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A Rohingya family from Myanmar at an Indonesian hospital in Langsa in Aceh province in May, 2015 (AFP)

May 29, 2015

Indonesian president says that Jakarta would need international help to foot the bill for housing thousands of destitute people

Qatar pledged $50 million on Thursday to help Indonesia shelter Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, the official QNA news agency reported.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have all prevented vessels overloaded with starving migrants from Bangladesh and from Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya minority from landing on their shores.

Indonesia and Malaysia later responded to world pressure, saying they would no longer turn away migrant boats, offering to take in boat people provided they could be resettled or repatriated within a year.

But Thailand began a crackdown on smuggling following the discovery of mass graves there, which appears to have thrown regional human-trafficking routes into chaos. 

The aid pledge was announced by Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim as he met visiting Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in Doha, who briefed him on "efforts by Indonesia and Malaysia in confronting the problem of refugees" from Myanmar and Bangladesh, QNA said.

He ordered a "donation worth $50 million from Qatar to the Indonesian government to help it cover costs of hosting the Rohingya" refugees.

The International Organisation for Migration has appealed for $26 million to help migrants in southeast Asia.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Sunday indicated that Jakarta would need international help to foot the bill for housing thousands of destitute people.

More than 3,500 people have swum ashore or been rescued off the coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh since the crisis erupted earlier this month.

Thousands of Rohingya fleeing persecution in mostly Buddhist Myanmar, along with Bangladeshis seeking to escape grinding poverty, are still believed to be at sea.

Myanmar's government sees its 1.3 million Rohingya as "illegal immigrants" from neighbouring Bangladesh, and denies most of them citizenship.

Doha has faced much criticism over the treatment of migrants in Qatar.



May 29, 2015

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Several Nobel Peace Prize winners on Thursday called for an end to the persecution of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims, describing it as "nothing less than genocide," and appealed for international help for them in Rakhine state.

The appeal came at the end of a three-day conference in the Norwegian capital where participants witnessed video addresses from Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including from South Africa's retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi and former East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta.

"What Rohingyas are facing is a textbook case of genocide in which an entire indigenous community is being systematically wiped out by the Burmese government," the final statement said.

Held at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, the conference urged the international community "to take all possible measures to pressure" the Myanmar government to "immediately end its policies and practices of genocide."

Philanthropist George Soros, who escaped Nazi-occupied Hungary, said that there were "alarming" parallels between the plight of the Rohingya and the Nazi genocide.

Pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi hadn't been invited to the event, organized by the Norwegian Burma Committee. During her 15 years under house arrest, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate won admiration for her fiery speeches and scathing criticism of the military regime that ruled Myanmar, or Burma, at the time. Her critics note she is carefully choosing her battles, in part because she has presidential ambitions.

In recent weeks, thousands of Rohingya have fled persecution and landed on the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, often abandoned by human traffickers or freed after their families paid ransoms. There are approximately 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims.

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This story has been corrected to show the last name of one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners is Ebadi, not Ibadi.

(Photo: AFP)

By Rebecca Hamlin
May 29, 2015

Last Thursday, after weeks of refusing to open their borders, the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia caved to international pressure and began offering assistance to Rohingya asylum seekers stranded in the Andaman Sea between those two countries. Their smugglers had abandoned ship, leaving thousands of people adrift in rickety boats without adequate food or water. 

But why did thousands of people attempt such a risky voyage? The Rohingya people are a Muslim ethnic minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where they are the target of extreme persecution. The Burmese government has stripped them of their citizenship and banned the use of the term Rohingya (as if that act would erase them from existence).

Government scapegoating of the Rohingya has become a nation-building tactic in Myanmar, leading to bouts of ethnic cleansing and mass displacement. In short, compared to the untenable conditions at home, even a high-risk escape plan is appealing for many.

As the numbers of Rohingya asylum seekers fleeing Myanmar by boat have increased in recent months, the Thai, Indonesian, and Malaysian governments have been vocal about their reluctance to offer protection.

The Australian government has also refused to assist any boat people in the region. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been adamant in his claim that “If we do the slightest thing to encourage people to get on boats this problem will get worse, not better.”

The trouble with Abbott’s statement is that the evidence suggests otherwise. The ineffectiveness of deterrence policies cannot be proven definitively, because we can never know how many more people might have attempted to seek asylum in their absence.

Nevertheless, the data on asylum-seeking indicates strongly that people flee persecution no matter how dangerous their journey will be, as I discuss in detail in my book. Uncertainty, and even danger, are often preferable to the certain suffering they face at home.

For example, despite sustained efforts by the European Union to deter illegal border crossing, Europe’s border control agency recently reported several record-breaking years of illegal entries. The number of asylum applications lodged in Europe in 2014 was 615,000. That’s an all-time high.

The majority of people filing these applications are from Syria, Libya, and Eritrea. They continue to pay smugglers and attempt the dangerous, often deadly, journey across the Mediterranean because of instability in their home countries.

Similarly, despite the militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, and despite consistently low acceptance rates for asylum seekers from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, last summer tens of thousands of predominantly women and children attempted the extremely dangerous journey north, because of a spike in gang violence in Central America.

Australia has been a pioneer in asylum-seeker deterrence, but since its notorious Pacific Solution was implemented in 2001, the boats have kept on coming. Asylum seekers continue to pay smugglers to help them attempt the dangerous ocean journey, despite the certainty of detention in offshore prisons if they are apprehended.

In fact, the number of asylum seekers in Australian detention centers has only gotten larger since the Pacific Solution began.

Asylum seeker destination countries use deterrence policies not because they actually work, but because they play well politically.

In the post-Cold War era, accepting refugees carries very little geopolitical strategic value. Instead, asylum seekers can look a lot like undocumented immigrants, and boat arrivals can look a lot like an invasion.

