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August 21, 2017

Maungdaw -- At least 11 civillians have been arrested during raids by the Burmese armed forces in two separate Rohingya villages in Maungdaw Township since yesterday evening, sources said.

A joint force of approximately 500 Burmese army personnel and Border Guard Police (BGP) have been carrying out raids in the village of 'Italia (officially called Myo Oo)' since around 4:00am this morning. At least 5 Rohingya civilians have been arbitrarily arrested by the armed forces and detained in the Police Detention Cell notorious as 'Cell of Hell' in the downtown of Maungdaw.

"The reason behind the raids by the Burmese armed forces is unknown yet. They haven't found anything illegal in the raids in the village. But most villagers have fled in fear of arbitrary arrests, tortured and extra-judicial killings or summary execution by the Burmese armed forces", said a human rights activist based in Maungdaw.

During a separate raid on the village of 'Nurullah' in southern Maungdaw yesterday (on August 20) evening, the Burmese military and BGP tortured many villagers and arrested 6 of them.

"The BGP and military launched raids on Nurullah village yesterday evening. During the raid, they tortured innocent villagers. They set their dogs on the fleeing villagers; had the dogs clamp them down and bite them.

"Of 20 people initially arrested, they released three after torturing them, and have detained 6 others in the BGP Police Camp at 'Maggyi Chaung' village. They are reported to have been being brutally tortured in detention now", a village man in southern Maungdaw said.

The 6 people arrested have been identified as:

1. Abdu Shukur s/o Ismail (50)
2. Noor Islam s/o Yusuf Zalal (40)
3. Md Faisal s/o Noor Islam (17)
4. Shamshu Alom s/o Kasim (40)
5. Dil Muhammad s/o Md Hason (33)
6. Md Sadak s/o Kasim, (21)

The raids on the Nurullah village have been carried out and the villagers tortured and arrested as a form of collective punishment on the whole village following the killing of a government informer, identified as Mohamed Younose 57, in the village by two men on August 15 morning. The government informer -- backed up by the Burmese authorities -- had earlier forced the families of the two young men to permanently flee from their homes to Bangladesh for reportedly not complying with his demands for ransom.

[Reported by Aung Kyaw Hla & MT Edited by M.S. Anwar]

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A Rohingya refugee boy sleeps inside a camp March 15 in Sittwe, Myanmar. (Credit: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters via CNS.)

By Crux
August 20, 2017

Founded in 1991, Burma Campaign UK is one of the leading international organizations seeking reform in the country. Its director Mark Farmaner says Pope Francis is likely to face a challenging time when he visits Burma, also known as Myanmar, in a trip which is expected in late November. The pope has spoken up many times to protest the treatment of the Rohingya, a minority Muslim population facing persecution in the country.

Although not yet announced by the Vatican, it has been confirmed by numerous sources that Pope Francis plans on visiting Myanmar - also known as Burma - in late November.

The trip will be in conjunction with a visit to neighboring Bangladesh, and is a last-minute change after plans to visit India fell through due to hesitation from the Indian government.

Francis has been following the situation of Myanmar’s Muslim-minority Rohingya population, who have faced rising levels of persecution, including rapes and extra-judicial killings.

A UN report in February described their situation as a possible “genocide” and a set of “crimes against humanity” in Myanmar, where the Rohingya are officially categorized as Bengali “interlopers” despite the fact they’ve lived in Rakhine for generations.

Myanmar’s government, now led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has denied most of the claims.

The pope has vocalized his concern for the Rohingyas on several occasions, most recently last February, when he said, “They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith.”

The Archbishop of Yangon, Cardinal Charles Bo, has called for the allegations against the government to be “fully and independently” investigated.

Mark Farmaner, the director of Burma Campaign UK, says Bo is the only senior voice within the country to speak for the rights of the Rohingya.

“In the past, the Catholic Church pretty much kept its head down, for fear of provoking a backlash against Catholics,” Farmaner said.

Founded in 1991, Burma Campaign UK is one of the leading international organizations seeking reform in the country.

(“Myanmar” is the name given to Burma by a military regime in 1989. It is used by the United Nations and the Vatican. Several countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, continue to use Burma officially. Suu Kyi stated the use of either name is allowed in 2016, and both American and British diplomats have used both designations. “Burma” is considered more inclusive by the country’s minorities.)

Mark Farmaner, the director of Burma Campaign UK. (Credit: Burma Campaign UK.)

The organization campaigned for the release of Suu Kyi when she was under house arrest, but has also drawn attention to human rights abuses taking place under her government.

He said the success of the pope’s visit should not be judged by how many people turn out to see him, or whether he speaks out on the Rohingya and other human rights issues.

“We need to see practical results that will deliver long-term change on the ground,” Farmaner said. “If Pope Francis could persuade the government to work with him on implementing programs to promote religious tolerance, such as the United Nations Rabat Plan of Action on religious hatred, then his visit truly will be a success and leave a lasting legacy.”

(Released in 2013, the Rabat Plan of Action prohibits the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The plan seeks to balance international rights of freedom of expression with prohibitions against incitement.)

Farmaner spoke to Crux about his thoughts on the expected papal visit.

Crux: What were your initial thoughts when you heard Pope Francis was planning on visiting Burma?

