Saturday, 20 July 2019

Dr. Zaw Myint Thein
President, World Rohingya Congress, USA

In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Beneficent.
Peace be upon you!

Part 1. Rohingya Refugees and Their Problems:

  • Definition of Refugee:

Refugees are legally defined as people who are outside their countries due to the fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality and political affiliation. They cannot or do not wish to return home.

Refugees do not choose to leave their respective countries. They are compelled to do so because of difficult living conditions in their home countries, such as armed conflicts, serious public disorder and human rights issues.
  • Definition of Economic Immigrants:

Immigrants are those, who choose to leave their respective countries.

Economic immigrants are those who leave their homeland with free will and purely for economic reasons, to seek material improvement in their lives.

  • Difference between Economic Immigrant and Refugee:

The key difference between economic immigrants and refugees is that Economic immigrants enjoy the protection of their home countries while refugees do not.

  • Refugees in Bangladesh:
    1. Source of information:

Bangladesh news medias, BBC, and other foreign authentic media sources.

    1. Ethnic Refugees:

There are two different ethnic Burmese refugee groups in Bangladesh; Rohingyas and Rakhines.

Both ethnics give the same reason for leaving their homeland, that they were fed up with human rights abuses inflicted by the Burmese military government.

All Rakhine and many Rohingyas refugees are living illegally outside the registered camps.

    1. Statistics of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh:

From November 1991 to June 1992, a total of 250,877 Rohingya refugees had been registered with UNHCR. As of July 2005, some 236,599 of them were repatriated. The remaining are 14,278.

As on June 11, 2006, the Burmese embassy in Dhaka recognizes only 10,000 as citizens of Arakan State out of the remaining plus new registered 21,293 refugees. Remaining 11,293 refugees are country less so far. Out of 10,000 approved, 8,753 Rohingyas were cleared by Myanmar Government to go home. These refugees are from two camps; Kutupalong Camp in Ukhiya upazila and Nayapara Camp in Teknaf upazila, in the District of Cox’s Bazar.

There are around 200,000 more Rohingyas who are living illegally in the surrounding area of Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban Districts. We could not collect yet the numbers of Rakhine refugees.

    1. Refugee Camps Administrative Cost:

To maintain the refugee camps; the administrative cost is 65% therefore refugees gets only35% in Bangladesh, where as elsewhere in the world Admin cost is 30% and refugees gets 70%. That mean every $1 donation refugees get 35 Cents in Bangladesh and 70 cents else where in the world.

    1. Unregistered Refugees Camp:

There is a group of 14,000 refugees living in makeshift camps on the bank of the Naaf River, which is less than 100 feet from the water.

As far as Bangladesh Govt. is concerned, they are illegal immigrants, therefore UNHCR is not permitted to register these refugees.

Bangladesh Government does not allow any refugee aid organization to provide any kind of assistance, thereby denying them food and medical aid.

Some people say they have been there for nearly 15 years after fleeing repression in northern Arakan State in1991, the same time when UNHCR registered 255,877 in above mentioned two camps.

UNHCR said it is the most urgent case, which needs a political solution before they [UNHCR] can do anything for them.

UNHCR has promised they will eventually be registered, but nothing has happened yet, because Bangladesh Govt. does not approve them as refugees.

Their previous camp, a few miles away, was burned down two years ago in the middle of the night, injuring a number of children. The Bangladesh authorities have never established how the fire was started, but those in the camp say that local Bengalis set fire the camp due to jealousy.

Every year between May and October the Naaf river regularly bursts its banks and flows into the camp. Most have been lucky enough to move to drier ground. Some have drowned.

Their plight has caused so much concern within UNHCR and the European Commission office in Dhaka that both have regularly visited the site in the past year, issuing strongly worded statements condemning the Bangladeshi government for its refusal to allow the refugees outside help.

UNHCR termed it as a humanitarian disaster. The EEC has offered a fund to provide these people’s basic needs, but the government has not responded anything.

