The plight of the displaced: Are we doing enough?

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12:00 AM, June 20, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:36 PM, June 20, 2019

World Refugee Day                                                                                     

The plight of the displaced: Are we doing enough?

Rohingya refugee children fly improvised kites at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar. PHOTO: REUTERS/DAMIR SAGOLJ

Tasneem Tayeb  – Communications Professional l Corporate Trainer

Refugee. Although the word is relatively new, appearing in the English language for the first time circa late 17th century, its story is as old as time itself. It is a story writ large on page after page of human history—a dominant, ever-present leitmotif of our pre-history, a force that has fundamentally dictated our evolution as a species.

Today, in a world that is inhabited by considerably more souls and, therefore, able to offer considerably less space, this word is too often followed by another: crisis.

According to UNHCR’s 2008 Global Trends report, the number of forcibly displaced people around the world in 2008 was 42 million, of whom 15.2 million were refugees. The number increased to 68.5 million in 2017, of whom nearly 25.4 million were refugees, more than half of whom were under the age of 18, according to the UNHCR 2017 Global Trends report. This means that over a span of nearly 10 years between 2008 and 2017, 10.2 million people had to flee their homeland because of war, violence, or, as we saw in the case of the Rohingyas, persecution.

  Most of these refugees who were forced to escape oppressive regimes, failed states, economic collapses, and natural disasters seek shelter in neighbouring countries—mostly other low-income countries—creating immeasurable humanitarian, economic, political and social pressure on the host countries. According to data released by UNHCR in 2017, it is the developing regions that host 84 percent of the world’s refugees.

Bangladesh too is facing many challenges in hosting over a million Rohingya refugees. More than half these refugees—around 723,000 according to UNHCR—fled to Bangladesh since August 2017 alone. They were lucky to escape persecution at the hands of the Myanmar military, since escalation of another bout of ethnic violence in August 2017. Although Bangladesh played an exemplary role in hosting such a large displaced population, the latter’s protracted stay in the country and the looming uncertainty about their resettlement are adding further pressure on the country’s economy. According to an UNHCR official, as of March 2019, Bangladesh has received only 14 percent of the USD 920 million, appealed through the third Joint Response Plan (JRP), needed to address the Rohingya crisis.

In addition to economic, social and political challenges, Bangladesh is facing major environmental threats as a result of hosting Rohingya refugees. According to a UNDP report, almost 4,300 acres of hills and forests were levelled in Ukhia and Teknaf alone, to make room for temporary accommodation and for cooking fuel for the Rohingyas. Leaving aside the threat this poses to the area’s ecological balance, such indiscriminate deforestation and exfoliation also exponentially increase the risk of landslides, making the refugees more vulnerable to large-scale disasters.

According to a Reuters report, Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez said in September 2018 that Venezuelan refugees cost his country nearly 0.5 percent of its gross domestic product per year. Colombia, which shares a 2,219km border with Venezuela, is one of the largest recipients of the three million Venezuelans who have fled their country in recent years in the wake of an economic collapse and escalation of political violence.

Turkey, hosting nearly four million refugees as of August 2018, has already spent USD 33 billion for Syrian refugees. The sheer scale of the migration of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries is adding more pressure to the already stressed economy of Turkey, which shoulders a big chunk of the expenditure on refugees. As a result, the country has had to impose more stringent border control measures. In 2018 alone, more than 430,000 refugees were prevented from entering the country, according to a report published by Xinhuanet.

Turkey, however, is not the only country to have tightened its policies. Some European countries have imposed arbitrary border control measures—often leaving refugees stranded on the seas or under the open sky to fend for themselves without recourse or resource.

Italy, for instance, closed its ports to refugees last year, turning away thousands. According to a Doctors Without Borders report, between July 2018 and June 2019, at least 10,000 have been forcibly returned to Libya by Italy, while another 1,151, including children, died on the seas.

Macedonia has closed its borders to refugees from Afghanistan and is only allowing Syrian and Iraqi asylum-seekers to enter its territory. The country had in the past completely sealed off its border with Greece to bar displaced communities from crossing over to other Balkan countries through its territory.