Farmaner: Pope Francis is likely to face a challenging time. On the one hand, he will be expected to speak out on human rights violations, including against the Rohingya, but if he does, he will displease Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and upset Buddhist nationalists who may even hold protests against him. Catholics in the country may be afraid that they could face a backlash if Pope Francis takes a moral and principled stance for the Rohingya.

What is the current situation with the Rohingya population? Pope Francis has spoken about them a few times - often in unscripted moments. What would you like to see him do or say about the Rohingya while he is there?

Frankly, the government and military are unlikely to listen to Pope Francis on the Rohingya issue, but it would be positive if he could influence Catholics in Burma to challenge prejudice and promote more tolerance. The resurgence of Buddhist nationalism was initially targeted at Rohingya and then all Muslims, but now it is also impacting Christians. People of all faiths need to work together to challenge prejudice, not hide within their own faith communities hoping they won’t be the next target.

Can you tell us what the situation is like for Christians in the country?

It’s a mixed picture. In the cities, Christians have established churches and generally face little prejudice, although many Burmese Buddhists still see Christians as ‘them’ and not properly Burmese. They can face problems seeking certain kind of employment.

The main problems Christians face are in ethnic areas where they are refused permission to build churches or crosses and can have buildings torn down by authorities, and face more severe prejudice.

You mention Christians in the “ethnic areas”: Can you elaborate on what the ethnic situation is like in Burma? 

Burma is a multi-ethnic and multi religious country, but predominantly ethnic Burman and Buddhist. Some of the larger ethnic groups, such as Karen, Kachin, Chin and Karenni have large numbers of Christians. The root cause of conflict and dictatorship in Burma has been the refusal of central governments, both civilians and military, to accept other ethnicities and religions as equal. Instead, they have tried to ‘Burmanise’ ethnic people and use force against them when they resist.

The pope named Bo as Burma’s first cardinal in 2015. Has Bo been an effective voice for positive change in Burma? Is there more the Catholic Church can do?

Cardinal Bo has been pretty much the only senior voice within Burma who has spoken up for rights for the Rohingya, and has spoken out on other problems as well. In the past, the Catholic Church pretty much kept its head down for fear of provoking a backlash against Catholics. It would be positive if the Vatican could provide the expertise and resources to help the Church in Burma do more to promote religious tolerance at the grassroots level.

Earlier this month, the first Vatican ambassador arrived in Burma, after the Holy See and the government established full diplomatic relations in May. Do you have any hopes or concerns about this diplomatic activity?

The new Vatican Ambassador must be willing to speak truth to power, not just focus on securing good diplomatic relationships.

There has been a lot of talk about the recent changes in Burma, especially since Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won national elections and formed a government. Burma Campaign UK has been highlighting the abuses that are still taking place, and the continuing domination of the country’s institutions by the military. 

Can you give us your assessment of what has happened in the country over the past few years, during the “liberalization” of the country?

The political transition in Burma has been away from direct military rule but not to democracy. There is now a hybrid government, part civilian, part military. Unfortunately, neither the civilian part of the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, nor the military part of the government are respecting human rights.

What would you consider the minimum requirements for a successful visit by Pope Francis?

The success of Pope Francis’s visit should not be judged by how many people turn out to see him or whether he speaks out on the Rohingya and other human rights issues. We need to see practical results that will deliver long-term change on the ground.

If Pope Francis could persuade the government to work with him on implementing programs to promote religious tolerance, such as the United Nations Rabat Plan of Action on religious hatred, then his visit truly will be a success and leave a lasting legacy.

Is there anything else that should be a concern about the trip? 

It is quite likely that Pope Francis will face protests by Buddhist nationalists when he visits, because of the comments he has already made about the Rohingya.

Can you tell us more about these Buddhist nationalists, and their influence with both the civilian government and military?

When the military stepped back from direct control of Burma in 2011 they used a proxy political party to run the government, led by a former general, Thein Sein, who became President. Faced with the prospect of future elections and the popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), Thein Sein turned to Buddhist nationalism to try to undermine support for Aung San Suu Kyi and build support for himself.

He allowed nationalists free reign to organize, incite and carry out violent attacks against Muslims, used their language, and passed laws proposed by Buddhist nationalists. They backed his party at the election in 2015, but the NLD won a landslide anyway.

However, NLD leaders have also pandered to the nationalists and some share their nationalist views. Aung San Suu Kyi did not field any Muslim candidates in the election, did not appoint any Muslim government ministers, and kept in place the laws nationalists wrote, including the policies and laws discriminating against the Rohingya.

August 20, 2017

Anxiety is writ large on the faces of over 3,800 Rohingya Muslims living in this city amid reports that the Indian government is planning to deport them. They say they prefer to die here rather than return to Myanmar, where they face persecution.

Having lived here for over five years now, the refugees say they would not like to return to their native country to be slaughtered. They have appealed to the Indian government to drop, on humanitarian grounds, the plans to deport them.

"We thank India for allowing us to stay. If the government wants to deport us, it can do it but it will be better if they kill us here instead of sending us back," Abdul Raheem, a refugee, told IANS in a voice choked with emotion.

Raheem, 32, who has been living here with his wife and three children since 2012, said they could think of returning to their country only after they were assured of protection of their life and property.

Another refugee, Mohammad Younus, alleged that Buddhist-majority Myanmar always went back on its assurances in the past. "This is the third time that I have become a refugee. They never kept their word," said the 63-year-old while narrating his tale of woe.

