U.N. and Western criticism of Myanmar’s military junta over last month’s coup has given hope to some ethnic Rohingya activists living in exile, who have long pushed other nations to help stop persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar.
“We have to become more diplomatic in this situation when the opportunity really presented itself for us to actually do some outreach and extend our compassion to our fellow citizens,” said Yasmin Ullah, a Rohingya activist in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Born in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, Ullah and her family fled in 1995 to Thailand, where she remained a stateless refugee until her settlement in Canada in 2011. She told VOA that her community now has its “best chance to be able to make amends” through extending solidarity to the anti-junta demonstrations and pushing for a federal democratic system in Myanmar.
“It is a very rare opportunity for us to do this. And I think if we blow this, we might not get another one,” she added.
Members of the Rohingya, who blame the military for the 2017 deadly crackdown against them, have warned a more powerful military could further endanger minority groups in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
“This [Myanmar’s coup] does not create hope for a better future for Burma,” said Nasir Zakaria, the president of Rohingya Cultural Center of Chicago. “It makes the Rohingya more vulnerable in Burma.”
In 2017, Myanmar’s army reportedly led a campaign of killings, rape and beatings against the Muslim minority that drove out over a half million of them to Bangladesh. The U.N. has called it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Despite living in poor conditions in Bangladesh, many Rohingya refugees refuse to return to Myanmar, saying stranded relatives in Rakhine State are living in constant fear.
Shortly after the coup, military ruler Min Aung Hlaing said he wanted to bring back the Rohingya from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The army has reportedly reached out to Rohingya leadership to reassure them and also donated money to build a mosque in Sittwe as a goodwill gesture.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), on Monday, called for immediate efforts to search and rescue a group of Rohingya refugees, who have been adrift on the Andaman Sea for over a week.The precise number and location of the refugees is unknown, and there are reports that many may have already lost their lives, Indrika Ratwatte, Director of the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, located in Bangkok, said in news release. The last information of distress was received on Saturday evening, local time.
The refugees are believed to have departed from Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf, southern Bangladesh, about ten days ago, and the vessel has reported been adrift after the engine broke down, more than a week ago, according to UNHCR.
Refugees have reported that the vessel has been out of food and water for several days now, and that many of the passengers are ill, it added.
“Many are in a highly vulnerable condition and are apparently suffering from extreme dehydration. We understand that a number of refugees have already lost their lives, and that fatalities have risen over the past 24 hours”, added Mr. Ratwatte.
The UNHCR official appealed to all governments in deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress, stressing that “as always, saving lives must be the priority”.
“In line with international obligations under the law of the sea and longstanding maritime traditions, the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea should be upheld, irrespective of nationality or legal status”, he urged.
UNHCR stands ready to support governments across the region in providing any necessary humanitarian assistance and quarantine measures in the coming days for those disembarked, in line with public health protocols, Mr. Ratwatte said.
Rohingya refugees in Malaysia say they have been “left in the dark” over their future after last week’s military coup in Myanmar.
On Feb. 1, armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing overthrew Myanmar’s government, seizing Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders, before declaring a state of emergency and announcing military rule over the country for a year.
Mohamed Ayub, a 31-year-old Rohingya refugee from Klang, told Arab News that the coup “came as a shock” and that the refugee community had not received any updates from Myanmar since the overthrow.
“We aren’t stuck here as we are seeking shelter, but the situation will get more difficult for us even with help from a non-governmental organization,” he said.
He added that his family members were “safe” in Myanmar and there was nothing else he could do “except wait for some updates.”Ayub arrived in Malaysia on a boat eight years ago. Due to the risks of the journey, he decided to travel alone, to pursue a better life for all, leaving behind his father and siblings in Myanmar.
Today, the Rohingya refugee considers the Southeast Asian nation home.
However, with the Rohingya becoming increasingly prominent in the country, certain sections of society have begun to view them as a social, economic and security threat.
While Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention or its subsequent 1967 Protocol, it currently hosts 100,000 Rohingya refugees, the largest in the ASEAN and the fourth-highest globally.
Most the Rohingya fled Myanmar in 2017 due to conflicts in the Rakhine state.
Over the years, the Rohingya community in Malaysia has faced discrimination, a recent report by Tenaganita, a non-governmental organization that works to protect migrant rights, said.
The report added: “In Malaysia, the previous welcoming tone toward refugees has now shifted, with heightened hate speech and xenophobic treatment.”When the country reporting a spike in coronavirus cases, most of the infections were traced to the Rohingya community with “their poor living conditions blamed for being one of the reasons for the widespread disease,” Malaysian Heath Director-General Mohd Noor Hisham Abdullah said.
Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in camps in Bangladesh condemned the military coup in their homeland and said it makes them more fearful to return.A counterinsurgency operation by Myanmar’s military in 2017 involving mass rape, murders and the torching of villages drove more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has hosted them in crowded refugee camps and is eager to begin sending them back to Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Several attempts at repatriation under a joint agreement failed because the Rohingya refused to go, fearing more violence in a country that denies them basic rights including citizenship.
Refugees said Tuesday they are more afraid now that the military is in complete control.
“The military killed us, raped our sisters and mothers, torched our villages. How is it possible for us to stay safe under their control?” said Khin Maung, head of the Rohingya Youth Association in the camps in Cox’s Bazar district.
“Any peaceful repatriation will hugely be impacted,” he told The Associated Press. “It will take a long time because the political situation in Myanmar is worse now.”
Officials from Myanmar and Bangladesh met last month to discuss ways to start the repatriations, with Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry seeming more hopeful of success and officials saying they expected to begin sometime in June.
But refugees said they totally oppose the military takeover.
“We strongly condemn the coup. We love democracy and human rights, so we are worried about losing them in our country,” Maung said.
“We are part of Myanmar, so we feel the same as Myanmar’s common people. We urge the international community to raise its voice against the coup,” he said.
Mohammad Jaffar, 70, said they had been waiting to go back.
“The hope that we had to go back has now been interrupted by this change in regime in Myanmar,” Jaffar said. “Repatriation will not be safe at all under this regime. … Now if we go back into the hands of people who are responsible for our torture, we will probably have to bear twice as much pain as before.”
Oregon’s Rohingya community was shocked to find their home country of Myanmar added to the Trump travel ban in 2020. Now that President Biden has revoked the ban, will the administration acknowledge the crimes committed against their people?
On his first day in office, President Biden repealed the Trump administration’s ban on immigration from several Muslim-majority and African countries. In a statement, Biden said “Those actions are a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all.”
Suddenly, many immigrant communities in the United States were granted a renewed hope that they could reunite with relatives still living abroad. But there are still many challenges for immigrant communities in the Pacific Northwest. Many have been working for years to help family members resettle from abroad to live with them.
That’s the case in Oregon’s Rohingya community. The Rohingya have faced significant displacement across the region since the 1970s, but that displacement skyrocketed in 2017 when the United Nations estimates that at least 10,000 Rohingya were killed by Myanmar’s state forces. The U.N. described the attacks as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
(It’s worth noting that both names of the country — Burma and Myanmar — are contested: some critics say Myanmar is problematic because it’s the name that was elevated by the military junta that took over several decades ago and hasn’t been approved by the citizens; others say Burma is problematic because it’s the colonial name, and the country’s current government argues it refers to a single, large ethnic group and isn’t inclusive of all residents.)
As a result of the widespread violence, nearly a million Rohingya have fled their homeland of Myanmar. Most are refugees in the neighboring country of Bangladesh, but about a thousand have resettled here in Southeast Portland.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has adopted “leaving no one behind” and “equitable access to vaccines” as the basic principles for Covid-19 vaccination around the world. GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, has also set up “equitable and sustainable use of vaccines” and “leaving no one behind” as the core of their high-level strategy for worldwide immunisation. All these strategies are in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals. However, global vaccination is not just a mere strategy or goal. This relates to the right to healthcare, which is an integral part of the right to life and must be ensured irrespective of nationality, religion, race, creed or culture.