Even when deterrence policies do successfully deflect asylum seekers, they don’t stay home. Rather, they flee to poorer countries that are far less able to handle arrivals.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the countries currently hosting the largest number of refugees are Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

The Rohingya keep leaving Myanmar even in the face of extreme uncertainty. Most have fled to Bangladesh, which is not exactly a land of economic opportunity. The remainder have come to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, none of which are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention. Asylum seekers who make it ashore in these countries must live in limbo, with few rights or future prospects.

Countries can claim that asylum seekers are expensive and burdensome. They can claim that poor, uneducated, migrants are unappealing, or difficult to assimilate.

However, the claim that deterrence strategies save lives or prevent or reduce human trafficking is not strongly supported by the available evidence. The plight of the Rohingya is a case in point.

Rebecca Hamlin in an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Grinnell College. She is the author of Let Me Be a Refugee: Administrative Justice and the Politics of Asylum in the United States, Canada, and Australia (Oxford, 2014).



By AFP
May 29, 2015

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- plans to relocate thousands of Rohingya who have spent years in refugee camps near the Myanmar border to a southern island, as the region faces a human trafficking crisis.

The government has started preparing for the relocation to Hatiya island in the Bay of Bengal in a move backed by prime mnister Sheikh Hasina, said additional secretary Amit Kumar Baul on Wednesday.

“The relocation of the Rohingya camps will definitely take place. So far informal steps have been taken according to the PM’s directives,” said Mr Baul, head of the government’s Myanmar Refugee Cell.

A Rohingya leader urged the government to cancel the plans, saying it would only make life worse for the refugees – many of whom have been languishing in the camps for years since they left Myanmar.

“We want the [Bangladesh] government and international organisations to resolve our issue from here,” Mohammad Islam, a community leader in one of the camps, said.

Bangladesh is home to 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees who are sheltering in two camps in the southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar which borders Myanmar.

The Rohingya leave Myanmar largely to escape discriminatory treatment by the Buddhist majority.

Mr Baul said the move was partly prompted by concerns the camps were holding back tourism in Cox’s Bazar, home to the world’s longest unbroken beach and where locals flock to beach hotels and resorts.

“The government has been paying [increasing] importance to the tourism sector. Therefore, a plan to relocate them to an isolated area is under process,” he said.

Thousands of persecuted Rohingya from Myanmar as well as Bangladeshi migrants have been attempting perilous journeys by boat to South-East Asia.

Thailand began a crackdown on human trafficking and smuggling following the discovery of mass graves there, which appears to have thrown regional trafficking routes into chaos.

News of the plan comes just days after Mr Hasina slammed Bangladesh’s own economic migrants, many of whom are stranded in dire conditions at sea, calling them “mentally sick” and accusing them of hurting his country’s image.

Badre Firdaus, government administrator of Hatiya island, said 200 hectares of land has been identified as suitable for the relocation.

The move would not include the estimated 200,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees who have fled across the border over the past decade and taken refuge in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Most live close to the two camps but are not entitled to food or other aid.

Rights groups say those illegal Rohingya migrants survive in appalling conditions in Bangladesh, living on the margins and running the gauntlet of the country’s authorities.



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Erik Leaver, eleaver@endgenocide.org, 202-556-2130

Threat of Rohingya Genocide Hangs Over Bangkok “Boat Crisis” Summit

Anti-Genocide Group Warns that Failure to Address Root Cause of Crises Could Fuel Disaster

Trail of Mass Graves, Doomed Boats Leads Back to Burma

In advance of a regional meeting to discuss the Rohingya crisis in Southeast Asia, United to End Genocide, a U.S. based human rights advocacy group, called on participants to address the root cause of the crisis – the threat of genocide that is driving desperate Rohingya families to flee western Burma.

“Denial of the brutal reality for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Burma must not be an option at the Bangkok summit. Doing so could be a death sentence for those imperiled by a march to genocide.” said former U.S. Congressman Tom Andrews, President of United to End Genocide, who recently returned from Burma and Malaysia where he met with families of Rohingya who fled Burma by boat.

This is a humanitarian crisis that demands action, not denial, by Summit participants and observers. Being bullied into silence by the government of Burma – or failing to call the Rohingya by their name – will only aid and abet those behind this catastrophe.

The lives at risk at sea and the discovery of over 100 mass graves in human trafficking camps are just the latest horrific manifestation of the treatment of the Rohingya.

With at least 100,000 Rohingya fleeing Burma by boat over the past few years it is clear: as long as Burma continues its policies of persecution, the number of trafficking victims will continue to rise.

Expressions of shock by U.S. government officials and pressuring Burma’s neighbors to take in the Rohingya is only a temporary fix.

What the U.S. administration should be doing is what they have been reluctant to do, confronting the source of this hell – the failure of the government of Burma to stop its systematic repression and endangerment of 1.3 million innocent people because of their ethnicity and the God who they pray to.

If the Obama administration truly wants to end the crisis, it should take a clear public stand against the government of Burma’s repression of the Rohingya, impose sanctions against those behind the violence, degrade Burma’s Trafficking in Persons designation, and end the movement toward greater military-to-military relations.

And, it should say the name of the most persecuted ethnic minority on earth – the Rohingya of Burma.”

Andrews is available for interviews. Contact Erik Leaver, eleaver@endgenocide.org, 202-556-2130.

To read United to End Genocide’s report, “Marching to Genocide in Burma” visit: 

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United to End Genocide is an advocacy organization dedicated to preventing and ending genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. For more information visit: endgenocide.org.



By Ainur Rohmah
May 28, 2015

Around 200 Rohingya children - many of whom lost parents at sea at the hands of people traffickers - to be placed in Muslim boarding schools.