Younus, who is staying here with his wife and daughter, showed a bullet mark on his shoulder. Myanmar Army fired on him and since he was not treated in his country, he had to go to Bangladesh to remove the bullet.

Raheem says he was an agriculturist in Arkan (now Rakhine) state in Myanmar but the authorities took away his land. "We had to escape to save our lives. My two brothers went to Bangladesh but I came here," he said.

Younus was a businessman in Arkan and his property was also taken away by the government. His suffering did not end with his arrival in India. His was among 125 families which had to leave Jammu and come here about three months ago.

"Some people drove us out of our camps in Jammu. There is no end to our suffering," he said, crying inconsolably.

Like the majority of refugees, Raheem works as a daily wage labourer for Rs 500. They get the work only for 15 days in a month.

Younus runs a small shop. His two sons Zia-ul-Haq and Shams-ul-Haq are ragpickers and live with their families in separate huts. Despite this penury, they are content with their life in India.

Hyderabad has the second-largest concentration of Rohingyas after Jammu, where the number is estimated at 7,000.

The families have been living in huts or small one-room rented houses in areas like Balapur, Shaheen Nagar, Jalpally, Asad Baba Nagar, Pahadi Shareef on Hyderabad's southern periphery.

There are 16,000 Rohangiyas in India registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) but the total number is estimated to be 40,000.

In Hyderabad, there are 3,800 Rohangiyas with refugee cards. "We can talk about only those who are registered with us," said Mazher Hussain, Executive Director, Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA), a partnering agency with UNHCR.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju had told parliament last week that the states were directed to identify and deport illegal immigrants. He later told a news agency that all Rohingyas, including those registered with UNHCR, are illegal immigrants.

Rohingyas wonder why the Indian authorities viewed them as a threat to national security.

"We escaped from our country to save our lives. How can we do anything to harm this country which has given us shelter?" asked Mohammad Toha, 31, who lives in Balapur with his wife and three children.

COVA's Hussain felt that while the security concern is genuine, stigmatising the entire Rohangiya community will not help with security tracking.

"In any community there will be all sorts of people. A few people will have criminal instincts. They may engage in crime for monetary gains or indulge in anti-national activity due to ideology or anger against the government. Here we don't see any reason for Rohingyas to be angry with the Indian government or system. In fact most of them are very beholden, but you can't 100 per cent rule out anybody," he said.

The COVA director said since the police had the record of all those who engage in the criminal activity, the authorities should keep a tab on them instead of viewing the entire community with suspicion.

Hussain was of the view that registration with UNHCR facilitates tracking of Rohingyas. "Even if they are deported they may still come and stay illegally. It is difficult to identify them as foreigners. It's also easy to get Aadhaar, PAN and other cards. That will be a bigger security threat," he explained.

Bangladesh soldiers stand watch for the illegal entry of Rohingya refugees on the banks of the Naf River

August 20, 2017

Bangladesh coastguards Saturday turned back a boat carrying 31 Rohingya Muslim refugees escaping renewed army activity in their neighbouring Myanmar homeland, an official said.

The push-back came after at least 500 Rohingya fled their villages in Myanmar's Rakhine state, crossing the border to take shelter in refugee camps and hills in Bangladesh's southeastern Cox's Bazar district.

A coastguard patrol boat found the boat on the Naf river, which acts as a border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, as it tried to enter Cox's Bazar early in the morning.

The refugees included women and children who said they were victims of violence, coast guard spokesman Sheikh Fakhr Uddin said quoting the escapees.

"We found two injured among 18 men, along with nine women and four children. But we had to send them back," Uddin told AFP.

The latest influx follows a months-long bloody military crackdown on the mainly Muslim minority in Myanmar that led tens of thousands to flee across the border. The United Nations has said the violence may amount to ethnic cleansing.

"We have beefed up our patrol on the Naf as (Myanmar) army is gathering in the bordering villages, which may prompt them (Rohingya) to try coming to Bangladesh," Uddin said.

Dhaka estimates that nearly 400,000 Rohingya refugees are living in squalid refugee camps and makeshift settlements in Cox's Bazar, which borders Rakhine.

Their numbers swelled last October when more than 70,000 Rohingya villagers began arriving, bringing stories of systematic rape, murder and arson at the hands of Myanmar soldiers.

Last week, the UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee voiced alarm at reports that a Myanmar army battalion had flown into Rakhine to help local authorities boost security in the region.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long faced criticism for its treatment of the more than one million Rohingya who live in Rakhine, who are seen as interlopers from Bangladesh, denied citizenship and access to basic rights.

But they are also increasingly unwelcome in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, where police often blame them for crimes such as drug trafficking.

Dhaka has floated the idea of relocating tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote, flood-prone island off its coast, despite opposition from rights groups.

Fatima, 25, Rohingya refugee in Delhi

By Asad Rehman
August 20, 2017

Parliament was told last week that states had been directed to identify and deport all “illegal immigrants”, including Rohingyas registered with the UN. An estimated 40,000 Rohingyas live in India 

Parliament was told last week that states had been directed to identify and deport all “illegal immigrants”, including Rohingyas registered with the UN. An estimated 40,000 Rohingyas live in India. Fatima runs a small grocery shop at a Delhi refugee camp

1. When did you come to India?

My husband and I came to Delhi five years ago. Both my children were born here. So far, it’s been peaceful for me and my family and I hope it continues to be like that. Initially, we did not have any work and could not understand the language, but now I speak Hindi.