    1. Life of Burmese Refugees in Bangladesh:

Their life is like a foot ball

They were not wanted in Burma so as they were not wanted by Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is like Burma where Rohingyas are persecuted just like they were persecuted in Arakan.

“They are like footballs being kicked from one to the other."

BD Govt. Does not allow other countries & EEC to give refugee aids, like food, shelter and domestic items to the 14,000 refugees in unregistered camps, and 200,000 of scattered refugees.

Their life is no different than a criminals life in jails.

    1. Conditions of refugees in the Camps
      • The Shelters and Living Conditions:

The living condition of the refugees is very bad. They are housed in dilapidated shelters without any privacy and their living condition gets worse during rainy season.

It has been learnt from some inhabitants that more than ten people have to lodge in a room of the size of 8 feet by 7 feet.

In Kutupalong Camp, up to 16 refugees live in a room that is 10’x10’. It's very painful to stay in a tiny place like this.

When it rains, they experience water inside the rooms. The floors get muddy. They spend the whole night sleeplessly, putting plastic papers on their heads

They live in huts made of filthy plastic and bamboo cane.

UNHCR Rep. of the camps said she has never seen any refugee camps in such a bad condition. It is not humane, she added.

UNHCR’s view that continuous repairing of camps costs more than making durable shelters therefore asked the government to allow them to build shelters of wooden structures or semi-pacca houses with their own cost, but the BD government denied on the ground that the Rohingyas are staying here for a temporary period of time only and construction of permanent structures would encourage the refugees to stay back in Bangladesh.

·         Foods and Domestic Supplies:

The foods given to them are not enough for a family. They only get rice and lentils every day as their cereals and a few other not-so-important items from the authority. Still none of the refugees are allowed to earn money inside or outside camp grounds to fulfil their needs.

A refugee family feels lucky if they can manage 'Shutki' (dry fish) for a day in a week. Fish or meat is unthinkable for them.

To buy vegetable, child food, cloths etc, they clandestinely sell rice and lentils stealthily cheap outside the refugee camps.

If caught any time, they face slam of relief and have to undergo physical and mental tortures.

·         Health and Medications:

There are inadequate healthcare and lack of medicines at the camps.

Doctors of the refugee camps said congested living is the reason for quick spread of diseases like malaria, diarrhea, skin and venereal diseases among refugees. He mentioned that 15 to 20 refugees are treated every month for venereal diseases.

·         Education and Skills:

The children and youth are not taught any work skill, so how can they be able to work when return to Burma.

UNHCR’s office is still forbidden by Bangladesh authorities from offering education above primary level (5th grade) in the camps.

There are many meritorious students here who are being deprived of higher education

·         Entertainment Facility

Though the large number of the refugee population are children, none of them has any facility to play.

None of the refugee has the right to watch or own a television or use a mobile phone.

·         Harassments, Tortures, and Rapes:

Refugees are subject to harassments and mental tortures by security persons, guarding the camps. They beat them for nothing and treat them as if they are not humans.

There may be only a few women, who have never been beaten by the security persons for sitting in the verandas of their rooms in the evenings of hot days. They spare none, not even women or children.

Sometimes, they are physically assaulted by undesirable elements, reports BD News.

The local villagers are not friendly to the refugees; therefore they don't dare go out of the camp in case the villagers would beat them.

Women were tortured and raped, even shot with guns by police men when they have protested and asked to send them back to Burma.

Local Bengali people gang rape the women of Rohangya families, who are living out side the camps, where as no legal action, be taken by the local authorities even though rapists were caught. They were released without any charge.

They are not allowed to elect their leaders (Mahjees) by themselves but are appointed by the local authorities for their own benefit.

These appointees (Mahjees) have been accused of inflicting severe physical abuse on camp members as wanted by the local authorities.

The refugees, who have expressed about poor conditions in the camp and the abuses to the refugees have suffered, had spent more than a year in jail.

·         Repatriation Process:

The process of their repatriation to Myanmar, their homeland, is halted for about one year.