JAKARTA -- Indonesia says it plans to place more than 200 Rohingya children - many of whom have lost parents at sea at the hands of people traffickers - in Muslim boarding schools in order for them to obtain education and enable their recovery.

Minister of Religious Affairs Lukman Hakim Saifuddin told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that the schools are ready and waiting for the children - many of whom are suffering malnutrition and unable to read and write.

"[The schools] are especially for those who separated from their parents or even lost parents because of death," said Saifuddin in Wonosobo, Central Java.

"They are entitled to a good education and we should help them," he added.

The children are among thousands of migrants who began beaching on Indonesian and Malaysian shores after Thailand launched a crackdown on human trafficking in its southern region May 1.

The three countries responded by initially taking in some of the boats, before their navies began turning the vessels back to sea after providing them with food and water – drawing the criticism of rights groups.


However, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed last week to shelter the Rohingya on board – many of whom faced persecution in Myanmar – for one year, while repatriating the Bangladeshis.

Of the children in Indonesia entitled to places in the schools, one Rohingya orphan - Jamal Husein - told Jawa Pos newspaper on Wednesday how his family were killed on a boat during a fight between Rohingya and Bangladeshis.

The eight-year-old said that it occurred as passengers succumbed to hunger, and started to brawl because their supplies were almost used up.

"The Bangladeshis asked food from us, but they were disappointed as we refused," he said. 

"Then fighting broke out, in which dozens of people lost their lives."

Husein said he could only hide on the boat, crying as he clutched his three-year-old sister, Rizuana.

Together they watched his father, mother, and two brothers being butchered.

"They beat my father with a wooden club and knife. My mother and my brothers tried to save him but were killed too. After my family died, they [the Bangladeshis] threw their bodies into the sea," Husein said.

He said that they were poor families from Myanmar, heading to Malaysia in the hope of changing their fortunes.

"I do not know where to go next. I have no relatives here," he told Jawa Pos .

Minister of Social Affairs, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, has said that of the 1039 Rohingya migrants sheltering in Indonesia, around 230 are children -- many of them orphans like Husein.

According to Kompas.com, Parawansa said Wednesday that a number of boarding houses from several regions in Indonesia had offered to look after them for a year until the Government determines its follow-up policy towards refugees.

An executive member of Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, told Anadolu Agency Wednesday that he was thoroughly in support of the plan to educate the children, saying that conditions in boarding schools were much better than in the shelters where they were presently being housed.

Masdar Farid Mas'udi said that as well as giving them an education the schools would give them emotional strength, mentor them and contribute towards their religious education.



By Joshua Carroll
May 28, 2015

Human Rights Watch says success of Friday’s regional meeting on migrants depends on governments no longer sweeping crisis under the rug

YANGON, Myanmar -- Governments meeting to discuss the migrant boat crisis in Southeast Asia’s seas should “exert pressure” on Myanmar as the “main source of the problem," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.

Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state make up the majority of the thousands left stranded at sea in recent weeks, but the government has denied responsibility.

HRW also urged governments, who are due to meet in Bangkok on Friday for a regional summit, to pressure Bangladesh to stop its policy of pushing back migrant boats and to “end its persecution of Rohingya.”

Seventeen countries, including Myanmar (also known as Burma), Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Australia and the Philippines will attend the summit.

“Regional governments should work with the United Nations and others to agree on binding solutions to this human tragedy – not sweep it under the rug as they have done for years,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.

“The ending of human rights abuses in the source countries of Burma and Bangladesh needs to be matched by Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, with support from other countries, taking humanitarian action to receive and protect refugees fleeing persecution.”

The crisis began to receive international attention when a crackdown on people smuggling camps by Thai authorities scared traffickers into abandoning boats. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia then began turning away boats, leaving thousands in perilous conditions.

On Wednesday, Buddhist nationalists took to the streets of Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, to protest against international pressure on Myanmar to resolve the crisis. They chanted “Stop blaming Myanmar” and carried placards denouncing the United Nations.

Myanmar’s government, along with many others in the country, do not acknowledge the Rohingya as an ethnicity, and say the group are interlopers from Bangladesh.

Many Rohingya live under apartheid-like conditions and are denied basic rights, including freedom of movement and access to education.

HRW on Thursday also urged governments to emphasize the “urgent need” for search and rescue efforts, and to “ensure unimpeded and unconditional access” for the UN’s refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration.

“This regional meeting will only be a success if every government commits to effective search and rescue operations, meeting the protection needs of refugees, prosecuting traffickers, and resolving the root causes that drive these desperate people onto boats,” Adams said.

“International burden sharing, including resettling refugees, is also important, but will only be a lasting solution if all governments agree that human rights must be at the center of all current and future policies.”

Rohingya refugees cooked food at a shelter in Indonesia on Thursday. Thousands have fled Myanmar to escape deprivation and persecution. Credit: Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

By Thomas Fuller
May 28, 2015

BANGKOK — When they embraced democracy and vowed to leave behind their repressive and dictatorial past, the leaders of Myanmar enjoyed a honeymoon of praise and admiration from luminaries across the globe.

But the country’s harsh treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority, setting off an exodus of people by boat across Southeast Asia, has unleashed a barrage of criticism in recent days aimed not only at the country’s former generals but also at the leader of Myanmar’s democracy movement, the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader and a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, was quoted on Thursday in an Australian newspaper as saying that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi should be helping to address the plight of the Rohingya, who number more than a million but are not recognized as citizens of Myanmar, are restricted in their travels and suffer persecution and deprivation.

“I met her two times, first in London and then the Czech Republic,” the Dalai Lama told The Australian. “I mentioned about this problem and she told me she found some difficulties, that things were not simple but very complicated.”

“But in spite of that I feel she can do something,” he added.

