Bangladesh, 19th April, 2019 (WAM) — Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, has got firsthand knowledge of the humanitarian conditions at the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, during her meeting with UN officials in Bangladesh.
The minister, along with her accompanying delegation, toured the camps’ food distribution centres where the World Food Programme has scaled up its e-voucher programme to gradually include the entire refugee population. The minister also visited the water process station overseen by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
The meeting was attended by Sultan Al Shamsi, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for International Development Affairs, and the UAE Ambassador to Bangladesh, Saed Mohammed Al-Muhairi.
Sheikh Hasina Wazed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, earlier received Al Hashemy and her accompanying delegation.
It is two in the afternoon and the sun is beating down hard on a group of Rohingya boys playing soccer in the dirt yard of the Child Friendly Space (CFS) at the Balukhali Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh.
Beside the yard, in a classroom-like structure made from bamboo and tarp, younger children sit on woven straw mats, chattering and laughing as they play carom, stack building blocks, draw, colour or sing popular English nursery rhymes under the supervision of social workers.
“A year ago, you wouldn’t have heard any laughter from these children or seen smiles on their faces,” says Unicef social worker Jannatul Ruma, who oversees the children at the CFS.
“They used to be very quiet. They wouldn’t talk to each other or even play. Their drawings were of violent images … houses on fire, soldiers firing bullets and people being killed. These were images that they’d witnessed in Myanmar.
“But over time, their mood has changed and now, they enjoy coming here as it is a space they can feel safe and make friends. Their drawings are different too … cheerful images of flowers, children playing and happy homes in bright colours,” explains Jannatul.
The leader of the Arakan Army based in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state said Wednesday that the military had systematically planned to “crush” his group ahead of hostilities that escalated between the two sides in January, and denied official claims of its involvement in terrorism and drug trafficking.
Maj. Gen. Tun Myat Naing, commander in chief of the AA, told reporters in Wa state’s Panghsang township that crack troops from Myanmar’s military received special training more than a year ahead of being deployed to Rakhine state, where they engaged with AA soldiers in early January, following AA attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine that killed 13 officers.
“More than 2,000 troops from Division 22 and other units were provided special combat training in [neighboring] Bago region’s Ottwin township beginning in November 2018,” he said on the sidelines of a ceremony in Panghsang commemorating the 30-year anniversary of the signing of a ceasefire between Communist United Wa State Army (UWSA) rebels and Myanmar’s military.
Eighteen months have now passed since Myanmar’s genocidal intent forced 800,000 Rohingya to flee their homes for sanctuary on the border of Bangladesh, but there’s growing evidence the military junta in Yangon, which poses as a quasi-democracy, is using its ground offensive against the separatist Arakan Army as a pretext to “clean out,” once and for all, the 500,000 Rohingya who remain in the country.These suddenly internally displaced people (IDP) join the other 50,000 to 100,000, equating to upwards of one-quarter of the remaining Rohingya in Myanmar, who have fled their homes and villages within the past two weeks.
International aid workers are warning the next phase of this ongoing humanitarian crisis is about to crash onto the shores of neighbouring Asian countries, a warning underscored by the fact that boats carrying up to 200 Rohingya refugees have landed on Malaysian shorts in the past week alone.
The Reuters award was for an investigative report that revealed the massacre of 10 Muslim Rohingya at the village of Inn Din, in the heart of the conflict zone of Rakhine State in Myanmar.
They went on to gather testimony from perpetrators, witnesses and families of victims.
They obtained three devastating photographs from villagers: two showed the 10 Rohingya men bound and kneeling; the third showed the mutilated and bullet-ridden bodies of the same 10 men in the same shallow grave.
In December 2017, before Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo could complete their story, they were arrested in what international observers have criticised as an effort by authorities to block the report.
The article, Massacre in Myanmar, was completed by colleagues Simon Lewis and Antoni Slodkowski and published in February of last year.
In September, the two were sentenced to seven years imprisonment for violating the country’s Official Secrets Act.
Jewish groups applauded the introduction of a bipartisan bill in the Senate to sanction Burmese officials responsible for the persecution of the Rohingya people.
The legislation calls for the United States to take a number of measures in response to the violence against the Rohingya perpetrated by the Burmese government.
Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Todd Young, R-Ind., introduced the Burma Human Right and freedom Act on Thursday. It was co-sponsored by 14 lawmakers.