2. Do you have an UNHCR identity card?

Yes, without the card, we are nobody here. That is our only document, our only identity. I keep it with me at all times… I don’t want to lose it. You know how long it takes to get documents made again.

3. Have you heard about the Indian government deporting all Rohingyas in India?

Yes, I heard about it a couple of days ago from a local. But I feel we won’t be deported. I have been here for five years and if they haven’t sent us back so far, I don’t think they’ll do that now. At least I hope they don’t… Nobody knows what the future holds. I think an azaad desh (free country) like India should give us refuge.

4. If the government does deport you, where will you go?

I will go anywhere, but not to Burma (Myanmar). They are still persecuting people like us. Our women get raped almost every day. Even police do not help us. I will go where there is work — America, Australia… Some country will give us refuge, I hope.

5. Are the Rohingyas here scared they will be deported?

No, not all of us; some are. Some people say we will have to go back, some say the Indian government cannot send us back. Someone told me that UNHCR have said we cannot be deported. Let’s see what happens.

In this Sept. 3, 2015 file photo, Rohingya refugees pray at their slum on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. An estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in various parts of India, though fewer than 15,000 are registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

By Ashok Sharma
August 18, 2017

New Dehli -- A day after the U.N. chief voiced concern about Indian plans to potentially deport tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya refugees, an Indian government official said Wednesday that authorities are only working to identify those who fled persecution in neighboring Myanmar — not expel them.

An estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in various parts of India, though fewer than 15,000 are registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Last week, India's Home Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju told lawmakers that state authorities had been asked to identify and deport illegal immigrants, including but not only Rohingya. A ministry memo sent Aug. 8 to the states warns that immigrants are susceptible to recruitment by "terrorist" organizations and "not only infringe on the rights of Indian citizens but also pose grave security challenges."

On Wednesday, a Home Ministry official said worries of Rohingya being shipped back to Myanmar were overblown, and that the government was only trying to count and identify how many refugees were in the country. Contrary to what was said in last week's memo, the official said no decisions had been made about deporting any refugees. He refused to give his name as he was not authorized to speak with media.

A day earlier, the head of the United Nations said any plan to send refugees back to a country where they face persecution was cause for alarm, according to his spokesman. "Obviously, we have our concerns about the treatment of refugees," said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. It was not immediately clear if Rohingya who had yet to be registered with the UNHCR would receive any of the same protections.

The Rohingya face severe discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and are the targets of violence in Rakhine state, where security forces have been accused of abuses against them. They have long been denied citizenship, freedom of movement and basic rights in Myanmar.

In recent years, tens of thousands have fled either to neighboring Bangladesh, India and other countries, where they are often seen as illegal immigrants — even those who have lived there for decades.

Many who have come to India have settled in areas with large Muslim populations, including the southern city of Hyderabad, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the capital of New Delhi and the disputed Himalayan region of Jammu.

Earlier this year, a body of traders and industrialists launched a campaign to "identify and kill" the thousands of Rohingya settled in Hindu-dominated Jammu.

"We did issue a threat to them. But we didn't execute it, because the government of India promised action against them," said Rakesh Gupta, who heads the body. "The government said they (Rohingya) would be deported from the state soon, and we accordingly withdrew the threat. But we will review the situation soon."

Myanmar's presidential spokesman said the government had yet to receive any official notification of planned deportations.

"The Indian government had told the Myanmar ambassador about the deportation of the refugees," spokesman Zaw Htay said. "But as to the government, we have not been told directly by the Indian government, and that's why we cannot tell anything yet and the issue is still under discussion."

Rights activists said any discussion of moving Rohingya back to Myanmar was upsetting.

"Instead of deportations, India should be discussing the issue with Myanmar and Bangladesh with a view to resolving the situation in Rakhine state, ending discrimination, and holding soldiers accountable" for an alleged campaign of collective punishment that for months has targeted the Rohingya with deadly violence and rape, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

"India should be showing leadership in protecting rights, and has the responsibility now to ensure the safety of the Rohingya refugees who have sought shelter in India," she said.


Associated Press writers Esther Htusan in Yangon, Myanmar, and Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India, contributed to this report.

A Myanmar border guard police officer stands guard in Tin May village, Buthidaung township, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar July 14, 2017. Picture taken July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Lewis REUTERS

August 18, 2017

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh/YANGON -- Bangladesh has stepped up patrols on its border with Myanmar, following reports that about 1,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed into the country in the past two weeks, amid fresh tension in its neighbor's northwestern Rakhine state.

Security forces in Buddhist-majority Myanmar launched a massive crackdown in the state after Rohingya insurgents killed nine police in October, but the flow of refugees into Bangladesh had slowed until hundreds more soldiers were deployed recently.

"Security forces are patrolling the villages daily," said Rahim, a teacher from Dar Gyi Zar village in Myanmar who fled to Bangladesh last year, but remains in touch with family members.

"My mother is 73 and is panicking there, but she won't be able to flee," said Rahim, who uses one name, like many Rohingya.

"No one will be allowed to illegally cross into our country," Manuzurul Hasan Khan, a senior Bangladesh border guard official, told Reuters, adding that the two countries were jointly patrolling frontier areas.

There had been no major influx recently, he said, adding that the border was peaceful, with more joint patrols scheduled for this week.

However, Rahim and a Rohingya leader in Bangladesh put the total of new refugees at more than 1,000.