Other European countries are facing immense pressure from their own citizens to limit the influx. For instance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had to face people’s wrath for its accommodative asylum and refugee policies. The results of the “Deutschlandtrend” poll conducted last year, commissioned by German broadcaster ARD, showed that 80 percent of the German population responded by saying that they were “somewhat” or “completely” dissatisfied with the performance of the government. Amidst increasing pressure, the German chancellor had to tighten border control measures. Merkel’s popularity also took a dive due to internal tensions simmering over asylum and refugee issues.

While international bodies like UNHCR, Oxfam International, WarChild International, along with many developed countries, donor agencies, and international NGOs scramble desperately to provide the humanitarian support that the refugees so badly need, the global community must ask itself: is enough being done?

Humanitarian aid, logistical support and funds to shelter the refugees are essentially stopgap measures which do not address the root causes that push refugees to flee their homelands. They do not answer the problems of exploitative regimes, terrorism, war, and economic collapse.

People living in stable, developed economies hardly ever seek refuge elsewhere. Looking at the 2017 demography of refugees, we can see that among the top five countries contributing to refugee crises are Syrian Arab Republic (6.3m), Afghanistan (2.6m), South Sudan (2.4m), Myanmar (1.2m) and Somalia (0.9m)—all low-income countries characterised by exploitative institutions and violence.

The Global Compact on Refugees, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 17, 2018, focuses on (among other things) the need to “support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity” of the refugees.

According to a UNHCR report titled “From Commitment to Action: Highlights of Progress Towards Comprehensive Refugee Responses Since the Adoption of the New York Declaration,” “there have been some promising developments that hold the promise of future success in this area [Objective Four: Supporting conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity],” which includes supporting conditions in Somalia so that the Somalians can go back to their own land and reiteration of determination to address root causes of refugee situations. Tenuous progress, but we must take our wins where we can.

Tags: World Refugee Day , Rohingya Refugees, Tasneem Tayeb

Tasneem Tayeb works for The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is @TayebTasneem.

Source: https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/human-rights/news/the-plight-the-displaced-are-we-doing-enough-1759432 

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Asean: Prioritize Rohingya rights, safety

Home >Bangladesh >Rohingya Crisis    

Asean: Prioritize Rohingya rights, safety

 Tribune Desk > Published at 10:50 am June 19th, 2019

File photo: A group of Rohingya refugee people walk after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh Photo: MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

The organizations highlighted this as Southeast Asian leaders prepare to meet in Bangkok

Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), and Progressive Voice have said the Myanmar government  must ensure that the human rights of Rohingyas are protected and respected.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, they safe conditions should be created in Rakhine State before repatriating Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. The organizations called for this as Southeast Asian leaders prepare to meet in Bangkok, Thailand—for the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit—from June 20 to 23, 2019.

Earlier this month, a leaked copy of a preliminary needs assessment in Rakhine State—carried out by an Asean body—failed to acknowledge the Myanmar military’s atrocities and ongoing human rights abuses against the Rohingya.

“Asean needs to stop turning a blind eye to Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya, and cease lending legitimacy to the repatriation process. We all know the Rohingya population in Bangladesh and elsewhere will not be returning home voluntarily until the situation on the ground in Rakhine State dramatically alters,” Eva Sundari, Indonesian MP and APHR board member, said.

“A huge political shift is needed for things to start moving in the right direction. Not one thing that the Rohingya themselves have identified as prerequisites for their return—and which has been echoed by rights groups and other experts—has been taken on board, in any serious way, by the Myanmar authorities,” the MP added.

On August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military launched a vicious “clearance operation” on the Rohingya minority. It killed thousands of people, burned villages, and forced over 700,000 Rohingyas to cross the border and take shelter in overcrowded refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar.

A United Nations (UN)-mandated fact-finding mission, in September 2018, called for the Myanmar military top brass to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

On June 7, 2019, a copy of the “Asean Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation in Rakhine State” report by the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) and their Emergency Response and Assessment Team (Asean -Erat) was leaked to the media.

The draft report ignores the root causes of why hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were forced to flee their homes including the atrocities committed by Myanmar security forces and their proxies, plus the institutionalized discrimination imposed by Myanmar authorities against the minority in Rakhine State for decades.