The Jewish Rohingya Justice Network, a coalition of 19 groups convened by the American Jewish World Service and representing major Jewish organizations and the four major denominations, had lobbied for the bill. Last month, AJWS brought a group of American rabbis to Congress to speak to their representatives about the importance for action on the issue. AJWS also facilitated meetings between its partner organizations in Burma and the lawmakers behind the bill.
Some 700,000 Rohingya people, most of whom are Muslims, have fled Burma, which is also called Myanmar, for Bangladesh amid persecution. Refugees and human rights groups say they are being ethnically cleansed by the army in the majority Buddhist country.
In December of genocide by Myanmar’s military against the minority group and the House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring the crimes a genocide. However, the State Department has stopped short of doing so.
The Myanmar military unleashed helicopter and jet strikes in response to the rebel Arakan Army’s (AA) on-the-ground attacks on a police residential unit and battalion headquarters believed to contain heavy arms belonging to government troops in war-ravaged Rakhine state’s Mrauk-U township, with spokesmen for the two forces releasing competing, imprecise casualty counts.
The AA began its armed assault around 10 p.m. Tuesday, starting with the police battalion’s family residential quarters, while around 400 Arakan fighters conducted a another attack on the police headquarters at about 3 a.m. Wednesday, said Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun.
Government forces used aerial strikes to counter the AA’s massive offensives, he and local residents said.
AA soldiers entered the police battalion headquarters after they seized the residential unit, but retreated at about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday when military reinforcements arrived and pushed them back, Zaw Min Tun said.
“Around 10:05 p.m. last night, they attacked three locations at the police battalion headquarters and the police’s family residential quarters,” he said. “They stopped after we fired back.”
KUALA LUMPUR—Thirty-seven people believed to be Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar were found on a beach in northern Malaysia on Monday, police said, the latest arrivals in what authorities fear could be a new wave of people smuggling by sea.
Dozens of Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh have boarded boats in recent months to try to reach Malaysia, which had seen a decline in arrivals after a 2015 crackdown on trafficking.
Last month, 35 migrants were found on Sungai Belati beach in the northern state of Perlis.
On Monday, 37 men were detained around the town of Simpang Empat after landing at the same beach in the early morning, state police chief Noor Mushar Mohamad told Reuters.
“We believe they were travelling on a much larger boat, before being transferred into smaller boats at sea and taken to different places,” he said, adding the men were in good health and have been handed over to immigration officials.
More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017 fleeing an army crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, according to U.N. agencies.
Myanmar regards Rohingya as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to sprawling camps in Rakhine since violence swept the area in 2012.
Officials believe the migrants found on Monday are from Myanmar or Bangladesh.
“We are still investigating where the boats are coming from, but we suspect human trafficking syndicates are involved,” Noor Mushar said.
Fighting between the Myanmar army and ethnic Rakhine rebels has escalated in the western state’s temple-studded town of Mrauk U, sources confirmed Wednesday, with reports of military jets streaking across the sky.
Riven by complex ethnic and religious divides, Rakhine state was the epicentre of a brutal military campaign in 2017 that forced some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims over the border into Bangladesh.
But the army is now locked in deadly battles with the Arakan Army (AA), a group that claims to represent the state’s ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and is vying for more autonomy.
The AA has killed at least 22 police officers since fighting ramped up in January.
The government says dozens of rebels have been killed.
Thousands of troops have been deployed to try to quell the spreading unrest.
Three weeks ago the fighting reached Mrauk U, the ancient capital of the Rakhine kingdom and a site popular with intrepid tourists for its array of temples and pagodas.
Mrauk U resident Khin Than told AFP by phone the fighting started about 10pm Tuesday night and was worse than last time.
More and more villagers are fleeing their homes in western Myanmar’s war-torn Rakhine state, even though they live in areas with no active fighting between government troops and the rebel Arakan Army, amid growing fear that Myanmar soldiers will shoot them indiscriminately during clearance operations, they told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The villagers — who are leaving communities in Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Rathedaung, and Buthidaung townships that have not seen any hostilities — have pushed up the number of displaced residents by several thousand, according to a Rakhine state disaster management official.
“It is a life-threatening situation,” Pauk Sa, who fled with his family from Aukthakan village in Mrauk-U township, told RFA earlier this month. “They shoot anyone they can find. They also have arrested and taken away anyone they think is suspicious.”
Village elder Hla Tun Phyi from the same community said, “What we are afraid of is getting shot and killed. That’s why we are running for our lives to safety.”