.
But in his eyes, no physical barrier changes the resolve of someone so desperate.
"No matter how difficult it is at the border, people will still cross because they are desperate," Zakir said.

"No matter how difficult the route is, they have to save their lives."

Analysis: How to reverse Buddhism’s radical turn in Southeast Asia?

July 17,2013
Dana MacLean

BANGKOK, 16 July 2013 (IRIN) - Influential Buddhist monks in Myanmar have been aggravating longstanding tensions between the country’s Buddhist and Muslim communities since violence erupted between the two groups in 2012, say experts.

“The Burmese Buddhist monks may not have initiated the violence but they rode the wave and began to incite more,” said Michael Jerryson, a religious studies professor and co-editor of Buddhist Warfare, a recent 2010 publication examining the violent side of Buddhism in Southeast Asia and how Buddhist organizations there have used religious images and rhetoric to support “military conquest”.

For example, the “969” movement (the numbers hold significance in Buddhist teachings) is a nationalist anti-Muslim campaign founded in early 2013 in Myanmar to protect Burmese Buddhist identity. Leaders have referred to Muslims in derogatory terms and accused them of attempting to dominate Burmese society politically and economically.

Supporters wear stickers identifying their membership, which are also posted on Buddhist-owned shops and kiosks to encourage Buddhists to conduct business only with other Buddhists, and condemn those who buy from Muslims.

Audio CDs blast hate rhetoric in restaurants and shops across the country, including the speeches of an influential and well-known monk, U-Wirathu, who has sparked fierce international criticism for his anti- Muslim speeches, according to local news.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the government of not doing enough to stem his and other Burmese monks’ hate speech.

“The government is not implementing the basic rule of law to hold instigators of violence accountable... If you instigate and engage in violence you should be held responsible, whether you are wearing a saffron robe or not,” said Phil Robertson, deputy executive director for HRW in Southeast Asia.

While the ideals of Buddhist canonical texts promote peace and pacifism, discrepancies between reality and precepts “easily flourish” in times of social, political and economic insecurity, such as Myanmar's current transition to democracy, according to Jerryson.

Monks serve as one of society’s main moral compasses in Theravada Buddhism - practised in Southeast Asian countries including Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Their influence has reached into the political life of most of these countries, creating a fusion between religion and national identity.

In Myanmar’s ethnically and religiously heterogeneous society, non-Buddhists are increasingly feeling the weight of Buddhist radicalism, say analysts.

Longstanding state persecution of non-Buddhists

Despite the country’s demographics boasting a 90 percent Buddhist majority of Myanmar's estimated 60 million people, the “969” campaign is predicated on fear of the country being overtaken by Muslims (some 5 percent of the population, most of whom are both disenfranchized and stateless) determined to spread Islam and destroy Buddhist communities.

“Even the most peace-loving religious traditions can be fused with movements of ethnic anger and political power that lead to violence,” Mark Juergensmeyer, the director of the Orfalea Centre for Global and International Studies at the University of Santa Barbara, California, and expert on religious violence, told IRIN.

“If Islam, a religious tradition whose very name means peace, can be associated with violence [by extremists] it should be no surprise that there are angry Buddhists who become violent as well,” explained Juergensmeyer.

The entanglement of Buddhism with the Burmese national identity dates back to the 1962 advent of military rule, and continues even after a quasi-civilian government came to power in 2011.
Burmese politics promote a homogenous Buddhist, Burmese identity through longstanding state persecution of non-Buddhists, according to the Oxford Burma Alliance (OBA), an advocacy group based in London's Oxford University promoting the rights of ethnic minorities in Myanmar.

“Persecution has always been part of the national policy of `Burmanisation', an ultra-nationalist ideology based on the racial purity of the Burman ethnicity and its Buddhist faith,” reported OBA.

“When monks tell people violence is OK, and that it will gain [karmic] merit for people, it is a powerful enabling force”
Monks have historically played a prominent political role in Myanmar, most notably in the 2007 peaceful demonstration known as the Saffron Revolution. Tens of thousands of monks marched to denounce the military regime’s brutality, which resulted in thousands of arrests of monastic community members.

However, six years later, the monastic marchers are no longer preaching pacifism.

Violence targeting ethnic Rohingya (Muslims of Indian ancestry based in Rakhine State near the Bangladesh border) in June and October 2012 killed at least 250 and has resulted in the segregation of 140,000 Muslim Rohingya in almost 90 closed camps for internally displaced persons near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State.

Rioting spread in March 2013 to the country’s central city of Meikhtila, destroying up to 1,200 houses and killing at least 44 people. The latest violence marked the first time Burmese monks openly incited mass killings and the destruction of property.