Furthermore, the draft report fails to mention the word “Rohingya,” instead calling the community “Muslims.” “Unless concrete steps towards international accountability for the genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes are taken, ongoing impunity will only embolden the Myanmar military to commit more such atrocities. Any returned refugees will be vulnerable to the same violence that caused them to flee in the first place; this will be like sending them back to the killing fields to be re-victimized,” Khin Ohmar, Chair of Progressive Voice Advisory Board, said.

Clashes between the Myanmar security forces and the Arakan Army ethnic armed organization have displaced at least 30,000 people since the beginning of the year, further underlining the precariousness of the situation in Rakhine State.

As the Asean report on the refugee repatriation process is expected to officially be released to the public in the coming weeks, the APHR, Forum-Asia, and Progressive Voice call on Asean to ensure that the bloc does not become complicit in the forced or premature repatriation of Rohingya refugees.

They have called on Asean to take meaningful steps toward the promotion and protection of the rights of the Rohingya community; including through acknowledging the Rohingya identity, restoring Rohingya’s full citizenship, and ensuring Rohingya’s participation in all decisions concerning them.

John Samuel, Executive Director of Forum-Asia, said: “Asean has so-far remained shamefully silent in the face of the serious human rights violations taking place in one of its Member States.

“With the second anniversary of Myanmar military’s latest ‘clearance operation’ approaching, continued inaction by Asean will send a dangerous signal that the bloc is indifferent to the plight of the Rohingya and that human rights violations can be carried out with impunity”.

Tags: Myanmar , Cox’s Bazar , Rohingya Refugees, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)

Source: https://dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/rohingya-crisis/2019/06/19/human-rights-organizations-call-on-asean-to-prioritize-rohingya-rights/

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Rohingya organization criticizes Asean, UN

Home > Bangladesh > Rohingya Crisis

Rohingya organization criticizes Asean, UN

Tribune Desk > Published at 03:48 pm June 19th, 2019

A group of Rohingya refugee people walk in the water after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmarborder in Teknaf, Bangladesh – Reuters

ARSPH accused the duo of not treating the Rohingya issue as humanitarian crisis

A Rohingya refugee group based in a Cox’s Bazar camp has criticized the United Nations (UN) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean); saying they have not touched the root causes of the crisis. The group—the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH)—claimed the leaked Asean Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation in Rakhine State was secret and the Rohingya refugees were not consulted in the assessment.

In a statement on June 8, ARSPH said: “Asean says Myanmar will only accept 500,000 Rohingya back in Myanmar –  but there are over one million living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The experts in the UN IFFM report last year said 725,000 Rohingya fled violence and persecution in Myanmar in 2017 and 2018.”

ARSPH asked what Asean and Myanmar will do about the 500,000 other Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. ARSPH also claimed the Asean report congratulated Myanmar for increasing security forces in Rakhine.

Also Read- Asean: Prioritize Rohingya rights, safety

The organization said, “Rohingyas have been victims of genocide, by Myanmar’s security forces, for decades. What will Asean and Myanmar do to stop these forces from continuing the genocide against Rohingyas when we return home?”

ARSPH also said that the Asean report does not use their ethnic name: Rohingya.  ARSPH criticized the agreement signed between Myanmar and the UN on repatriation of Rohingya refugees. They voiced their concern over refugee representatives not being involved in signing the agreement.

On June 6, 2018 the Myanmar government signed the agreement with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), allowing them to get involved in the much-delayed repatriation process.

ARSPH accused Asean and the UN for not treating the Rohingya issue as humanitarian crisis. It warned that there will be no repatriation without talking to the Rohigyas.

Tags: United Nations , Association of Southeast Asian Regional Cooperation (Asean) , Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH)

Source: https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/rohingya-crisis/2019/06/19/rohingya-organization-criticizes-asean-un

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Asean must not turn a blind eye to plight of Rohingya

Home > World > South Asia

Asean must not turn a blind eye to plight of Rohingya

Reuters > Published at 04:27 pm June 19th, 2019

File photo: Rohingya refugees gather at a market inside a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 7, 2019 Reuters

 More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017, according to UN agencies

Human rights groups on Wednesday called on Southeast Asian leaders to rethink their approach to the Rohingya refugee crisis ahead of a regional summit in Bangkok this week. Myanmar regards Rohingya Muslims as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to camps in its western Rakhine State since violence swept the area in 2012.