There had been a constant "slow movement of people across the border," a senior U.N. official in Bangladesh said.

About 1,000 households had crossed each month in April, May and June, estimated the official, who declined to be identified in the absence of authorization to talk to the media.

The figure rose to 1,300 households in July, the official said, adding that the border area was "definitely seeing more new arrivals" in August.

About 500 of the newly arrived Rohingya live near an unofficial refugee camp in Leda, near the Naf river separating Bangladesh from Myanmar, said Zayed, a Rohingya leader.

The rest have moved elsewhere in the border district of Cox's Bazar.

Before the latest inflow, about 75,000 Rohinhya had fled to Bangladesh since October, joining tens of thousands already there and straining resources.

Some families were packing up to leave, fearing another violent crackdown, a Rohingya resident of Maungdaw in Myanmar told Reuters.

"People here are feeling depressed and getting so scared, hearing that more troops are coming to do area clearance again," the resident said on Saturday, seeking anonymity for fear of repercussions.

"We have no one to protect us here."

The resident and a human rights monitor with sources in northern Rakhine said security forces had run intensive searches and arrested some Rohingya men.

Kyaw Swar Tun, an administrator in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe, said security had been stepped up in the state's north, but denied that Muslims were fleeing across the border.

"I don't hear anything of Bengali people leaving or entering the country during these days," he said, using a derogatory term for the Rohingya to imply they are interlopers from Bangladesh.

The treatment of the roughly one million Rohingya in Myanmar has emerged as the country's most contentious human rights issue as it transitions from decades of harsh military rule.

Myanmar denies citizenship to the Rohingya and classifies them as illegal immigrants, though they claim roots there dating back centuries.

Myanmar security forces continue to harass Rohingya in Rakhine, said Noor Bashar, 26, who fled to Cox's Bazar last week.

"Many more are still waiting to enter Bangladesh but it's difficult, due to the increased patrolling," she told Reuters.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das in NEW DELHI, Nurul Islam in COX's Bazar; Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Shoon Naing, Wa Lone and Simon Lewis in YANGON; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Rohingya refugee children attend a madrasa at a camp set up for the refugees on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Wednesday, Aug. 16,2017. (AP Photo)

By Rina Chandran
August 18, 2017

MUMBAI -- Rights groups have condemned India's plan to deport some 40,000 Rohingya Muslims, saying India should abide by its legal obligations and protect the stateless refugees who face persecution in Myanmar. 

Junior interior minister Kiren Rijiju told parliament last week the central government had directed state authorities to identify and deport all illegal immigrants including Rohingya, even those registered with the U.N. refugee agency. 

"Indian authorities are well aware of the human rights violations Rohingya Muslims have had to face in Myanmar and it would be outrageous to abandon them to their fates," said Raghu Menon, advocacy manager at Amnesty International India. 

"It shows blatant disregard for India's obligations under international law," he said in a statement on Wednesday. 

The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming centuries-old roots. 

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar, where they face atrocities, including murder, rape and arson attacks, with many taking refuge in Bangladesh, and some then crossing a porous border into Hindu-majority India. 

Many have also headed to Southeast Asia, often on rickety boats run by people-smuggling gangs. 

The Rohingya are generally vilified in India, and there has been a series of anti-Rohingya protests in the past few months. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingya in India. 

Rijiju, a high-profile minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government, said the UNHCR registration was irrelevant. 

India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out states' responsibilities towards refugees. Nor does it have domestic legislation to protect the almost 210,000 refugees it hosts. 

But Asia's third largest economy is bound by customary international law not to forcibly return refugees to a place where they face danger, rights groups say. 

"The government should put an end to any plans to deport the Rohingya, and instead register them so that they can get an education and health care and find work," Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said on Thursday. 

Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Katy Migiro and Lyndsay Griffiths.

A Rohingya refu­gee from Burma. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

By Editorial Board
August 18, 2017

IN FEBRUARY, the United Nations released a report detailing the Burmese government’s human rights abuses against the long-suffering Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state — abuses that likely amounted to crimes against humanity. Burma should have responded by allowing U.N. investigators into the country and creating accountability mechanisms to prevent further violations. Instead, a government inquiry has concluded that there is “no evidence of crimes” and that “people from abroad have fabricated news claiming genocide had occurred.” 

On the contrary, there is considerable evidence to suggest that systematic human rights violations have occurred in Rakhine. The Rohingya have long been denied citizenship and pushed into ghetto-like conditions. This persecution escalated last year, when Burmese security forces conducted a scorched-earth campaign in the state amid widespread reports of mass rape, torture, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings. The government has also restricted the movements of Rohingya people, imposing curfews and contributing to extreme food shortages. Nearly 90 people have died since the violence erupted last year, while an estimated 65,000 have fled Rakhine.

Burma’s response was to establish an investigative commission that lacked credibility from the outset. The 13-member committee was headed by former military leader and current Vice President Myint Swe and included no Rohingya representatives. According to reports from civil society, its investigators used sloppy research methods, browbeat villagers and ignored complaints.