·         Asylum to Other Countries:

Bangladesh Government does not allow other countries to take these refugees even though US State Department maintains that Washington will consider individual cases referred by UNHCR.

Perhaps other European countries, also Canada , Japan, and Australia might offer for refugee Asylum , if BD govt. approved it like Malaysian government did.

Many Burmese refugees had been taken by all these countries through UNHCR from Malaysia, hence their lives are in better conditions now.

·         Bangladesh Government’s Action:

However, concerned government officials do not admit any violation of human rights, even though all above mentioned situations and conditions are investigated and posted by authorized reporters of public news papers of Bangladesh.

Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC) chief Soyebur Rahman told BDNEWS it was a false propaganda that human rights are being violated in the Rohingya refugee camps.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR Representative in Bangladesh, Ms Pia Prytz Phiri expressed her concern on the endemic violation of human rights and she added that the Rohingya refugee camps, by no means, meet the international standard.

  • Rohingya Refugees in Malaysia:
    1. Statictics:

UNHCR registered 11,000 are Rohingyas, and 11,000 are other ethnic minorities from Myanmar, such as the Chins as of January 20 in Malaysia.

Rohingya refugees usually comprise large families of seven to eight. Some 26 per cent of them are women. Many have children while residing there.

Rohingya children, some 3,300 of them, make up the largest group of refugee children in Malaysia

2         Refugees’ Life in Malaysia:

Burmese refugees like other various refugee communities are scattered throughout Malaysia, with mostly in the Klang Valley.

There are no refugee camps in Malaysia. Instead, refugees share living spaces in groups of up to 20 people, near construction sites where they seek employment, and in make-shift camps in the jungles.

Malaysian laws, in particular the Immigration Acts 1959/1963, do neither recognize a refugee nor do they make a distinction between a refugee and an economic immigrant.

Therefore the refugees' situation is complex due to the absence of official recognition.

Refugees are considered illegal immigrants and subjected to arrest, detention and deportation.

They have no access to legal employment, and their children are not provided education.

Good news is that in the past two years, UNHCR had established a constructive working relationship with the Malaysian authorities to address issues faced by refugees in the country.

Therefore Malaysian authorities had provided de facto recognition of UNHCR documents issued in the form of identity cards.

UNHCR continues working with the Malaysian government towards the issuance of temporary residence permits or work permits for the refugees.

  • Burmese Refugees in Thailand:

1    Statistics

Currently we are gathering Burmese citizen refugees in Thailand. There are some 20,000 displaced people from Myanmar in different places of Thailand said by undocumented information source.

We will highly appreciate if any one or groups can provide the documented information about the Burmese refugees by ethnic group including Rohingyas displaced in Thailand.

  • International Refugee Aid Agencies:

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is one of the world's principal humanitarian agencies, with more than 6,500 personnel helping 19.2 million refugees in 116 countries.

There are other international Government agencies and EEC NGO’s who are also helping and supporting Refugees world wide.

Jupiter Corp is an NGO, which was formed to serve Burmese refugees’ world wide.

 

Part 2. The Strategic Plans to Resolve these Problems:

  • Jupiter Corp:

In celebration of World Refugees Day, June 20, 2006, the president of World Rohingya Congress along with other supporters founded Jupiter Corp, a non profit and non political social organization for Human Rights and Refugees aids for displaced Burmese citizens’ world wide.

Jupiter Corp is a US based officially registered organization having Head Quarter in Washington DC with branch office in Houston, Texas, USA.

Jupiter Corp is planning to open its field offices in three neighboring countries of Myanmar, which are Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia, with the permission of the governments of the respective countries.

We need physical, moral, and intellectual support from the international Burmese, Rohingya, and other ethnic communities of Burma, their organizations, leaders and individuals, in order to accomplish our mission for Burmese Refugees.

Without your support, our mission will be successful in our endeavor, but little. We can not fulfill the necessities and obligations of Burmese Refugees worldwide, especially in above mentioned three countries, without a team effort of all Burmese nationals, who can contribute any thing that can be helpful for the success of our ventures.