More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017, according to UN agencies, after a crackdown by Myanmar’s military sparked by Rohingya insurgent attacks on the security forces.

The Rohingya issue, especially their repatriation from Bangladesh, is expected to be a major topic during four days of meetings among leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Thailand from Thursday. Human rights activists say the bloc should not rush to get involved in the repatriation without addressing the root causes of their displacement.

“Asean needs to stop turning a blind eye to Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya, and cease lending legitimacy to the repatriation process,” Eva Sundari, an Indonesian lawmaker and a board member of the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement.

UN investigators have said the 2017 Myanmar military operation that drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh was executed with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson.

Myanmar denies widespread wrongdoing and says the military campaign across hundreds of villages in the north of Rakhine State was in response to the attacks by Rohingya insurgents. But rights groups say conditions in Rakhine State are not conducive to the safe return of refugees.

“Asean seems intent on discussing the future of the Rohingya without condemning – or even acknowledging – the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against them,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director of the Human Rights Watch. “It’s preposterous for Asean leaders to be discussing the repatriation of a traumatized population into the hands of the security forces who killed, raped, and robbed them.”

Mostly Buddhist Myanmar is a member of Asean. The grouping includes Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia, where the plight of the Rohingya is of particular concern. Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai rejected any suggestion the grouping, which is under Thailand’s chairmanship this year, would gloss over Myanmar’s action, but at the same time, said Asean would not be apportioning blame.

“This is not about whitewashing anyone,” he told Reuters. “Asean is not here to point to who is right or wrong, our concern is the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in refugee camps who should begin to take their first step to making a return.”

Repatriation would only take place on a voluntarily basis, and with the consent of both Myanmar and Bangladesh, he said. Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea in an exodus that peaked in 2015, crossing the Andaman Sea to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Last week, a boat carrying 65 Rohingya arrived at a southern Thai island, raising concern that there could be a new wave of people smuggling by sea after a 2015 regional crackdown on trafficking.

Tags: Myanmar , United Nations , Rakhine State ,Rohingyas ,Human Rights

Source: https://www.dhakatribune.com/world/south-asia/2019/06/19/asean-must-not-turn-a-blind-eye-to-plight-of-rohingya

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Bangladesh hosts most Rohingyas from Myanmar : UNHCR

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Bangladesh hosts most Rohingyas from Myanmar : UNHCR                              

UNB> 19th June, 2019 02:33:38

Bangladesh hosts most Rohingyas from Myanmar – global displacement tops 70 mn: UNHCR

Refugees originating from Myanmar represented the fourth largest population group by country of origin and most Rohingyas from Myanmar were hosted by Bangladesh (906,600) at the end of the year 2018, says a global report on Wednesday.

However, according to government data, Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.2 million Rohingyas and most of them came since August 25, 2017. The number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict exceeded 70 million in 2018 and this is the highest level that UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has seen in its almost 70years.

By the end of 2018, this Rohingya population stood at 1.1 million, about the same as in 2017, according to data from UNHCR’s annual ‘Global Trends’ report released on Wednesday.Most refugees from Myanmar were hosted by Bangladesh (906,600) at the end of the year, a slight decline from the end of 2017 (932,200) due to improvements in registration methods.

Other countries with sizable populations of refugees from Myanmar were Malaysia (114,200), Thailand (97,600) and India (18,800). UNHCR’s Representative in Bangladesh Steven Corliss responded to the report urging the international community to show increased solidarity with Bangladesh.

“The figures released today once again demonstrate the generosity of the Government and people of Bangladesh in providing safety for so many Rohingya people forced to flee their homes”, he said. Steven Corliss said the 2019 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis launched earlier this year seeks to raise US$ 920 million for the needs of the Rohingya refugees and affected Bangladeshi host communities.

“As of today, the appeal is less than a quarter funded. This is deeply worrying given that we are approaching the second half of 2019 and have entered the annual monsoon season, with high winds and heavy rains putting refugees at risk and damaging homes almost daily,” he said.