The commission made a few common-sense recommendations. It rightly acknowledged that imposing restrictions on Rohingya and the media in Rakhine could create conditions for violence and extremism, and it suggested relaxing limitations on humanitarian assistance. Yet these proposals are overshadowed by the commission’s denial of any systematic wrongdoing. Along with new calls to expand security measures against Muslim insurgents and reports of a troop surge in Rakhine, this essentially gives the military the green light to continue using excessive force. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that Burma’s partially democratic government bears many similarities to its autocratic predecessor: It is overly sensitive to criticism, repressive toward minorities and willing to go to great lengths to protect the military. The international community should take note and renew calls to allow a U.N. fact-finding mission to visit the country. Congress should rethink the idea of expanding American military ties with Burma or, at the very least, consider imposing a vetting process and human rights benchmarks for any further military engagement. The United States has long championed democracy in Burma; the commission’s announcement proves this fight is not over yet.

This photo taken on July 14, 2017 shows border police standing guard at Tinmay village, Buthidaung township in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state

August 16, 2017

Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims have crossed into Bangladesh in recent days following a fresh military build-up in Myanmar's Rakhine state, community leaders said Wednesday.

They said at least 500 Rohingya had made the difficult journey into Bangladesh, some claiming they had been abused by soldiers in Myanmar.

The latest influx follows a months-long bloody military crackdown on the mainly Muslim minority in Myanmar last year that led tens of thousands to flee across the border. The United Nations has said the violence may amount to ethnic cleansing.

Abu Toyyob said he escaped with his seven-member family as the army vandalised Rohingya houses and detained young men.

"They arrested my younger brother from home and injured my two-year-old son by kicking him with boots," the 25-year-old told AFP.

"I immediately set off with my family and crossed the Naf two nights ago," he added, referring to the river that divides the two countries.

Dhaka estimates that nearly 400,000 Rohingya refugees are living in squalid refugee camps and makeshift settlements in the resort district of Cox's Bazar, which borders Rakhine.

Their numbers swelled last October when more than 70,000 Rohingya villagers began arriving, bringing stories of systematic rape, murder and arson at the hands of Myanmar soldiers.

Bangladesh border guards said they had stepped up patrols after reports of a military build-up on the other side of the river.

Last week, the UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee voiced alarm at reports that an army battalion had flown into Rakhine to help local authorities boost security in the region.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long faced criticism for its treatment of the more than one million Rohingya who live in Rakhine, who are seen as interlopers from Bangladesh, denied citizenship and access to basic rights.

But they are also increasingly unwelcome in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, where police often blame them for crimes such as drug trafficking.

Dhaka has floated the idea of relocating tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote, flood-prone island off its coast, despite opposition from rights groups.

An official with the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which looks after settlements for unregistered Rohingya refugees, said the organisation was aware of new arrivals.

The numbers were "not as alarming as the October influx," the official said.

Rohingya Muslims outside their makeshift shanties in Jammu. PTI

August 15, 2017

United Nations: The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is concerned about India's plans to deport Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, according to his spokesperson Farhan Haq.

Responding to a question on Monday about reports that India was going to send back Rohingyas, Haq said, "Obviously we have our concern about the treatment of refugees. Once refugees are registered they are not to be returned back to the countries where they fear persecution."

Guterres, who was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is deeply attached to the cause of refugees.

Haq said the office of the UNHCR will take up the issue with the Indian government. He reminded India of a UN dictum against deporting refugees.

"You are aware of our principle of non refoulement," he said referring to the doctrine in the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.

That principle lays down that a refugee cannot be returned to a place where the person's life or freedom would be "threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

India has not signed the UN refugees convention.

Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju told the Lok Sabha last week, "According to UNHCR there are 13,000 Rohingya migrants registered. But we have also got figures from IB (Intelligence Bureau), which shows they have migrated to India in large numbers."

"Steps are being taken to ensure that we do not get uncontrolled influx of migrants in the country, which creates lots of problem related to social, political, cultural.

"And at the same time we want to ensure that the demographic pattern of India is not disturbed," Rijiju added.

He said that a "concentration camp of Rohingyas has come up" in Jammu and Kashmir and later clarified that it was only a detention camp and not a "concentration camp" like those in Nazi Germany.

Subsequently, a Home Ministry official was quoted in media reports as saying that India was in touch with Myanmar and Bangladesh to deport 40,000 Rohingyas illegally in India.

UNHCR office in India has reportedly issued refugee IDs to about 16,500 Rohingyas in India.

Myanmar border police check a building during a patrol in Maungni village, Rakhine state AFP/YE AUNG THU

August 14, 2017

YANGON: Myanmar has moved hundreds of troops into northern Rakhine state as it ramps up counterinsurgency efforts there, officers told AFP Saturday (Aug 11), after the UN voiced alarm over reports of a military build up in the region.

Rakhine has been gripped by violence since October last year when militants attacked police posts, sparking a bloody military crackdown that the UN believes may amount to ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority Rohingya.

More than 70,000 Rohingya villagers fled across the border to Bangladesh, carrying with them stories of systematic rape, murder and arson at the hands of soldiers.

The major part of the military campaign ended several months ago, but fear continues to stalk the region amid sporadic bouts of violence.

Officers said Saturday that the government had deployed a fresh batch of troops after a recent spate of murders. They said soldiers have been sent to a mountainous area where a band of militants is actively training.

"Many battalions with hundreds of soldiers from central Myanmar were deployed to the Mayu moutain range," a military officer told AFP, requesting anonymity.

A senior border guard said the deployment was ordered to protect other ethnic groups in the remote area.

The government has accused insurgents of murdering and abducting dozens of villagers and perceived collaborators with the state.

"Muslim militants are training in the forest... They have killed those who are cooperating with authorities," the border guard told AFP.

