Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement on Monday shrugged off a warning letter from the United Nations that threatened to withdraw support in Myanmar’s Rakhine state unless it allowed freedom of movement for Muslim Rohingya being held in domestic refugee camps.
“As far as I know, we haven’t gotten any letter indicating that the UN will stop [sending] assistance,” an official with the ministry told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“There is no statement focusing on the potential suspension of all aid to the country. There is one with process notes on what they are going to do in Kachin and Shan states. There is [also] a draft on what they want to implement in Rakhine state. I don’t know if any of them are referring to [any] possible suspension of aid,” the official said.
Myanmar operates several camps with a population 128,000 Rohingya and Kaman Muslims, who have been living in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps since 2012, when violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 140,000 others, mostly Rohingya.
Because Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, the country denies them citizenship and restricts their movements.
According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the letter, sent from U.N. resident coordinator Knut Ostby to Myanmar’s government, said that the U.N. planned to end support for anything more than “life-saving assistance,” in the camps which the government has deceptively classified as “closed” unless there is progress toward freedom of movement.
Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid on Saturday said the Rohingya crisis can destabilise the entire region if left unresolved.
Addressing the 5th Summit of Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) at Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, Hamid stressed the importance of a peaceful resolution of the Rohingya crisis, Dhaka Tribune reported.
The President also sought support and cooperation from CICA partners so that the forcibly displaced inhabitants of the Rakhine state can return to their homeland with “safety, security and dignity”.
“The world knows Bangladesh hosts 1.1 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals. You must be aware of the evidence of genocide and gross violation of human rights, which has been termed a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’ and humanitarian catastrophe of unmanageable magnitude,” he added.
“Asian security is vulnerable as irregular migration, drug trafficking, territorial claims, ethnic conflicts, separatism, economic problems and climate change are visible here. To address these crucial challenges, CICA needs to enhance its capacity through promoting the concept of indivisible security,” the President was quoted as saying.
Rohingya, who belong to the Rakhine state in Myanmar, have been facing extreme persecution by authorities and majority Buddhists. It has further prompted their flight over the years, many on rickety boats that are mostly pushed back into the open sea by countries, especially Thailand and Myanmar.
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.
The unrest prompted thousands of minorities to flee Myanmar by sea. The exodus peaked in 2015 when an estimated 25,000 people crossed the Andaman Sea for Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, many drowning in unsafe and overloaded boats.
It bears repeating: Bangladesh’s role in providing food, aid, and shelter to the Rohingya has been a commendable one, one that has gone beyond the call of duty to ensure that the most persecuted minority in the world is treated with humanity.
But at the end of the day, we are bound by a lack of resources and the ability to exert enough pressure on Myanmar, both of which the international community can provide.
The world community had stood by and watched for too long as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were driven out of their homes through the most heinous of acts, from rape and murder to arson.
Thankfully, the tides are turning, and most foreign powers have been able to recognize the growing injustice that the Rohingya have suffered, with Myanmar continuing to blatantly lie regarding the extent to which the Rohingya population has been subjected to brutal ethnic cleansing operations.
It has been almost two years since the latest Rohingya exodus of August 2017, and with more than a million Rohingya living in refugee camps within Bangladeshi borders, it is high time that Myanmar feels the pressure to start the process to repatriate the Rohingya.
The call was made at an Eid reunion organised by the Bangladesh’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York on Tuesday attended by permanent representatives and diplomats of more than 100 countries including India, Japan, Russia, China, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative to the UN Masud Bin Momen focused on various aspects of the remarkable development trajectory of Bangladesh, but also the challenges the country faces because of the over 1.1 million Rohingyas.
He urged member states to play an effective role for a permanent solution to the Rohingya crisis.
Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque in a presentation highlighted the need for an effective migration governance for safe, orderly and regular migration and the difficulties with regard to human mobility.
U Khaing Kaung San, director of the Wan Lark Rural Development Foundation, said most of the closed schools are in Kyauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Rathedaung and Ponnagyun townships in northern Rakhine.
Some schools have opened, but the students will not go to class because of security risks and the military presence in the area,” he said.
U Khaing Kaung San added that a survey by the foundation found that thousands of high school and primary school students had been affected by the fighting.
“Some students could not go to school because they are living in temporary refugee camps,” he said.
Fighting between the military and AA began last December, forcing almost 40,000 people to flee their homes, according to the state government.
U Win Myint, a spokesperson for the state, would not confirm how many schools remain closed.
This might be happening due to security concerns, but we cannot say for sure until we verify it with the relevant department,” he said.
Attempts to reach the education department in the state capital, Sittwe, for confirmation of the closures were unsuccessful.
U Tun Thar Sein, a legislator from Mrauk-U, said that over a thousand people had fled the fighting and they cannot think about going to school because of fears for their safety.
Nearly two years after they began crossing into Bangladesh after fleeing horrific violence and persecution in Myanmar, more than 700,000 Rohingya people are still trapped in precarious living conditions in refugee camps near the border. Denied access to health care for years in Myanmar, many of them still have trouble reaching the services they need. The influx of refugees has also strained Bangladeshi health services. In Ukhia, Bangladesh, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) runs the Goyalmara Green Roof hospital, where a team provides specialized care to mothers and children, Rohingya and Bangladeshi alike.
Inside the neonatal intensive care unit, a newborn baby is struggling to breathe. MSF nurse supervisor Gaziur Rahman and his colleagues get to work. The baby’s young Rohingya parents haven’t even had a chance to name the infant girl. Rahman is helped by a team of nurses who take turns carrying out bag-valve mask ventilation, a method of squeezing a bag to help a baby breathe in oxygen. A digital pulse oximeter displays her heart rate and blood oxygen levels; the reading of 60 to 70 percent oxygen level does not augur well.