The Rohingya are widely reviled in Myanmar, which is overwhelmingly Buddhist and has an influential radical Buddhist political movement. Speaking out for the Rohingya is seen as a form of political kryptonite for any Buddhist politician like Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has offered various explanations in recent years for her reluctance to speak out for the Rohingya, saying at one point that a public airing of her views could further stoke the fires of radical Buddhists, who have ransacked Rohingya villages, displacing more than 100,000 Rohingya.

Jonah Fisher, a BBC correspondent in Yangon, said in a Twitter post on Thursday that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s latest statement on the Rohingya was that it was the government’s duty to solve the issue.

Her critics have said that someone of her enormous moral authority in Myanmar should take a stronger stance.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, another winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said in a recorded message aired this week that aid donors, including the European Union, should make their funding for the impoverished country “conditional on the restoration of citizenship, nationality and basic human rights to the Rohingya.”

“A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country,” Archbishop Tutu said in remarks that were broadcast at a conference on the Rohingya in Oslo this week.

He said he agreed with those who say a “slow genocide” was being committed against the Rohingya.

At the same conference, George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who for more than two decades has been active in promoting democracy, sent a videotaped speech in which he said he was “growing discouraged” by developments in Myanmar.

“The most immediate threat to Burma’s transition is the rising anti-Muslim sentiment and officially condoned abuse of the Rohingya people,” he said.

Mr. Soros said he visited a Rohingya settlement in January and saw parallels to his youth as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe.

“You see, in 1944, as a Jew in Budapest, I too was a Rohingya,” he said.

The Rohingya settlement was a ghetto, he said, an “involuntary home to thousands of families who once had access to health care, education and employment.”

“Now, they are forced to remain segregated in a state of abject deprivation. The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming.”

Myanmar officials are scheduled to meet with their counterparts from other Asian countries in Bangkok on Friday for a meeting to address migrants, chief among them the Rohingya, who have been fleeing Myanmar by the thousands.

Myanmar, which changed its name from Burma during the previous military dictatorship and lashes out at governments that continue to refer to the country as Burma, refuses to recognize the term Rohingya and calls the people Bengali instead, suggesting that they come from neighboring Bangladesh.

Officials in Myanmar said they would not attend the government meeting in Thailand if the term Rohingya were used.

Thailand, which has been reluctant to anger its neighbor, agreed to Myanmar’s demands and titled the conference Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean.

By Bastian Hartig
May 28, 2015

Scores of Rohingya Muslims are fleeing violence and discrimination in Myanmar. Unscrupulous traffickers are cashing in on their misery. Two Rohingya refugees living in Thailand tell their heart-wrenching stories to DW.



Salim carefully kneads dough in a big white plastic tub in front of him. The 20-year-old squats on the floor wearing a T-shirt with "Save Rohingya Muslims" written on it. His tiny apartment, somewhere in northern Bangkok, has almost no furniture. But Salim has no complains about it, as in Thailand he doesn't have to fear for his life.

"At home (in Myanmar), I was unable to sleep," Salim told DW. "Because I feared they would come to set our houses on fire."

Salim actually goes by a different name, but he doesn't want to be identified, fearing repercussions as he came to Thailand illegally. Salim is a Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar's western Rakhine state close to Bangladesh. A year and a half ago, Salim fled his country because he could no longer deal with the discrimination and persecution, not only by local gangs, but also by government officials. "When I would go to the fields to work, they would beat me with fists and sticks. At school they would tell us, 'You don't belong here, this is not your country, and you are foreigners here,'" said Salim.

Rohingyas have been a vulnerable ethnic minority in Myanmar for decades. The country stripped them of citizenship rights in 1982. But the situation exacerbated in 2012 when some 200 people were killed and more than 100,000 were displaced in sectarian riots. According to the United Nations, some 120,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar since then.

Running away

In October 2013, Salim, who was still a teenager, decided to run away with money that he stole from his house. Not far from his hometown, in the coastal city of Maungdaw, Salim was put on a small boat with some 50 other fugitives and was taken to the deep sea where they were transferred to a bigger vessel. The ship was used to smuggle timber but was now crammed with hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

"The guards gave us only small portions of dried rice and salty water to drink," Salim recalled, "and they beat us all the time. They wanted us to be weak, so we could not rebel," he added.

"At night, they separated the women and put them in another room. Then we would hear their screams."

In Bangkok, Salim lives next to his older brother Rafik's home. Rafik and his wife, Hamida, are also Rohingya refugees. Nineteen-year-old Hamida has a two-month-old daughter. She too left Myanmar on boat, using her most valuable possession - a golden necklace - to pay for the trip, unaware that the price would be much higher.

Once off the boat, she was sold to an elderly Malaysian man, who was probably in his 60s. He locked her inside in a small room. It was only with the help of the relatives that she could eventually be freed.

Hamida doesn't want to speak about what happened to her in those two months. When asked if her captor hurt her, she simply nods.

'Death' camps

For Salim, things took a different turn. The traffickers took him to a camp located somewhere in southern Thailand. "We were forced to sit on wet ground," Salim said. "It rained incessantly, and if we moved, the traffickers would beat us."

Many of the refugees did not survive this harsh treatment. "I saw one or two people die every day," Salim recalled. The stronger ones would bury the dead bodies.

Salim doesn't know if the camp where he was kept was one of those discovered by Thai authorities a month ago, but he says his didn't look much different.

The traffickers kept Salim and others in the camp to extort ransom from their families. "They said if they didn't get the money, they would let me die," Salim said.

Salim's parents eventually paid 60,000 Thai Baht, roughly $1,745, to traffickers. But they had to sell everything they owned - a small piece of land and two cows - to save their son's life. "I cannot describe my guilt. My family lost everything because of me. Now my younger brothers have to work as laborers so that my family can get at least some food."