State media also reported that the government had imposed new curfews, to be set "in necessary areas" as the army beefs up its "clearance operations".

A Rohingya villager told AFP his community feared a repeat of last year's crackdown.

"Some Muslim villages in Rathidaung dare not to go outside," said Hasumyar, who only gave his first name and lives in a township that has been placed under curfew.

The insurgents, known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, were little known until they claimed the October raids on police posts that left nine dead. The group says it is fighting to advance the rights of the Rohingya and has denied killing civilians in statements issued through an unverified Twitter account.

Reports of an army battalion being flown into Rakhine to boost security were met with criticism on Friday by UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee, who warned the development was "a cause for major concern".

The UN has accused the military of committing grave abuses against the Rohingya during its counterinsurgency campaign. But Myanmar has dismissed the allegations and vowed to block a UN probe into the violence.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long faced criticism for its treatment of the more than one million Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and struggle to access basic services.

The minority group are widely reviled as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, despite having lived in the area for generations.
Rohingya Muslim refugees along with Indian supporters shout slogans against human rights violations in Myanmar, during a march to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New Delhi on December 19, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

August 14, 2017

A senior Indian official has described thousands of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims living in India as illegal refugees, saying the New Delhi government aims to deport them.

Kiren Rijiju, a high-profile minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, said in an interview on the weekend that all of an estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims are illegal refugees even those registered with the UN refugee agency.

The junior interior minister stressed that a registration process by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was irrelevant.

"They are doing it, we can't stop them from registering. But we are not signatory to the accord on refugees," the Indian official said, adding, "As far as we are concerned they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is illegal migrant will be deported."

Rijiju, however, declined to comment on the deportation process.

"There's a procedure, there is a rule of law," Rijiju pointed out, stressing, "We can't throw them out just like that. We can't dump them in the Bay of Bengal."

The UNHCR has issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingya Muslims in India that it says help them "prevent harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation."

Reacting to the remarks, the UNHCR's India office said on Monday that the principle of non-refoulement – or not sending back refugees to a place where they face danger – was considered binding on all states whether they had signed the Refugee Convention or not.

The office said it had not received any official word about a plan to deport Rohingya refugees, and had not got any reports deportations were taking place.

Human rights activists have also questioned the practicality of rounding up and expelling thousands of people scattered across the country.

The file photo shows a Rohingya family eating their breakfast at a makeshift shelter in a camp in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Reuters)

Rijiju told parliament last week that the central government in New Delhi had directed state authorities to identify and deport illegal refugees as well as Rohingya Muslims.

India said on Friday it was in talks with Bangladesh and Myanmar about the deportation plan.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar, with many taking refuge in Bangladesh, and some then crossing a porous border into Hindu-majority India.

Many have also headed to Southeast Asia, often on rickety boats run by people-smuggling gangs.

Some 75,000 people have fled from the Muslim-majority northern part of Rakhine state to Bangladesh since Myanmar’s military launched the crackdown, according to a UN report.

Numerous accounts have already been provided by eyewitnesses of summary executions, rapes and arson attacks against Muslims since the crackdown began. The military has blocked access to Rakhine and banned journalists and aid workers from entering the zone.

The treatment of the roughly one million Rohingya in Myanmar has emerged as the country’s most contentious human rights issue.

Myanmar has long faced international criticism for its treatment of Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship and live in conditions rights groups have compared to those of the Blacks under the former apartheid regime in South Africa.

(Photo: Facebook)

By Wa Lone
August 13, 2017

YANGON -- Hundreds of Buddhists took to the streets in western Myanmar on Sunday to protest against aid organizations they accuse of giving support to Muslim Rohingya militants, police and a protest leader said. 

Buddhist monks and members of the Rakhine ethnic group held demonstrations in 15 towns, including the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe, demanding that aid agencies leave the western state immediately, Htay Aung, a self-described leader of the protests, told Reuters by phone. 

“We will protest again and again until we get our demands. If the government fails to act, that is their responsibility,” he said. 

Tensions have risen once again in Rakhine since seven Buddhists were found hacked to death in the mountains in the north of the state in July. 

The government said it had discovered forest encampments that proved Muslim "extremists" were responsible for the killings, and the military sent additional forces to the area this week. 

At one suspected militant camp last month, biscuits originating from the United Nations' World Food Programme were discovered. Ethnic Rakhine Buddhists have long accused U.N. and other aid organizations of favoring the Rohingya with aid. 


The state was plunged into violence in October, when Rohingya insurgents killed nine border police, sparking a crackdown in which government security forces were accused of raping, killing and torturing Rohingya civilians. 

About 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live in Rakhine, but are denied citizenship and face restrictions on their movements and access to basic services. About 120,000 remain in camps set up after deadly violence swept the state in 2012, where they rely on aid agencies for basic provisions. 

Pictures shared online of Sunday’s protests showed saffron-robed monks holdings signs reading, “We don’t need terrorist supporter group,” and calling for the U.N. and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) to “get out”. 

Htay Aung said the protesters demanded that the government rid the state of Muslim militants, quickly verify the citizenship credentials of Muslims and allow Rakhine Buddhists to form armed militias. 

Police Major Cho Lwin estimated that about 600 people protested in Sittwe. 

“The protest went ahead today peacefully,” he said, adding that police had stepped up security and blocked roads leading to aid offices. 