According to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), around 79.5 million people had been forced worldwide from their homes due to persecution, conflict and human rights violations as of mid-2020. That number includes 29.6 million refugees, 4.2 million asylum seekers and 45.7 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Around 34 million of this 79.5 million are children. Unfortunately, it is not clear who will ensure the Covid-19 vaccination of all these people.
According to UNHCR in January 2021, “around 90 countries are currently developing national Covid-19 vaccination strategies and 51—or 57 per cent—have included refugees in their vaccination plans”. This trend reminds us that most of the UN member states are ignoring, if not denying, the responsibility to “respect”, “protect” and “promote” human rights principles as per the UN Charter towards refugees, IDPs and stateless people.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “vaccine nationalism” has stood as a massive blow to the global vision for universal and equitable access to an affordable vaccine. Vaccine nationalism is when countries prioritise inoculating their own populations before others. Experts have already warned that this vaccine nationalism would prolong the Covid-19 pandemic by years. From the point of view of public health discourse, it is impossible to break or sustainably slow the transmission of the coronavirus unless a minimum of 70 percent of the population has acquired immunity. That is why the UNHCR believes that the exclusion of refugees, IDPs and stateless people from vaccination plans carries the risk of ongoing transmission in these populations, with spillovers into the global population. HRW also thinks that opaque vaccine deals could undermine a global recovery from the pandemic.
Bangladesh officials say they expect to begin a third effort to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in June.
The target date – seen as premature by many Rohingya – emerged from this week’s talks between the two countries under Chinese mediation.
“We proposed beginning the repatriation by March. But Myanmar said that for some logistical reasons they would need some more time,” said Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, who led the Bangladeshi side in the tripartite meeting Tuesday.
“Following our meeting, it appears, we would be able to begin the repatriation by June,” Momen told reporters in Dhaka.
Myanmar’s deputy minister for international cooperation U Hau Do Suan and China’s vice foreign minister Luo Zhaohui represented their respective countries in the 90-minute virtual meeting.
But many Rohingya in the sprawling refugee camps around Cox’s Bazar say they are unwilling to return to Myanmar before a series of long-standing demands are met.
“Myanmar has to guarantee to return the full citizenship rights to all Rohingya — this is our main demand,” said Jan Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee who fled to Bangladesh in 2017 and lives in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.
“We all want to return to our native villages in Rakhine. Violent crimes were committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine that led to our exodus from Myanmar. All perpetrators have to be held accountable for their crimes, he told VOA. “And, there must be a neutral international security force to ensure our safety in Rakhine.”
He added, “I am sure no Rohingya will be ready to go back to Rakhine if Myanmar does not care to fulfill our demands.”
Subjected to ethnic violence in Myanmar, minority Rohingya Muslims have for decades escaped persecution and economic hardship in Myanmar by fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, where more than 1.2 million of the refugees now live, mostly in congested shanty colonies.
The Arakan Rohingya Union has said Tripartite meeting among Myanmar, Bangladesh, and China, is bringing some optimism to the forcefully displaced Rohingya people that they could return to their homeland.
However, they also mentioned that the meeting could only be fruitful if Myanmar is genuinely willing to honour the repatriation agreement that states “voluntary and dignified return to their original homes”, according to a statement on Sunday.
Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen will meet his counterparts from Myanmar and China virtually in a meeting initiated by China at 2pm on Tuesday.
The ARU said the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the international community to make sure the government of Myanmar takes part in the tripartite meeting with Bangladesh and China with utmost sincerity.
The organization also said in its report that the government of Myanmar took an initiative to resettle some internally displaced Rohingya families that are taking shelter in nearby Rohingya villages in Maungdaw Township.
There are over 15,000 displaced Rohingyas in the region. However, after three years of delay, a few hundred Rohingya people will be relocated as part of the initiative.
