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Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Burma by boat have made international headlines this week. Petitions for ASEAN members and the international community to take action and end the humanitarian crisis for the refugees stranded at sea have been partially successful. This week’s news round-up features coverage and updates on the crisis.
This week, HART published its report from a recent visit to partners in Eastern Burma and on the Thai-Burma border. Our partners continue to provide health care and education to refugees, IDPs and ethnic minorities in Burma amid contexts of conflict, land confiscation and human rights abuse. Read the full report here.
You can also watch a short interview with Baroness Cox in which she discusses the main findings of the visit here.
News on the rest of the countries in which HART works can be found below the Rohingya crisis section.
Rohingya Refugee Crisis
- Last Friday, we posted a blog report ‘Burma’s Persecution of the Rohingya Creates a Refugee Crisis’ detailing the context of what has come to be labelled a crisis for the ‘boat people’.
- Many Rohingyas fleeing persecution in Burma have resorted to paying traffickers to smuggle them out of the country. With increased crackdowns on trafficking in Thailand, boats containing up to 7,000 refugees were left stranded at sea whilst captains abandoned ship.
- There were reports of Indonesian and Malaysian coast officials towing boats back out to sea, and both these countries and Thailand were refusing to allow these boats to land.
- Cramped conditions with little or no food and water meant that there was a huge risk of thousands dying out at sea.
- News of the crisis went viral, and pressure mounted on ASEAN countries and the international community to rescue the refugees and allow them to land ashore with many online petitions.
DEMAND ASEAN COUNTRIES FIND SHORT & LONG TERM SOLUTIONS TO ROHINGYA CRISIS. Please sign the petition: http://t.co/Bldkhqn3pr & Share!
— Restless Beings (@RestlessBeings) May 19, 2015
- Pressure is also being mounted on Burma to end persecution of Rohingyas and tackle the root causes of the crisis.
- ASEAN members, Malaysia and Indonesia have now committed to allowing the refugees ashore, though this is to be temporary, and has been agreed so long as they have support from the international community.
- Australia and Thailand, two of the most prominent states expected to respond in the region, are both refusing to take in refugees.
- Muslim leaders from Arakan state have criticised the Government for not acting to prevent trafficking earlier by not arresting known traffickers and encouraging the exodus of Rohingya.
- After over a week of silence from the UK Government on the issue, FCO Minister Hugo Swire stated that the Burmese Government must act to tackle the root of the problem and stop the persecution of the predominantly Muslim Minority.
In meeting w/ Ambassador I have urged #Burma to tackle root causes of #Rohingya boat crisis http://t.co/CHyHfvPmyk
— Hugo Swire (@HugoSwire) May 19, 2015
- Whilst Burma has responded to international criticism by agreeing to take part in search and rescue efforts and attend a forum on the 29th May, it continues to deny the citizenship of Rohingyas, labelling them as ‘Bengali’.
- Democratic voice of Burma reported that ‘Burmese officials outlined to their US counterparts the government’s plans to deal with the crisis. “Firstly, we will verify if there are any Burmese citizens among the boat people stranded at sea,” he said. “If their Burmese citizenship can be proven, we will provide them all the necessary assistance and protection… Secondly, we will process any boat people who enter Burmese waters and provide them with the necessary assistance and protection, before sending them back to the relevant countries’
- This provides little hope of support for the Rohingya from the Burmese Government, as the revoking of white papers in March means that those who did have documentation of citizenship, albeit officially temporary, no longer have proof of citizenship.
What to Watch out for Next
- The rescue effort and humanitarian care for refugees should continue with support from ASEAN Countries and the international community.
- It remains to be seen whether Thailand will also offer its support and take in refugees in the struggle to control the crisis.
- The long term issues of persecution, denial of citizenship and discrimination persist. The Burmese Government must end this and foster a welcoming and inclusive environment in order to prevent more people from fleeing these terrible living conditions.
News from around the world
- Ethnic military groups in Burma have rejected Government calls to ‘abandon arms’ – a request that has not been mentioned in ceasefire talks and is deemed unacceptable.
- Tributes have been paid to an Indian nurse who died on Monday after spending 42 years in a persistent vegetative state after being raped and strangled. Aruna Shanbaug was left with severe brain damage and paralysed after the 1973 attack by a ward attendant in the Mumbai hospital where she worked. Her case sparked a debate about India’s euthanasia laws. The Supreme Court had rejected a plea to allow her to die.
- On the 21st May, the Karabakh President opened the first meeting of the National Assembly’s 6 convocation, following the elections earlier this month. He expressed expectations for the new Assembly to continue the law-making activity of its predecessor.
- President-elect Muhammadu Buhari has commended Goodluck Jonathan on conceding defeat peacefully, saying that it diverted a crisis and has reduced the political nervousness in Nigeria.
- Security in Nigeria is being intensified in the days leading up to the official handover of government on the 29th May amid fears that insurgents are planning to undermine the Presidential/Governmental inauguration ceremonies nationwide.
- There has been a sharp escalation of fighting in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei States. The UN Secretary-General has condemned the violence, stating he is “appalled by the reports of human rights violations committed by the SPLA and their allied forces, including the burning of villages, and the killing and rape of civilians”.
- Amnesty International researchers in Unity State have documented severe human rights violations including civilian killings, abduction and sexual violence. Displaced persons interviewed by Amnesty reported government forces attacking villages with axes, machetes and guns, setting villages on fire, killing residents, looting livestock and committing acts of sexual violence.
- The latest monthly report on human rights in South Kordofan documents a significant increase in government attacks on civilians in April. The report states that April saw 171% more attacks than the previous month. There were 55 verified incidents of bombing or shelling of civilians. 10 civilians have been killed, including 4 children, and 19 civilians injured.
- According to the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, a human rights defender has been detained by armed forces in the Nuba Mountains.
- Amnesty International, as well as many local human rights groups, have expressed concern over the arbitrary arrest and alleged torture of dozens of people in the Baucau district. These incidents have occurred as part of a series of joint security operations by the police and military to capture anti-government and ex-guerrilla leader Mauk Moruk (Paulino Gama) and his followers.
- Australia has backed down in a row over returning sensitive documents relating to a controversial oil and gas treaty. Timor-Leste took the Australian Government to the ICJ at the Hague after Australian intelligence services took the documents in a raid on a Timorese lawyers’ office in Canberra. Timor-Leste has accused Australia of spying on the former Portuguese colony so that it could gain commercial advantage in the talks over the energy treaty.
- The recent influx of refugees fleeing conflict and instability in South Sudan has put a further strain on resources, says the World Food Programme (WFP). All refugees who arrived in the country before July 2013 will have to have their food rations cut to help the organisation cope with the pressure. In order to meet the needs of all refugees in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan, the WFP says they will need a further 43 million USD over the next 6 months.
- Uganda is boosting security measures following renewed threats against the country made by militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab. A statement by police said a new video has emerged online urging attacks in Uganda and Burundi, nations that both contribute troops to the African Union’s Amisom force in Somalia, where Al-Shabaab are based.