Reuters obtained the text of note sent by the U.N. on Wednesday to the 300 or so U.N. staff in Rakhine, as well as INGOs, warning of rising hostility to international agencies in the state. 

Editing by Simon Lewis and Andrew Roche

Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech last month in Naypyidaw, Burma. (Hein Htet/European Pressphoto Agency)

By Francis Wade
August 12, 2017

For years, Burma’s state-run media viciously denounced Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet this week, the country’s de facto leader endorsed the very organizations that led the charge, declaring that anyone eager to understand the government should “read the newspapers and listen to the news. .. released by the government.” Her statement echoed the commands of the military junta that ruled before her, but it was not altogether out of character. Burma’s civilian government has increasingly cracked down on independent journalists and activists, dispelling hopes that the democratic transition would break the military’s oppressive style of rule.

Since the National League for Democracy (NLD), the erstwhile figurehead of Burma’s pro-democracy movement, took power in April 2016, a puzzling paradox has emerged. At least 80 people have been arrested under the archaic Telecommunications Law that restricts free speech online – a leap from the seven cases filed under the military-backed government. The recent arrest of prominent journalist Swe Win on accusations of defaming a firebrand anti-Muslim monk adds to a growing fear that as the transition advances, media freedom is conversely being tightened.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government faces a daunting task in wresting ownership of the government from a military that retains considerable power. Yet, among those arrested are critics of the NLD itself. This raises serious questions about the country’s democratic transition. Under military rule, the party campaigned relentlessly to limit the military’s role in political life. But now, factions of the party appear to be aligned with the army’s zero-tolerance position on public dissent.

Nowhere is this more visible than in the party’s crackdown on the free press. In late June, three local journalists were arrested and charged under the Unlawful Associations Act — a law that was often used by the military to arbitrarily imprison dissidents and members of ethnic opposition groups — for reporting on a drug-burning ceremony by a rebel army. The NLD could have taken the military to task on this issue, highlighting the fact that similar ceremonies have been attended over the years by generals, U.N. officials and foreign diplomats and that dozens of interlocutors of various stripes have met with armed groups during recent cease-fire talks.

But it didn’t. Under pressure to explain the arrests, Aung San Suu Kyi deflected, arguing that it was a matter for the courts and not the government. Aung San Suu Kyi knows, however, that the court system remains beholden to the military and is unlikely to defend the free press. Then, when the U.N. special rapporteur on Burma, Yanghee Lee, tried to visit the town where the journalists are being held, she was denied access. The government justified the decision on the grounds that it disagreed with Lee’s end-of-mission statement, which was critical of the country’s human rights record. It also threatened to deny visas to a U.N. fact-finding mission charged with looking into military abuses against ethnic minorities — yet another indication of its intolerance of negative press.

The NLD’s actions are particularly disappointing because its ranks are populated by hundreds of luminaries of the pro-democracy movement who spent years behind bars for doing exactly what this new crop of political prisoners is doing: calling out the shortcomings of authority in Burma and illuminating critical issues — military abuse, corruption and so forth — that affect the country’s most vulnerable. The NLD’s inability (or unwillingness) to engage with criticism of its handling of the transition is fundamentally at odds with the promise of pluralistic change that gained the party such overwhelming support just over a year ago.

Analysts have spoken of the trade-offs the government needs to make to persuade the military to open itself to reform. There is some truth in that. And, indeed, there are some in the NLD who oppose the party’s stance on free speech and are seeking ways to revise the law. Yet the refusal to condemn the jailing of its own critics reflects a deeper problem. Authoritarianism, if left to develop long enough, can produce a culture that envelops even those who outwardly resist it.

This paradox has left the country’s political landscape as uncertain as ever. In Burma today, the uncertainty over what lines can and cannot be crossed is breeding a culture of fear that is entirely antithetical to the democratic compact. “Without a revolution of the spirit,” Aung San Suu Kyi once said, “the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration.” Today, it seems, the momentum toward that goal is being compromised by the very same party that once championed that revolution.

Francis Wade is a journalist and the author of "Myanmar’s Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and The Making of a Muslim ‘Other.’"

Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar Yanghee Lee. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

August 12, 2017

A United Nations human rights expert has expressed alarm over reports that an army battalion has flown into Rakhine state in western Myanmar to help local authorities boost security in the region. 

“This development, which reportedly took place yesterday, is a cause for major concern,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, in a press release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 

“The Government must ensure that security forces exercise restraint in all circumstances and respect human rights in addressing the security situation in Rakhine state,” she added.

In Kachin and Rakhine states, some 100,000 and 120,000 people, respectively, have remained displaced for more than five years following the eruption of inter-communal conflict between Buddhists and minority Muslim Rohingya.

The Special Rapporteur acknowledged the State's responsibility to provide security and protect people from attacks by extremists, but said this responsibility had to cover all residents, and the authorities could not afford more security to some than others. 

Ms. Lee recalled the allegations of serious human rights violations which followed security force operations in the aftermath of attacks against three border guard police facilities in Maungdaw and Rathedaung in October and further clashes in November.

“There have been increasing reports of incidents affecting the local population, including the killings of six Mro villagers on 3 August,” she said. “I share the concern of the Myanmar Government and its people regarding the safety and security of those living in Rakhine state in the light of these incidents.” 

The expert stressed that the use of force must always be in line with the principles of necessity and proportionality to ensure full respect for human lives. 

The expert's call has been endorsed by the UN the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Rohingya Exodus