Life in Thailand

In the afternoon, Salim will go out with his push cart and sell the bread he made from dough. The deep-fried bread with banana and sweet condensed milk on it is a popular snack in Thailand and is the only source of income for most Rohingya refugees in the country. With the money Salim makes from selling these 'rotis,' he can barely make ends meet. At the end of the month, he is left with no money which could send to his family in Myanmar.

Salim is pretty clear about who is to blame for the Rohingya plight: "It is the fault of the government. It should give us back our rights, our citizenship, and stop discriminating against us," he said.

But the reality is very different from Salim's demands. Just last week, Myanmar's government passed a law that allows the authorities to enforce family planning measures and make it mandatory for women to wait for 36 months before bearing another child. Critics fear this law could be used to target the Rohingya minority, thus aggravating their predicament.

Aman Ullah
RB Opinion
May 28, 2015

“What needs to change here is that the Rohingya need to feel welcome in the country of their birth, in the country of their parents’ birth, of their grandparents’ birth,” 

Tom Malinowski, US Assistant Secretary of State 

No people leave their traditional hearths and homes unless there is a serious threat to their personal security. For decades, wave after wave of Burmese refugees have fled war and oppression in their native land to seek uncertain exile in neighboring countries. Particularly the unending plight of Rohingya Muslims of Arakan continues, with time appearing to be running out for the thousands currently stranded in boats off Southeast Asian shores.


Over the last few weeks the international community has witnessed yet another round of human disaster. It is aghast at the reports, photos and television footages of the new boat people of Asia. Thousands of ethnic minority Rohingya from Burma is fleeing horrendous conditions and the threat of genocide in Burma. Now they are floating at sea trapped in crowded wooden boats. With food and clean water running low, their lives are in danger. There are also some Bangladeshi economic migrants and trafficked victims most of them are also from Bangladesh. 

These Rohingya are not victims of human traffickers, they are victims of state sponsors persecution that compelled them to flee from their country with the help of human smugglers.

Human trafficking 

Human trafficking is a trading, exploitation and movement of people without their permission or consent for the profit of a third party. It is the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. This may encompass providing a spouse in the context of forced marriage, or the extraction of organs or tissues, including for surrogacy and ova removal. Human trafficking can occur within a country or trans-nationally. Human trafficking is a crime against the person because of the violation of the victim's rights of movement through coercion and because of their commercial exploitation. Human trafficking is the trade in people, and does not necessarily involve the movement of the person from one place to another.

Human trafficking represented an estimated $31.6 billion of international trade per annum in 2010. Human trafficking is thought to be one of the fastest-growing activities of trans-national criminal organizations. Human trafficking is condemned as a violation of human rights by international conventions. 

Human Smuggling

Human smuggling is the illegal moving of people across state or national boundaries outside the rules governing such borders. Human smuggling is the facilitation, transportation, attempted transportation or illegal entry of a person(s) across an international border, in violation of one or more countries laws, either clandestinely or through deception, such as the use of fraudulent documents. This may or may not be done for a fee; it is the actual moving that is the issue. Human smuggling involves a person voluntarily requesting or hiring another individual to covertly transport them across an international border, usually because the smuggled person would be denied entry into a country by legal channels. Though illegal, there may be no deception or coercion involved. After entry into the country and arrival at their ultimate destination, the smuggled person is usually free to find their own way.

According to the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), people smuggling is a violation of national immigration laws of the destination country, and does not require violations of the rights of the smuggled person. Human trafficking, on the other hand, is a crime against a person because of the violation of the victim's rights through coercion and exploitation. Unlike most cases of people smuggling, victims of human trafficking are not permitted to leave upon arrival at their destination.

While smuggling requires travel, trafficking does not. Trafficked people are held against their will through acts of coercion, and forced to work for or provide services to the trafficker or others. The work or services may include anything from bonded or forced labor to commercial sexual exploitation. The arrangement may be structured as a work contract, but with no or low payment, or on terms which are highly exploitative. Sometimes the arrangement is structured as debt bondage, with the victim not being permitted or able to pay off the debt.

While there are significant differences between human trafficking and human smuggling, the underlying issues that give rise to these illegal activities are often similar. Generally, extreme poverty, lack of economic opportunities, civil unrest, and political uncertainty, are factors that all contribute to an environment that encourages human smuggling and trafficking in persons.

The Rohingya and Human Smuggling

The Rohingya are the worst victims of human rights violations in Burma. They were displaced. Since 1948, expelling the Rohingyas from their ancestral land and properties has become almost a recurring phenomenon. About 2 million uprooted Rohingyas have taken shelters in many countries of the world since the anti-Muslim pogrom of 1942 in Arakan. Rights groups say the Rohinggyas have "no choice" but to leave, paying people smugglers to help them. The UN estimates more than 120,000 Rohingyas have fled in the past three years.

In 1982, Burma approved a law that officially restricted citizenship to members of ethnic groups it said had settled in modern-day Burma prior to 1823. The Rohingya were not considered one of those groups and its members effectively became stateless.

The lack of citizenship deprives Rohingyas of basic rights, including access to education, freedom of movement, land rights, the protection of their property and the right to marry freely.

Tensions between Buddhists and Royingya Muslims in Rakhine state have lingered for decades but intensified in recent years, partly fueled by the hate-mongering rhetoric of extremist Buddhist monks. The International Crisis Group explains that decades of discontent among Rakhine's Buddhists over discrimination by the government, economic marginalization and human rights abuses have morphed into a general anger and fear toward the state's Muslim communities -- particularly Rohingyas. As ICG noted in a 2013 report, people's hatred for the Rohingya in Rakhine state stems from "considerable pent-up frustration and anger under years of authoritarianism that are now being directed towards Muslims by a populist political force that cloaks itself in religious respectability and moral authority."