And though 25 Buddhists were recently sentenced to as many as 15 years imprisonment for Meikhtila’s two days of bloodshed, these rulings followed weeks of punishments meted out almost exclusively to Muslims for violence that drove out some 30,000 Muslims from the city.

Fine print of pacifism

While the Buddhist teaching on `ahimsa’, or non-violence, is one of the religion’s five fundamental precepts, the impact on a person’s future life (another Buddhist belief is reincarnation) is not equal for everyone, but rather is based on the type of life form committing the violence and the intention of the perpetrator.

In Myanmar monks have used this belief to rationalize their dehumanization of Muslims, and classify violence against them as acts of self-defence, as long as the monks can prove “pure intentions”.

“Across Buddhist traditions, intention is an exception to the rule when committing violence,” said Jerryson. “If violence is seen as being a way to protect Buddhism and you have pure thoughts to help or defend that, then it becomes [acceptable],” he added.

But members in the international Buddhist community have condemned what they call manipulation of an exception to justify violence.

“We are deeply ashamed by the appalling treatment of Muslims now occurring in some Buddhist countries,” said Richard Gombrich, the founder and director of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist studies, referring to ongoing violence against Muslims in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and southern Thailand.

“Theravada Buddhists, and particularly their leaders, are betraying the Buddhist value of non-violence, let alone kindness and compassion,” he added.

Critics of Buddhist-instigated violence say monks are tapping into long-standing animosity between Buddhists and Muslims at a time of enormous social upheaval.

“Muslims have become scapegoats to displace people's fear and frustrations,” said the author Jerryson.

“Powerful enabling force”

Since November 2011, Myanmar has opened up its economy to foreign investment, increased political space for disparate and previously suppressed ethnic groups - such as the Rakhine Buddhists - to have a voice, and lifted press censorship laws.

Living in the second poorest state in Myanmar, Rakhine Buddhists have suffered marginalization from the central government as an ethnic minority that has long fought for greater political power in the majority Burman-ruled country.

Against a backdrop of economic and political change, “people look to monks to guide them; monks are like externalized super egos for the community. When monks tell people violence is OK, and that it will gain [karmic] merit for people, it is a powerful enabling force,” said Jerryson, the religious studies professor.

Reconciliation looking difficult

While UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's statement earlier this month called on “moderate voices” from religious leaders and civil society to counter the country’s “dangerous polarization” and extremism, Robertson with HRW noted: “It is difficult for persons who want to stop the religious violence because then they are going against the religious and community leaders.”

Strong political and public support for “969” leaders and extremist monks have made it increasingly difficult for any Buddhists to speak out, while the near absence of government policies to promote community reconciliation heightens the risk of the re-emergence of violence.

Meanwhile, according to Refugees International, a US-based advocacy organization for displaced persons, Myanmar’s government continues to condone radical violent behaviour against Muslims by allowing hate speech to go unpunished, failing to protect members of the Rohingya community during recent outbreaks of violence, and continuing to arrest Muslim leaders in response to recent violence in disproportionate numbers.

Without addressing root causes as well as the grievances of all affected populations equally, inter-communal violence may spread to neighbouring countries hosting Buddhist and Muslim populations and pose “a further threat” to regional security and stability, warned the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

But all of this would require a shift in Myanmar's attempt to create a Buddhist national identity.

“Reconciliation requires an ability by the state to establish a moratorium on violence. The idea that being Burmese means being Buddhist has to be put away,” concluded Jerryson.

UN expert welcomes end to Myanmar’s border force, calls for probe into rights abuses

July 16,2013

UNITED NATIONS, July 16 (APP):  A U.N. expert Tuesday welcomed the abolition of Myanmar’s notorious border security force, known as Nasaka, and called for an investigation of human rights abuses committed by its members against the Rohingya Muslim population in Rakhine state. I have received allegations of the most serious of human rights  violations involving Nasaka, particularly against the local Rohingya population, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture in detention, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said in a statement.I have no doubt that the violations committed over the years with complete impunity have undermined the rule of law in Rakhine state, and had serious consequences for the peaceful coexistence of communities there.

Ojea Quintana stressed that the abolition of Nasaka should not mean that credible allegations of widespread human rights violations by its members should be ignored, and called on the Government to hold the perpetrators to account.
Furthermore, whatever force takes the place of Nasaka, it is vital that the issue of impunity is addressed, he said. If the new force is not held accountable for its conduct, then the Government will not have addressed the underlying problem.
The expert had previously called on the Government to suspend all Nasaka’s operations in Rakhine state and introduce reforms to the border security force, noting that its current activities discriminated against vulnerable and marginalized groups in Myanmar.
The vast majority of the 800,000 Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine are without citizenship and are stateless, making them extremely vulnerable to human rights violations.
Ojea Quintana also urged reforms of the discriminatory laws and regulations which Nasaka used to extort money from the local Rohingya population, including with regard to marriage permits, freedom of movement, registration of newborn children, and access to education and employment.
Reform of discriminatory laws needs to accompany institutional reform, in line with the country’s national reform efforts, he said.
How the Government deals with the situation in Rakhine state is a good  indicator of the depth and commitment of its efforts at the national level to bring democracy, respect for human rights and national reconciliation to the people of Myanmar. 