As a humanitarian, non-political NGO organization, Jupiter Corp has two aims; to protect the refugees and seek ways to help them restart their lives in a normal environment.

Since economic immigrants do not fall within the criteria of refugees and are therefore not entitled to obtain Jupiter Corp’s services.

  • The Strategic Plans for Refugees in Bangladesh:

We need to contact Bangladesh Authority to provide a govt approved refugee camp for 14,000 refugees from the unregistered camp on the Naaf River Bank.

We need to communicate with the Bangladesh Govt. and UNHCR headquarter in order to resolve the problems of Rohingya refugees in the Kutuphalong and Nayapara Camps.

The reason of 200,000 fleeing unregistered Rohingya Refugees all over Cox’s Bazar and Bandarbon districts may be fear of being locked up imprisonment in the registered camps, where their suffering would be worse than prisoners in jails.

We believe that if we can persuade BD authority through UNHCR and other Western Govt. humanitarian agencies to improve refugee camps as an international standard, then we can persuade those fleeing refugees to register in the camps.

We also need to talk to the concerned BD ministries to permit foreign govts., who are willing to provide Rohingya refugees asylums in their countries. 

We are requesting the Rohingya organizations in Bangladesh to cooperate with us, so that we can smoothly implement our strategic plans and achieve our goals as quickly as possible.

  • The Strategic Plans for Refugees In Malaysia:

We will contact the Malaysian authorities to resolve the recognition of refugees separate from economic immigrant and to have approved refugee camps for the protection of refugees and their families.

We will also work with UNHCR and Malaysian Govt. in order to provide refugee aids services effectively and efficiently.

Also we will coordinate with the concerned Government agencies, UNHCR and Government agencies of recipient countries for asylum of Rohingya refugees from Malaysia.

We would request the Rohingya organizations in Malaysia to cooperate in order to smoothly implementing our strategic plans and to achieve our targeted mile stones as planned.

  • The Strategic Plans for Refugees in Thailand:

We have not yet received any detailed information through BBC, VOA, and other press and media releases regarding statistics of Rohingya refugees in Thailand and their conditions, and the information on UNHCR office in Thailand and Thai Government agencies for refugees.

We request Rohingya organizations in Thailand to provide us such necessary information, while we are acquiring these data from other sources, so that we can draw strategic plan for Refugees in Thailand.

  • Rohingya Refugees in Other Countries:

We are still collecting data from those other countries where our refugees have received shelters and helping hands, in order to draw strategic plans to solve their problems and provide aids to them.

Conclusions:

These are the facts of life faced by Rohingya refugees in keeping the flames of hope alive, in seeking a better deal in life and fighting for equal human rights.

We thank our wonderful neighboring host countries of our refugees, like Thailand, Malaysia, and Bangladesh, for their generosity giving helping hands to our refugees.

We also thank the EEC countries, US, Canada, Australia, Japan and other countries, who have been giving political asylum to our refugees and helping us to bring back democracy and human rights into our country.

In the scriptures it is said that: “Indeed, I, the creator, will not change the condition of a People unless they first change themselves.”

So, let us try to change our and our refugees’ condition first by working together as a team with the help of generous countries like EEC, US, other western and eastern support countries and ask from Him, the Creator, to change all of our conditions.

Our heart felt thanks to the European Economic Communities, NRP, Thai Government, Chulalongcorn University, Conference Organizing Committee, Director of Euro-Burma office, Mr. Harn Yawnghwe, ARNO president Mr. Nurul Islam, and all participants from Jupiter Corp, World Rohingya Congress, and on behalf of all Rohingya refugees.

This paper was submitted at First Rohingya Consultation: Working together to find a solution, on 2-3 August 2006, Sigha Dum Conference Room, Faculty of Political science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, Organized by Centre for Social Development, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, In cooperation with the National Reconciliation Programme (NRP).