Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Weekly Highlights: Fate of the Rohingya Remains Uncertain


18 - 24 May 2015

Weekly Highlights
Fate of the Rohingya Remains Uncetain

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has stated there are still thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees stranded at sea, half of whom have been confined to their boats for more than a month. Many of the refugees are facing severe food and water shortages, and rescuers from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia – including Sumatran fishermen who have taken it upon themselves to rescue refugees – have reported that a number of boat people are in grave condition. Meanwhile, on 24 May 2015, another mass grave containing hundreds of refugees was unearthed near one of the recently uncovered human trafficking camps in Malaysia. A number of the victims were found to be from Burma, demonstrating the desperation faced by thousands of refugees wishing to emigrate from the oppression faced back home.

Burma's discriminatory treatment of the Rohingya continues to fuel the refugee crisis in the Andaman Sea. Over the past weekend, President Thein Sein approved the Population Control Health Care Bill, which enshrines into law the authority for state governments to determine birth-spacing guidelines in regions that are deemed to be facing high population growth, thus potentially acting as a tool for religious and ethnic discrimination. This repressive and discriminatory bill, a component of the controversial Race & Religion Protection Laws, has been supported by an influential group of ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks, such as the notorious Wirathu.  The group has long spearheaded the hate campaign against Burmese Muslims of which many analysts claim is politically motivated by elements within the state apparatus.

The Burma Government's rescue of 200 refugees has been significantly undermined by its unwillingness to accept responsibility for the humanitarian crisis or even allow the use of the term "Rohingya" during the upcoming regional talks in Thailand on 29 May. Unless the Burma Government puts an end to its hateful and discriminatory policies, life in the country will hardly be improved for returned refugees, and neither will it stem the continuous exodus of refugees from Arakan State.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has urged the international community to commit to solving the immediate crisis, stating that humanitarian efforts to rescue the stranded refugees should be a "top priority." This includes providing direct support to search-and-rescue operations, along with encouraging neighboring nations to comply with the customary international law principle of non-refoulement. The response to the refugee crisis, however, has been mixed at best.  Malaysia and Indonesia have announced that they would provide shelter to the 7,000 refugees, however they have also indicated that this is only a temporary solution that would require long-term support from the international community.  Thailand has stated that they will not receive refugees, but will agree not to push away landed refugees. Conversely, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stated that Australia will not receive Burma refugees in the future, believing that this will only increase the risk of human trafficking in the region. In fact, the only countries currently in support of a long-term plan of repatriation, resettlement, or financial aid are the United States, the Philippines, and The Gambia. Unfortunately even those that have declared support have not established the specifics of the long-term solution, including precisely how many Rohingya will be resettled or the extent of their financial commitment to the crisis. 

While the international community seeks to protect the lives of those currently at risk in the Andaman Sea, a lasting solution must address the root causes of this crisis. As the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights suggests,  "A comprehensive solution must do more than temporarily address the needs of a mere 7,000 refugees. It must include a regional plan of action to push the [Burma] government to end its systematic persecution of over 1.3 million people." In addition, 37 civil society organizations have joined together in calling on Ban Ki-Moon to give "personal attention" to the crisis in Arakan State and to ensure that aid can be effectively delivered there.

The current refugee crisis is a direct result of the harsh, discriminatory policies of the Burma Government against the Rohingya people. Laws such as the Population Control Health Care Bill must be revoked and the civil and political rights of Muslim minorities, in particular the Rohingya, respected and protected. The international community is urged to support the fair treatment of the Rohingya by pressuring the Burma Government to comply with international human rights laws and standards, and to recognize their fundamental human rights. Inaction will only prolong an already dire humanitarian crisis, and the international community will have more and more blood on its hands.


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Human Rights at the Bottom of the Andaman Sea

By Burma Partnership


TAKE ACTION! Write to US President Obama urging him to search for and rescue Rohingya at sea, and demand the Burma Government end its ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Burma

TAKE ACTION! Write to the Malaysian Prime Minister, as the Chair of ASEAN, urging him to protect the thousands of individuals currently stranded at sea in Southeast Asia

TAKE ACTION! Six human rights activists, Naw Ohn Hla, San San Win (aka Lay Lay), Sein Htwe, Nay Myo Zin, Tin Htut Paing, and Than Swe have been sentenced to four years and four months' imprisonment in Myanmar solely for participating in a peaceful demonstration against the shooting to death of a protester. Call on the Burma authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the activists

Statements and Press Releases

International NGOs Urge Ban Ki-moon To Negotiate Aid Access To Rakhine State, Myanmar (Burma)
By 37 Civil Society Organizations

South East Asia: Necessary U-Turn on Refugee Boats Still Leaves Thousands at Risk
By Amnesty International

ASEAN Parliamentarians Welcome Temporary Shelter for Boat People, but Stress Need to Address Root Causes of Refugee Crisis
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Urgent APRRN Statement On Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand Allowing Migrants Rescued at Sea Temporary Protection
By Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network

Statement of the Coalition of Young People of Indonesia for ASEAN
By Coalition of Young People of Indonesia for ASEAN

Tell President Obama to Urgently Search for and Rescue Stranded Rohingya
By Conservative Party Human Rights Commission

Burma: Action Urged On Stranded Rohingya Refugees
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

"Villagers Being Deliberately Starved, Regularly Beaten, Raped or Murdered"; Situation Report on western Burma; January – April 2015
By Free Burma Rangers

Rohingya and Bangladeshi Boat People Humanitarian Crisis: Prompt and Concrete Measures Needed
By Malaysian Bar

Letter from Members of the U.S. House of Representatives to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the Rohingya Refugees
By Steve Chabot Member of Congress and Joseph Crowley Member of Congress

Hugo Swire Raises Concerns with Burmese Ambassador
By UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire

Joint Statement By UNHCR, OHCHR, IOM And SRSG For Migration and Development: Search and Rescue At Sea, Disembarkation, and Protection of The Human Rights of Refugees and Migrants Now Imperative To Save Lives in The Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea
By UN High Commissioner for Refugees and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and International Organization for Migration

Press Release: US Government Needs to Step Up to Avert Growing Humanitarian Disaster of Rohingya Refugees

By US Campaign for Burma

ASEAN, International Community Must Prioritise Rohingya Women and Children in Crisis
By Women Peace Network - Arakan

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