Burmese sleepwalking into “ethnic cleansing”

July 16,2013
National Post
Araminta Wordsworth
Warning to the West:  Remember Rwanda
AP Photo / Matt Dunham Warning to the West: Remember Rwanda
Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth brings you a daily round-up of quality punditry from across the globe.  Today: A genocide could be brewing in Burma where monks are firing up the majority Buddhist populace to attack Muslims.
As happened in Rwanda almost two decades ago, the West is looking the other way while the inter-religious (and ethnic) assaults and killings mount
Rohingya Muslims make up about 5% of Burma’s population, but as the majority Buddhists tell it, they represent a growing threat to the country’s well-being just by being there.
They are also outsiders ethnically. Many are the descendants of people from the Indian subcontinent who moved to Burma during the days of the British raj. Others are dispossessed peasants from Bangladesh who have eked out a living on the fringes of society. Most are stateless.
At least 237 people have been killed in the past year and about 150,000 people fled their homes. The deadliest incidents have been in Rakhine, home to about 800,000 Rohingya Muslims. More recently, the violence has spread to central Burma, where roving gangs of Buddhists are attacking mosques and Muslim-owned businesses. However, most of those sentenced for taking part in the violence have been Muslim.
The government appears to have done else little to quell the violence, though President Thein Sein spouted all the right words on the weekend
“Freedom of religion and freedom of expression must be protected for democracy to flourish in Myanmar and mutual trust, respect, understanding and tolerance are needed in order to have freedom of religious worship and expression,” he said.
This looked remarkably like window dressing coming as it did just before his visit to London and Paris, where the matter was bound to be discussed. “We are … very keen to see greater action in terms of promoting human rights and dealing with regional conflicts,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said. “We are particularly concerned about what has happened in Rakhine province and the Rohingya Muslims.”
Sadly, the whole affair has tarnished the reputation of Aung San Suu Kyi, once seen as Burma’s democracy icon but who has little to say about the violence.  “They are not our citizens” is the chilling line put forward by her National League for Democracy. (Translation: she has an election to win and can’t afford to turn off voters.)
Ahamed Jarmal, secretary general of the Burmese Rohingya Organization, is among those who fear Burma could become another Rwanda. Writing in The Guardian, he says, 
In Burma, ethnic cleansing is happening. We have seen more human rights violations and attacks on Rohingya minorities in the past two years than in the last 20. Organized in monasteries and on Facebook, a wave of hate is being broadcast against the Muslim Rohingya community in Burma and a new apartheid system is being introduced.
My family regularly get called “dogs” or worse when they walk down the street. The government continues to deny us citizenship, telling us this isn’t our home. We can’t marry the people we love and are told we’re only allowed to have two children per family. We can’t travel from one village to another without permission. No other minority in the world faces such extreme and vicious treatment. We are being treated as criminals simply because we exist.
His remarks are bolstered by reporting from Burma itself. In an article for The Daily Telegraph from Mandalay, Fiona MacGregor notes,
Radical Buddhist nationalism is sweeping Burma, and at the forefront of the movement is a group more commonly associated with peace and tolerance: monks.
The most prominent among them is the controversial cleric U Wirathu, who gives passionate sermons from his Mandalay base calling on Buddhists to stand up against the “Muslim threat.”
“I believe Islam is a threat not just to Buddhism, but to the [Burmese] people and the country,” says the monk, whose boyish face and toothy grin belie the name his critics have given him: “the Buddhist bin Laden”.
Time magazine recently set off an uproar in Burma when it profiled the 46-year-old monk under the headline, “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”
The backlash showed how little things have rarely changed in Burma. The generals reverted to their usual tactics: ban the magazine and shoot the messenger, writes Francis Wade, who has also interviewed Wirathu, in a posting on the website Asian Correspondent.
President Thein Sein and his spokesperson Ye Htut have personally weighed in on the furor surrounding the interview. Their concern is that it could affect government efforts to rebuild harmony between Buddhists and Muslims (quite where these are I’m not sure), or sully the reputation of Buddhism. Nowhere do they address the actual parts of the interview that are cause for alarm, such as Wirathu’s dictate to followers that, “Now is not the time for calm. Now is the time to rise up, to make your blood boil.”
It seems the journalist who wrote the piece is the greater of two evils. It reminds me of an article that appeared in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper several weeks after Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which killed close to 140,000 people. ‘The enemy that is worse than the cyclone’ was the headline, and the article an indictment of the work of journalists who had circumvented government restrictions to report on the true extent of the disaster, which the junta had tried to hide. They were deemed worse than the death toll of the cyclone.
compiled by Araminta Wordsworth

