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NCGUB: News on Migrants & Refugees- 19 February, 2010 (English & Burmese)

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HEADLINES

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NEWS ON MIGRANTS Thai NGOs send public letter to Prime Minister on behalf of Burmese migrants Migrant Worker Tragedy Thailand Serious About Deporting Unregistered Migrant Workers UN expert on migrants raises alarm on threat of massive deportations from Thailand UN expert warns of mass deportations of Burmese NEWS ON REFUGEES MYANMAR: Political uncertainty pushes out ethnic minorities Rohingya Can Only Starve in Bangladesh: MSF In-Depth: Myanmar’s refugees still on the run Unregistered Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: Crackdown, forced displacement and hunger Bangladesh: Violent Crackdown Fuels Humanitarian Crisis for Unrecognized Rohingya Refugees Fate of 48 Rohingya unclear

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Thai NGOs send public letter to Prime Minister on behalf of Burmese migrants Thu 18 Feb 2010, Jaloon Htaw and Janu

On February 16th of this year, 4 major Thai labor rights NGOs, their respective suborganizations, and 150 Burmese migrant workers possessing temporary passports sent a public letter to Thailand’s Prime minister, requesting alterations to Thailand’s policies towards Burmese migrant workers before the end of February 2010. The 28th of February 2010 marks the deadline for Burmese migrant workers to have applied for temporary passports, as decided by the Burmese and Thai governments in 2009. The February 16th missive was written and signed by the State Enterprises Worker’s Relation Confederation (SERC), the Migrant Working Group (MWG), the Action Network For Migrants (ANM), and the Thai Labor Solidarity Committee (TLSC), as well as 56 smaller affiliates. The 150 migrant worker signatures also on the document were collected from Burmese workers based throughout Thailand. According to Ko Sein Htay, an officer of the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), one of the smaller groups that signed the letter, the document was sent in response a January 19th resolution issued by the Thai Cabinet. According a report issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on February 12th as part of its “Urgent Appeals Programme” the resolution allows migrant workers who possess work permits, and are willing to submit personal information to the Thai and Burmese governments by the 28th of February, a 2 year extension of their work permits while their new temporary migrant worker passports are being processes; however, workers who are not in possession of work permits, have not filed passport applications, or are unwilling to submit their personal information will be deported from Thailand by the end of this February. As temporary work permits are no longer being issued, and filing centers are backlogged and often inaccessible to many workers, AHRC argues that roughly 1 million Burmese workers are unable to submit passport registration forms, and will therefore be deported from the country by the end of the month. According to Ko Sein Htay, the open letter submitted on February 16th contained 7 demands: that the deadline for passport forms to be filed be extended, that laws for passport brokers be issued to protect migrant workers applying for passports from being charged excess funds, that the Thai government negotiate with the Burmese government to make the application process more accessible, that education about the new passports be made more accessible to workers, that migrant workers unwilling to submit personal information be permitted to remain in Thailand, that work permits be made available to workers who desire them, and that employers who commit labor rights abuses against their migrant worker employees be prosecuted. “In the Cabinet meeting, they already made a decision, that if migrant workers don’t file for the temporary passports by the end of February, they will be arrested, so we sent this letter to them. We hope that they will accept all of our requests,” said Ko Sein Htay to IMNA. According to New Light of Myanmar’s February 15th article, “Myanmar workers in Thailand to get legal status”, a Burmese delegation led by Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs U Maung Myint, and a Thai delegation led by Minister of Labor Phaitoon Kaecthong met on February 13th and 14th of this year. The meeting, held in

Bagan, marked the 8th convening of the “Myanmar and Thailand on Employment of Myanmar Workers in Thailand” conference. According to the article, representatives from the 2 countries had “fruitful” discussion regard the entrance of new Burmese migrant workers into Thailand, and the verification of the legal statuses of Burmese workers already living in the country. http://www.monnews-imna.com/newsupdate.php?ID=1672

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Migrant Worker Tragedy By ANDY HALL Thursday, February 18, 2010 Around 2 million migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia and Laos currently live in Thailand. Many have underground lives. These migrants contribute greatly to the economy and remain an untapped source of cultural and spiritual vitality that can enrich and diversify Thai society. Instead, they are often viewed as commodities or a national security threat. Many of these workers follow the river of life wherever it takes them. From poorer to richer lands, from less to more developed countries, from war to peace, from dictatorships to democracies, from old to new experiences, and —most importantly— from supply to demand. Consecutive Thai governments have sought to manage irregular migration flows from neighboring countries into Thailand. Policy makers have considered primarily the short term needs of the economy, relying on yearly Cabinet decisions. So it was that work permits for more than 60,000 migrants, almost all from Burma, were set to expire in January before the Cabinet considered the issue. On Jan. 19, just a day before the expiration, the Cabinet issued a resolution to allow this group of workers until Feb. 28 to renew their permits for another two years. But for the first time, extended permission to stay and work in Thailand came with two conditions: migrants must enter into a nationality verification process (NV) before Feb. 28; and migrants must complete NV before Feb. 28, 2012. Agreeing to NV means submitting biographical information to their governments via employment offices or, as is more often the case, to brokers. The Ministry of Labour was ordered to conduct a public awareness campaign for migrants and their employers. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was ordered try to bring Burmese officials to Thailand to conduct the NV process, but Thai officials have returned reportedly with a promise that Burma would provide “fresh” workers to replace those who may be deported. For migrant workers who fail to sign up by Feb. 28, they are subject to deportation. The NV process is intended to grant migrant workers a legal status. For Burmese migrants, many of whom are from ethnic minority groups, it means they have to be legally recognized as “Burmese.”