But the anti-Rohingya sentiment transgresses Rakhine state's border and is widespread among Burmese Buddhist population. Burmese president, Thein Sein, said in 2012 that the “only solution” to the sectarian strife between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine was to expel the Rohingya to other countries or to camps overseen by the United Nations refugee agency. The issue is so sensitive that even Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner from Burma, has failed to speak out about it.

The tensions between Buddhists and Rohingyas led to major violence in 2012 and 2013, when clashes left hundreds dead and forced 140,000 Royingya people to flee their homes for temporary refugee camps outside the state capital, Sittwe.

The camps are known for horrible conditions; they lack adequate housing, sanitary provisions, and access to food, education and health care. Aid organizations have been refused access to the sites several times in the past years. The Associated Press described the living situation as "apartheid-like."

The humanitarian crisis is most acute in the camps for internally displaced peoples. In June 2014, the UN Assistant General-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung-hwa Kang, said after visiting the camps: “I witnessed a level of human suffering in the IDP camps that I have personally never seen before ... appalling conditions .... wholly inadequate access to basic services including health, education, water and sanitation.” 

Those words echo the words of the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Baroness Amos, who said after visiting the camps in December 2012: “I have seen many camps during my time but the conditions in these camps rank among the worst. Unfortunately we as the United Nations are not able to get in and do the range of work we would like to do with those people, so the conditions are terrible ... It’s a dire situation and we have to do something about it.”

In October 2014, the spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, Mr Pierre Peron, said of one particular camp, Nget Chaung: “No one should have to live in the conditions that we see in Nget Chaung”. 

The current UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee has noted in her September 2014 report to the UN General Assembly: “disturbing reports of deaths in camps owing to lack of access to emergency medical assistance and owing to preventable, chronic or pregnancy-related conditions.”

While the crisis is most acute in the camps, it is important to note that around 800,000 Rohingya living outside the camps are also in urgent need of assistance. In some areas the rates of malnutrition are over 20 per cent and the provision of health services is almost non-existent. Their conditions are similarly dire. Many are barred from leaving their villages. Unable to pursue education or employment, the future looks bleak.

It is essential also that humanitarian aid is not only provided to the Rohingya, but also to all those in need of assistance. Rakhine State is the second poorest state in Burma, where 44 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line – almost twenty per cent more than the average in most parts of Burma.

Consequently, many Rohingyas are desperate to leave the country. About 300,000 members of the group are believed to have crossed into neighboring Bangladesh. But there, too, survival is a struggle.

Refugees International's Sarnata Reynolds explained that Bangladesh hopes that by keeping life difficult for the refugees, "at some point they will just give up and leave." Only 30,000 Rohingyas are officially registered in the country as refugees and live in UN-supported camps, Reynolds said. The others live in constant fear of deportation, often relying on the registered refugees for essential supplies.

The Rohingyas thus have become an easy prey for smugglers trying to fill boats trafficking migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh to countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Smugglers typically charge about $2,000 per journey to Malaysia, the AP notes -- forcing the migrants to sell everything they have. Some traffickers have been accused of holding refugees in detention camps in Thailand until families pay a ransom to secure their release. Faced with a recent crackdown on smuggling networks by Thai authorities, traffickers often abandon their ships before reaching land in order to avoid detection.

Many of the refugees undertaking the journey to Malaysia are Rohingyas from Myanmar, a group facing so much discrimination and persecution that its members are willing to undertake the treacherous trip. These discrimination and persecution are the root cause of the crisis, which has been instrumental in pushing thousands to flee by boat with the hopes of reaching Malaysia. Tomás Ojea Quintana, a former UN special rapporteur on human rights for Myanmar, even said that the systematic violence against the group may amount to crimes against humanity.

Thus, the US State Department lambasted Burma for failing to address the root cause of the crisis, which observers say stems largely from the government’s refusal to recognize the Muslim minority as lawful citizens.

“What needs to change here is that the Rohingya need to feel welcome in the country of their birth, in the country of their parents’ birth, of their grandparents’ birth,” “They need to be treated as citizens with dignity and human rights,” Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor, told CNN during an interview on Tuesday.



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Seven Nobel Peace laureates call the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar a genocide and demand action as two-day Oslo conference ends

Oslo, Norway, May 28, 2015 - A two-day conference focusing on ending the persecution of Burma's Rohingyas concluded today, with a call from seven Nobel Peace Laureates to describe their plight as nothing less than a genocide. 

In his pre-recorded address to the conference, Desmond Tutu, leader of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, called for an end to the slow genocide of the Rohingya. 

Tutu’s appeal was amplified by six other fellow Nobel Peace laureates: Mairead Maguire from Ireland, Jody Williams from the USA, Tawakkol Karman from Yeman, Shirin Ibadi from Iran, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel from Argentina. They stated that, “what Rohingyas are facing is a textbook case of genocide in which an entire indigenous community is being systematically wiped out by the Burmese government.”

Philanthropist George Soros drew a parallel between his childhood memories of life in a Jewish ghetto under the Nazi occupation in Hungary and the plight of the Rohingya after visiting Rohingya neighborhood in Sittwe which he called a “ghetto”. “In 1944, as a Jew in Budapest, I, too was a Rohingya… The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming,” he said, in a pre-recorded address to the Oslo conference. 

The meeting was held at the prestigious Norwegian Nobel Institute and Voksenaasen Conference Center in Oslo, Norway. It was attended by Buddhist monks, Christian clergy, and Muslim leaders from Myanmar. Also present were genocide experts, international diplomats, interfaith and human rights leaders. Attendees explored ways to end Myanmar’s systematic persecution of the Rohingya, as well as foster and communal harmony in Burma.

Addressing the conference, Morten Høglund, the State Secretary of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced his government’s decision to give 10 million Norwegian Kroner ($1.2 million US) in humanitarian assistance to Burma. The participants were dismayed however, as the State Secretary choose not to even mention the word “Rohingya” in his entire speech in an apparent compliance to Myanmar’s government stand.