Buddhist monk dubbed "the face of terror" (Australia News Network )

ဝီရသူေျပာတဲ႕သူရဲ႕အိမ္မက္အေၾကာင္း (ANNသတင္းဌာနဗီဒီယို)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rohingyas struggle to find new home

July 15 2013
The Jakarta Post

Seeking refuge: Muhammad Hafid, a Rohingya refugee, comforts his infant son while taking shelter at the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) headquarters in Central Jakarta earlier last week. Some Rohingya refugees who were bound for a third country have claimed to have been abused by authorities. JP/Jerry Adiguna
Seeking refuge: Muhammad Hafid, a Rohingya refugee, comforts his infant son while taking shelter at the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) headquarters in Central Jakarta earlier last week. Some Rohingya refugees who were bound for a third country have claimed to have been abused by authorities. JP/Jerry Adigun

In the corner of the room, Muhammad Hanif had just started to eat with his sister, Hasinah, when Jakarta Legal Aid (LBH) legal consultant came to check on them and their fellow Rohingya refugees on the third floor of the LBH office.

Hanif wore a dull white shirt with a plaid sarong covering his thin, dark-skinned body. The eyes of the 38-year-old man from Myanmar seem tired and lost.

He went to sit on the floor, but the consultant asked him to have a seat on the leather couch. “I don’t know what to do anymore. I just want people to help me and my family to get citizenship,” he said.

The long-standing discrimination and human rights abuses against members of the minority group in Myanmar, which have intensified recently, have caused hundreds of thousands to seek asylum in other countries, including Indonesia.

Hanif, whose parents fled Myanmar in the 1980s, is trying to find a new country to live in and is one of 506 asylum seekers and 135 refugees who have ended up in Indonesia, either directly or through other countries like Malaysia.

Predominantly Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia, unlike Australia and most other countries in the Asia Pacific region, have not ratified the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees, which stipulates that refugees from political or other forms of persecution should not be penalized for illegal entry or overstay.

Australia ratified the convention in 1954 and in 2011 began to increase their humanitarian intake of refugees.

Hanif told The Jakarta Post that his parents had fled Mangdaw, a town in the Rakhine State in the western part of Myanmar three decades ago. In the 1980s, the Myanmar government had refused to acknowledge that the Rohingya ethnic group, believed to have been imported from Bangladesh as farm laborers during the British colonial period, was qualified for citizenship.

“After living 30 years in Malaysia and having many interviews at the UNHCR office there, I realized we didn’t have much hope for citizenship,” he said.

Hanif brought his family to Indonesia, in January. They came in through Medan, North Sumatra, and stayed there for two months before continuing their journey to Jakarta.

Unfortunately, Indonesia treats asylum seekers as illegal immigrants, who are usually sent to detention centers and returned to their country of origin.

“That’s why I decided to take my family to Australia from Indonesia,” Hanif said.

The plan failed. Hanif said his family was deceived by a group of eight men who promised to take them to Australia for Rp 132 million (US$13,200).

“Instead, these men took us to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and locked us in an empty warehouse after beating us,” he said.

A janitor working near the warehouse found and helped the desperate Rohingya family. Hanif said that it was this man who took them to the UNHCR office in Kebon Sirih, Central Jakarta, to request refugee status.

“The UNHCR staff said that the process could take a long time. They need to verify whether we are really Rohingya or not,” he said.

While waiting for verification, the Rohingya family has lived in many places, including the Sunda Kelapa mosque. Now, LBH Jakarta is voluntarily supporting them.

Febi Yonesta from the Indonesian Civil Society Network for Refugee Protection told the Post that according to the UNHCR data, 8,584 persons of concern have come to Indonesia to seek asylum and refuge since 2008.

Some of these persons of concern live in detention centers, such as those in Medan, Jakarta, Makassar, Manado, Pekanbaru and Kupang. Others live outside the detention centers without any legal protection or access to education, health services or jobs.

“The government needs to create a law to protect refugees who want to seek asylum and to differentiate them from criminals and illegal immigrants,”he said

On the trail of Myanmar's Rohingya migrants

24 May 2015  BBC News Malaysian authorities say they have discovered a number of mass graves near the border with Thailand.