Steven Corliss said humanitarian agencies must receive the funding needed to continue delivering life-saving assistance and to improve conditions for refugees and host communities in Bangladesh. Data shows that almost 70.8million people are now forcibly displaced. To put this in perspective, this is double the level of 20 years ago, 2.3 million more than a year ago, and corresponds to a population between that of Thailand and Turkey

.The figure of 70.8 million is conservative, in particular as the crisis in Venezuela is still only partly reflected in this number. In all, some 4 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015 making this among the world’s biggest recent displacement crises.

Although the majority need international refugee protection, as of today only around half a million have taken the step of formally applying for asylum. UN High Commissioner for Refugee Filippo Grandi said what they are seeing in these figures is further confirmation of a longer-term rising trend in the number of people needing safety from war, conflict and persecution.

He said while language around refugees and migrants is often divisive, they are also witnessing an outpouring of generosity and solidarity, especially by communities who are themselves hosting large numbers of refugees.

“We are also seeing unprecedented engagement by new actors including development actors, private businesses, and individuals, which not only reflects but also delivers the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees,” said Filippo Grandi.

He said, “We must build on these positive examples and redouble our solidarity with the many thousands of innocent people who are forced to flee their homes each day.” Within the 70.8 million figure in the Global Trends report are three main groups.

The firstis refugees, meaning people forced to flee their country because of conflict, war or persecution. In 2018, the number of refugees reached 25.9 million worldwide, 500,000more than in 2017. Included in this total are 5.5 million Palestine refugees who are under the care of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

The second group is asylum seekers – people outside their country of origin and receiving international protection, but awaiting the outcome of their claim to refugee status. At the end of 2018 there were 3.5 million asylum seekers globally.

The third and biggest group, at 41.3 million, is people displaced to other areas within their own country, a category commonly referred to as Internally Displaced People or IDPs. Overall growth in displacement continued to exceed the rate at which solutions are being found for people who become displaced.

With refugees, the best solution is being able to return home voluntarily, in safety and dignity. Other solutions include being integrated into the host community or being resettled to a third country.

However, only 92,400 refugees were resettled in 2018, less than 7 per cent of those awaiting resettlement. Some 593,800refugees were able to return home, while 62,600 became naturalized.

“With every refugee situation, wherever it is, however long it has been going on for, there has to be an enduring emphasis on solutions and removing obstacles to people being able to return home,” said Grandi.

“This is complex work in which UNHCR is constantly engaged but which also requires all countries to come together for a common good. It is one of the great challenges of our times.”

Source: https://www.daily-sun.com/post/400638/2019/06/19/Bangladesh-hosts-most-Rohingyas-from-Myanmar:-UNHCR

Posted in International, Media, Myanmar, Publication, Report, Rohingya

UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Home > World > South Asia

 UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Intern > Published at 09:28 pm June 18th, 2019

Rohingya refugees walk towards a refugee camp after crossing the border in Anjuman Para near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 19, 2017 Reuters

The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine

The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.” Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.

The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine. Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.

As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya. But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.

That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security. The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation”, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.

The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”

“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.

‘Concentration camps’

The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.

Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult. But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work. “If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said. “I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”

An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.” On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation. Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”

All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity. The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.

Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities”, the social welfare ministry said. Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.

Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else. They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali”, a term implying they are from Bangladesh. “They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.

Tags: MyanmarUnited NationsRakhine,   Rohingyas

 Source: https://dhakatribune.com/world/south-asia/2019/06/18/un-gives-myanmar-aid-cut-warning-over-rohingya-camp-closures

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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

United Nations

 YANGON, June 18, 2019 (BSS/AFP)The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation”.

Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government. The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine. Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.

As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya. But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.

That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.

The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation”, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP. The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement”. “Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.

– ‘Concentration camps’ –

 The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.

Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult. But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work. “If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said. “I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.” An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps”.

On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation. Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state”. All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.

The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue. Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities”, the social welfare ministry said.

Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens. Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else. They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali”, a term implying they are from Bangladesh. “They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.

Source: http://www.bssnews.net/?p=228199

Posted in International, Media, Myanmar, Publication, Report, Rohingya
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