The conference communiqué urged the Norwegian government to immediately prioritize ending Myanmar’s genocide over its economic interests in Burma, including sizeable investment by Telenor and StatOil. 

During the conference, former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik

conferred on three leading Myanmar monks who have saved Muslim lives in Burma and opposed Islamophobia the first-ever “World Harmony awards” on behalf of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a 120-year-old interfaith organization. Rev. Seindita, Rev. Withudda, and Rev. Zawtikka, were the three awardees who also chanted Buddhist prayers at the inauguration.

Presenting the awards, the Parliament’s chair, Imam Malik Mujahid said, “These extraordinary monks challenge the widespread perception that all Buddhist monks clamor for violence against the Rohingyas.”

The participants from 16 different countries, including leading Rohingya activists and leaders, as well as genocide scholars, adopted the following statement:

--------------Full text of the communiqué adopted by the Oslo Conference----------

Today the Oslo Conference to End Myanmar’s Persecution of the Rohingya ended. The conference was held at the Norwegian Nobel Institute and Voksenaasen, Oslo, Norway on May 26 & 27, 2015.

After two days of deliberations the conference issue the following urgent appeal to the international community, based on the following conclusions:

1. The pattern of systematic human rights abuses against the ethnic Rohingya people entails crimes against humanity including the crime of genocide;

2. The Myanmar government’s denial of the existence of the Rohingya as a people violates the right of the Rohingya to self-identify;

3. The international community is privileging economic interests in Myanmar and failing to prioritize the need to end its systematic persecution and destruction of the Rohingya as an ethnic group.

The call by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to end Myanmar’s genocide of the Rohingya made during the Oslo conference is supported by six additional Nobel Peace Laureates: Mairead Maguire, Jody Williams, Tawakkol Karman, Shirin Ibadi, Leymah Gbowee, and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.

The United Nations and the international community have an urgent responsibility to stop Myanmar’s systematic persecution of the Rohingya.

As the home country of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, the conference urges the Government of Norway to immediately prioritize ending Myanmar’s genocide over its economic interests in that country, including sizeable investment by Telenor and StatOil. 

The conference calls upon the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union (EU), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the United

Nations (UN) and other relevant international actors to take all possible measures to pressure the Government of Myanmar to do the following:

to immediately end its policies and practices of genocide; 
to restore full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingya;
to institute the right of return for all displaced Rohingya; 
to effectively provide the Rohingya with all necessary protection; and
to actively promote and support reconciliation between communities in Rakhine State, Myanmar. 


Contact Persons:
USA: Imam Malik Mujahid
Chair Burma Task Force USA
malik@SoundVision.com
1-312-804-1962

UK: Dr. Maung Zarni:
447710473322

Co-Author: Co-author (with Cowley) “The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya”

[Background information on the conference: The conference was co-organized and co-sponsored by the following organizations. However, the communiqué was adopted by the attendees of the conference without any approach to the respective organizations. 

Justice for All, Burma Task Force USA; Parliament of the World’s Religions; Refugees International (USA); International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) Queen Mary University of London; Harvard Global Equality Initiative (HGEI); Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).

Dr. Maung Zarni and Imam Malik Mujahid serves as the co-chair of the conference] 

Photos:

For conference photos contact Ahmed@BurmaMuslims.org

Links to transcripts and images


Link to their video recordings at 


Links to some of the news coverage:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says aid to Myanmar must be linked to Rohingya rights ©Adam Bettcher (Getty/AFP)

By AFP
May 27, 2015

South Africa's Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu called Tuesday for international aid to Myanmar to be linked to the plight of the country's persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.

"2015 is a big year for Myanmar with both a referendum on its constitution and a general election," Tutu told an Oslo conference on the Rohingya.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that the plight of the Rohingya is not lost," he said in a pre-recorded message aired to participants.

"We have a responsibility to persuade our international and regional aid and grant-making institutions, including the European Union, to adopt a common position making funding the development of Myanmar conditional on the restoration of citizenship, nationality, and basic human rights to the Rohingya," he said.

The 1984 Nobel laureate is an anti-apartheid hero respected around the world as a moral authority.

Tens of thousands of Myanmar's 1.3 million Rohingya have fled the country in recent years, to escape sectarian violence as well as suffocating restrictions preventing travel and employment.

Each year thousands of Rohingya try to flee Myanmar by boat headed for other Southeast Asian countries, spurring a human trafficking trade in often dramatic conditions.

(Photo: Free Malaysia Today)

May 27, 2015

TOKYO -- The issue of ethnic Rohingya refugees is an international problem and not ASEAN's alone, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Najib said while Malaysia and its neighbours tried to look for an ASEAN solution, the issue of Rohingya boat people was also an international problem that required international solution.

"I took the opportunity to brief Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe on the latest challenge faced by Malaysia and ASEAN. Anything Japan can do to help us to alleviate this problem, is very much welcomed," he said.

Najib was speaking at a joint press conference with his counterpart Shinzo Abe after their bilateral meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, here.

Kedah has been facing a flood of illegal Rohingya and Bangladeshi immigrants since two weeks ago when 1,158 of the aliens were arrested after landing in Langkawi on May 11.

The landing took place when Thailand conducted large-scale operations to combat human trafficking by syndicates after finding more than 30 bodies in a mass grave in the south of the country, early this month.

Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to provide temporary shelter for the 7,000 illegals who are believed to be still in international waters, nearby.

In the joint statement issued after their bilateral meeting, both leaders said they acknowledged the dire humanitarian circumstances with regard to the Rohingya issue.

Abe said he welcomed the efforts made by Malaysia in reaching the agreement with Indonesia to provide temporary shelter to the refugees provided that the resettlement and repatriation process would be done in one year by the international community.