Ten minutes pass. Rahman looks determined but does not want to give the baby’s parents false hope. He speaks softly: “The prognosis does not look good.”
Twenty-five miles away in the town of Cox’s Bazar, MSF medical coordinator Jessica Patti is facing another challenge. It’s not enough to open a hospital and wait for the patients to arrive—before they can come they have to know it’s there. MSF staff have been increasing their efforts to raise awareness about the Goyalmara hospital amongst other humanitarian organizations providing aid in the region.
Caring for mothers and babies
Back in the neonatal intensive care unit, the newborn seems to be improving. The oximeter shows increased levels of oxygen in her blood, a sign that her condition might stabilize. Rahman rubs her tiny chest. Her body is showing signs of movement, a noticeable change from 15 minutes ago when she seemed lifeless. The next milestone will be for her to breathe spontaneously and unassisted. The baby’s mother is teary-eyed, and the father is pacing outside the ward.
The leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban have agreed that migration poses one of the “greatest challenges” for their countries.
After the leaders met in Budapest on Wednesday, the pair issued a joint statement showing they had the same view on “growing Muslim populations.”
The statement said: “The two leaders highlighted that one of the greatest challenges at present for both countries and their respective regions—south-east Asia and Europe—is migration.
“They noted that both regions have seen the emergence of the issue of co-existence with continuously growing Muslim populations.”
The comments have been interpreted as further evidence of Suu Kyi’s fall from grace as a beacon for freedom, a reputation forged during her two-decade house arrest.
The Nobel laureate has been criticized for not condemning the Myanmar military violent crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority in 2016-2017, one million of whom have fled and are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The U.N. described the violence as ethnic cleansing, which Suu Kyi has denied in a BBC interview.
She has also failed to speak up for the two Reuters journalists who were jailed for their reporting of the violence. Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were convicted of breaking the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in Myanmar, and were imprisoned in Yangon’s Insein jail.
Last month they were pardoned and released after spending more than 500 days in jail.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in comments reported by The Guardian: “Aung San Suu Kyi has fallen so astonishingly far from being the darling of the EU that she now counts a meeting with Orban, the pariah of Europe, as an important accomplishment.
Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi has long been censured in the West for her refusal to defend the rights of the Rohingya Muslim minority in her country. A recent meeting between her and Hungary’s far-right leader won’t do anything to temper those criticisms.
Suu Kyi and Viktor Orbán met yesterday (June 5) in Budapest, where the two leaders agreed that “coexistence with continuously growing Muslim populations” was a challenge for both countries, according to a statement by the Hungarian government. A statement by the Myanmar government on the meeting did not specifically refer to Muslim immigration, saying only that the two sides discussed “constructive help from Hungary to the national reconciliation efforts by the Myanmar Government and for Rakhine issue,” referring to the western region where the Rohingya population is concentrated.Her stance on the Rohingya has befuddled and angered many of her supporters at home and overseas, who have long looked to the Nobel laureate as an icon of democracy and put their hope in Suu Kyi as the person who could help advance Myanmar’s transition into a democracy following decades of military rule. Some, however, maintain that her options are constrained by a political system where even as the leader of Myanmar, her powers remain circumscribed by the still-powerful military, while openly siding with the country’s Buddhist majority allows her to maintain her popularity.
An estimated 75 percent of Rohingya babies are born in the unsafe and unsanitary bamboo shelters in which refugees live, based on an assessment by Save the Children. Home births in such conditions put the lives of both mother and baby at great risk. Save the Children is warning that hundreds of mothers and babies in the refugee camps could die this year of entirely preventable causes, if mothers don’t get proper maternal healthcare.
Data from Save the Children’s Primary Health Care Centre (PHCC) from July 2018 to April 2019 shows that of the expected 400 births in a community of some 20,000 people, only 119 babies were safely delivered in Save the Children’s properly-equipped health facility, with the remaining births taking place at home.
Save the Children’s assessment comes as the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and CDC (Center for Disease Control) jointly release new data from the Rohingya refugee camps, which estimates that for every 100,000 live births, 179 mothers die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth – almost two and half times higher than the worldwide target for maternal mortality of under 70 per 100,000 live births.
Worryingly, The UNFPA/CDC study also found that half of all maternal deaths in the camps happen at home. This means mothers received no emergency care which could have been life-saving. Save the Children has heard anecdotally that some families don’t seek out care during pregnancy complications because they fear sterilization or infanticide based on their experiences in Myanmar and would rather keep the woman at home at all costs. Health care providers need to earn the trust of this community so that expectant mothers get the care they need when they need it.
It is encouraging to see Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seek the support of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states to launch a case at the International Court of Justice to ensure accountability for, and an end to, the Rohingya crisis.
After all, the OIC is uniquely positioned to put an end to the Rohingya crisis — a crisis which is a global humanitarian concern, not just a problem for the Bangladesh government.
So far, our country has provided shelter for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have crossed the border over into the camps at Cox’s Bazar, and among all the international organizations that should be working towards a solution to the Rohingya crisis as the highest of priorities, no organization has a more immediate responsibility than the OIC.
This organization of 57 Muslim-majority countries calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world.”
So then let us really hear this voice — some 1.6 billion people live in OIC countries, giving the organization the clout in the global arena to lead the way in taking stern international action against Myanmar, and to provide shelter for the hundreds of thousands of displaced Rohingya.