ARU said despite the government’s frequent claims of plans to repatriate the displaced Rohingya from IDP camps, there is no visible movement.
It called for immediate implementation of the repatriation plan for Rohingya in IDP camps to their original homes.
Meanwhile, new incidents of trafficking of Rohingyas, in small and large groups, through land routes in Myanmar have increased, ARU said citing sources in Yangon.
As many as 26 Rohingya men and 73 women were detained by the police following an investigation that led to the identification of a suspected trafficker.
The Arakan State assemblymen pushed a motion to rescind the designation of the United League of Arakan or Arakan Army as a terrorist group.
On January 11, they submitted a motion to the State Assembly which was approved on January 14.
Deputy commissioner of police (Dwarka) Santosh Kumar Meena, on Friday, said that based on local information, two men, Hamid Hussain (23) and Nabi Hussain (22), were arrested from Hastsal village in Uttam Nagar. A case was registered against them under the Foreigners Act.
Spokespersons of the Delhi Police said they have arrested two Rohingya men who had allegedly been living illegally in west Delhi’s Uttam Nagar for over two months.
Senior officers said the two allegedly entered India from Myanmar without any legal permits or documentation in November last year.
In a similar action last week, on January 11, six persons, also suspected to be Rohingyas, were detained outside Anand Vihar railway station in east Delhi. The six, who included three children, were handed over to the immigration bureau and sent to a detention centre in Delhi.Deputy commissioner of police (Dwarka) Santosh Kumar Meena, on Friday, said that based on local information, two men, Hamid Hussain (23) and Nabi Hussain (22), were arrested from Hastsal village in Uttam Nagar.
A case was registered against them under the Foreigners Act, Meena said.Nabi and Hamid allegedly told the police that both of them are permanent residents of Myanmar and they had entered India illegally on November 1 last year, through the Bangladesh border. “Both of them belong to the Myanmar’s Buthidaung region. They were both found living in Delhi without any legal passport or visa and were therefore arrested,” Meena said.
In the earlier detention on January 11, a police team in east Delhi detained six Rohingyas — two boys aged 10 and 14, a 15-year-old girl, a 60-year-old man, a woman, 50 and a 31-year-old man.
An investigation revealed that they had arrived in Delhi by train from Tripura. They allegedly told the police during questioning that they had crossed into India illegally, with the help of some of their contacts at the border.
Deputy commissioner of police (east) Deepak Yadav said all six were detained and handed over to the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer. “They were sent to a detention centre in Lampur, Delhi as the matter is under investigation,” Yadav said.
The cause of the fire is yet to be determined, the official said adding that, authorities concerned are working to this end.
At least 500 makeshift dwellings have been gutted in a fire at the Nayapara Rohingya refugee camp in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar. However, no casualties were reported in the incident.
The fire broke out at the Nayapara refugee camp in Hnila union of Teknaf upazila in the early hours of Thursday, said Additional Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Md Shamsud Douza.
Shamsud Douza said a fire broke out in the Nayapara Rohingya refugee camp in Teknaf at 3am on Thursday. Informed, firefighters from Teknaf Fire Service Station responded to the scene.
“After about two hours, the fire brigade was able to bring the fire under control at 5am. Meanwhile, at least 500 Rohingya houses in the camp were completely burnt down.”
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen says he is hoping for a fruitful meeting Bangladesh, Myanmar and China will hold a tripartite meeting on Rohingya repatriation in Dhaka on January 19, as Dhaka finds their repatriation to Myanmar as the only solution to the crisis.
“We hope it would be a fruitful meeting,” Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told reporters on Wednesday about the tripartite talks.
He said the meeting would be held at secretary level. The last tripartite meeting like this was held on January 20 last year. More than three years ago, Myanmar’s soldiers targeted, killed, and raped Rohingyas, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, and burned their villages, as the United Nations, Refugees International, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The cause of the fire is yet to be determined, the official said adding that, the authorities concerned are working to this end.
“Also, the extent of damage caused by the fire is also being assesed,” said Shamsud Douza.