Human remains being disinterred from an informal cemetery near an abandoned camp allegedly for trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis in mountainous jungle on the Malaysian side of the Thai-Malaysian border. (Photo: James Nachtwey for TIME)

By Hannah Beech/Wang Kelian
May 27, 2015

Burma's persecuted Muslim minority takes unspeakable risks into order to flee to Malaysia

Less than a kilometer from Malaysia’s border with Thailand, the trappings of death are littered across the jungle: a stretcher made of branches to carry bodies, reams of white cloth used to wrap the deceased in Muslim tradition and, most menacing of all, empty boxes for 9-mm bullets.

On May 25, Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, confirmed that there were at least 139 suspected graves strewn across the Perlis range of hills that rise from Malaysia into Thailand, in the vicinity of nearly 30 abandoned camps. How many bodies each possible grave contains is not yet clear, nor is it known how the people may have died. But these remains are believed to be a grim by-product of the human-smuggling trade that for years has transported persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Burma, as well as, increasingly, Bangladeshis desperate to escape poverty back home.

For years, desperate individuals have boarded rickety boats to cross the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, then trekked through Thailand’s southern jungles to their ultimate destination: Malaysia. But with the smuggling routes through Thailand into Malaysia disrupted by police investigations, thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis are thought by the U.N. to be stuck at sea, as traffickers figure out how to salvage their human cargo and captains abandon the boats for fear of the official crackdown.

Around 3,500 Rohingya and Bangladeshis have managed to land in Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks, after months at sea. With Southeast Asian governments at first unwilling to take them in, the boats — their holds packed with hundreds of people, like modern-day slave ships — floated between different national waters in what the U.N. described as “human ping pong.” Only last week did the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia officially agree to offer shelter.

For now, the suspected graves in northern Malaysia’s Perlis state are marked with lone branches, the earth covered by a scattering of oversized rainforest leaves. On Tuesday, forensic teams — including one that recently returned from Ukraine, the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines jet — began sifting through the soil to recover bodies. It is a process that forensic analysts gathered at a makeshift police encampment in Wang Kelian, a few kilometers from the hill-top burial grounds, say will take weeks, if not months.

Only one body was discovered above ground. It was found in a wooden holding pen, the lower part wrapped in the sarong that is commonly worn in Burma and parts of Bangladesh. So badly decomposed was the body that forensic investigators removed it from the site in five separate bags.

An abandoned camp allegedly for trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis in mountainous jungle on the Malaysian side of the Thai-Malaysian border. (Photo: James Nachtwey for TIME)

Malaysia’s suspected burial ground is not the first to be discovered along the porous border with Thailand. Earlier this month, 33 bodies were unearthed in Thailand, less than 500 m from some of the Malaysian suspected graves on the opposite side. Initial police reports indicated that the cause of death for most of the bodies found in Thailand was either starvation or disease. Often, according to TIME interviews with more than 20 Rohingya who have taken the same trafficking route through Thailand into Malaysia, the agreed-upon price for the journey is jettisoned once the victims reach the jungle camps on the border. There, they are essentially held to ransom until family members either back home or in Malaysia pay much higher sums. Food is scarce and beatings common, say survivors.

Shanu binti Abdul Hussain says she, her three small children and her brother-in-law were imprisoned in a camp of the Thai side of the border for 26 days in December before her husband, who was already working in Malaysia’s Penang state, was able to meet a $4,150 ransom. (The family originally was told the voyage would cost one-third the price.) Her husband, Mohamed Rafiq, was given a Malaysian bank account number and sent the money through a cash-deposit machine in Penang. “Waiting after I sent the money was the hardest part,” he says. “I thought, what if the money was too late? What if one of my children has died?”

Since beginning their operation on May 11, Malaysian police have found a network of 28 camps deep in the Perlis jungle, one of which North Brigade police officer Mohd. Salen bin Mohd. Hussain estimates was abandoned just one week before it was discovered. Police believe one camp held 300 people, while others are far smaller. Crude holding pens girded by saplings hint at forced confinement, as does a coil of metal chains. Sentry tree houses poke through the foliage. “I am not surprised by the presence of smuggling syndicates,” Malaysian national police chief Khalid tells TIME. “But the depth of the cruelty, the torture, all this death, that has shocked me.”

This year, Malaysian police say they have arrested 37 people in connection with human smuggling, including two policemen from the state of Penang. In 2014, 66 people were charged in connection with the trade. But for human traffickers to have operated in border areas with such impunity for so many years — no matter how thick the foliage may be — it’s hard to imagine a complete lack of official complicity. Earlier this month, the mayor and deputy mayor of the Thai border town Padang Besar were arrested. Other local officials in Thailand have been detained.

Yet the trade has been going on for years, with the number of Rohingya fleeing Burma (officially known as Myanmar) escalating after Buddhist-Muslim tensions in Rakhine (or Arakan) state exploded in 2012, with the stateless Rohingya bearing the brunt of the violence. Hundreds of this Muslim minority are believed to have died, and around 140,000 have been herded into camps, where disease stalks a vulnerable population. Bereft of their homes and land, many Rohingya see opportunity in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, no matter how hard the journey. Others allege they were kidnapped onto trafficking boats, as the smugglers struggle to find enough people to fill their holds. The traffickers are also targeting Bangladeshis from across the border with Burma; they, unlike the Rohingya, have little hope of ever gaining refugee status in Southeast Asia.

So far, Malaysian police have been combing a 50-km stretch of the Perlis jungle. What else will be found in the coming days? Locals speak of ghosts up in the hills by the Thai border. “I thought I would die,” says Dilarah, a Rohingya, of her 38-day journey from western Burma, through the camps on the Thai-Malaysian border. She is 6 years old.

Rohingya Exodus