NV means migrants can obtain documents from their country of origin (including a “temporary” passport) to enter Thailand legally. The documents allow them to legally reside and work in Thailand for two years at a time, for a period not exceeding 4 years, at which time they much return to Burma. Beside the right to work legally, a migrant would be able to do such common things as ride a motorbike, access worker's accident compensation and travel in Thailand without restrictions. However, many obstacles remain. Besides a lack of reliable information, the NV process is potentially expensive, since most migrant workers will use a broker who charges as much as 6,000 baht. Also, there is a great deal of fear surrounding giving Burmese officials their personal information, which could expose them and their family to unknown consequences. Explanations abound about why Burma refuses to conduct the NV process in Thailand, as done by Cambodia and Laos.. The cost of migration mismanagement to be paid by an economy, society and the migrants themselves is high. In Thailand, some migrants are already packing up and going home in the face of NV deadlines, threats of deportation and unacceptable broker costs. Many employers are crying foul as workplaces are being depleted of cheap and hard-working labor. Human rights activists foresee a massive wave of random and needless deportations, adding to worker hardships in both Thailand and Burma. Thailand has duties according to domestic, Constitutional and international law. But Thailand has moral duties too, and officials should offer a procedure that is fair to migrant workers. The economic imperative alone calls for a careful reconsideration of the existing NV policy so that the Feb. 28 deadline doesn't result in a debacle for all concerned. The author is the director of the Bangkok-based The Human Rights and Development Foundation’s Migrant Justice Programme. http://www.irrawaddy.org/opinion_story.php?art_id=17836

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Thailand Serious About Deporting Unregistered Migrant Workers By LAWI WENG Thursday, February 18, 2010 Thai authorities say that despite protests by human rights groups they are proceeding with plans to deport up to 1.4 million migrants who fail to complete national verification procedures by the end of February. About 80 percent of the migrants threatened with repatriation are Burmese. Jackie Pollock, a founder of the Migrant Assistance Program (MAP), a Chiang Maibased NGO, said, “They [the Thai authorities] told us they will go ahead with the process of deporting migrants.”

The Thai language newspaper Thai Rath on Thursday quoted Jirisak Sukhonchaat, director general of the Thai government's employment department, as saying that Dep Prime Minister Maj-Gen Sanan Kajornprasart, in his capacity as chairman of the alien workers management committee, had appointed officials to arrest and deport migrant workers who failed to complete national verification formalities by the end of February. In January, the Thai Cabinet passed a resolution allowing for a two-year extension of work permits for about 1.4 million migrants provided they completed the national verification formalities, which involve processing by their home countries. Migrants seeking to work legally in Thailand must submit detailed biographical information to the Burmese authorities in order to complete the nationality verification procedure. Many fear for their safety and of repercussions against family members in Burma if they turn up at the military government offices to complete the paperwork. The Cambodian and Lao governments have sent their officials to Thailand to complete the process in previous years. However, the Burmese government wants all migrant workers to go to three border points within Burma––Myawaddy, Tachilek and Kawthaung––to complete nationality verification registration. Rights groups have called on the Burmese government to send their officials to verify their people's nationalities in Thailand in order to encourage Burmese migrant workers to register. The groups say that because of a lack of information and awareness about the national verification process, many migrant workers have chosen to avoid the process. The UN expert on the human rights of migrants, Jorge A Bustamante, said that while the Thai government resolution on migrant workers was to be welcomed, he was concerned that “irregular migrants” were not covered by the measure. “This scheme does not offer options for protecting the human rights of migrants who have not availed themselves, or will not avail themselves, of this process.” Bustamente said: “Among the groups who may potentially be deported there may be some who may be in need of international protection and should not be returned to the country of origin.” The UN official said he was disappointed that the Thai government had not responded to his appeals for “restraint.” Bustamente, a special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council, warned: “If pursued, the threats of mass expulsion will result in unprecedented human suffering and will definitely breach fundamental human rights obligations.” In Bangkok, Andy Hall, director of the Migrant Justice Programme, said deportation was “not realistic...the economy needs the workers.”

But Jirisak Sukhonchaat said: “We must have these workers 'above ground.' They must work according to the law.” He said a decision would be taken later in the case of migrants who had problems proving their nationality, such as Rohingyas. About 50 rights groups in Thailand appealed to the Thai government last month to allow migrants more time to complete the required formalities. After January's Thai Cabinet decision, about 1,000 migrants a day returned to Burma through the border crossing at the Three Pagodas Pass, dropping to about 700 in February, according to one local source. Nai Jhon Thet, a 45 year-old Mon migrant, said he was returning to Burma because he doesn't trust the authorities there to work correctly on nationality verification. “We can't trust them because they never keep their promises,” he said. “They say they aren't extorting money from our families, but we don't know about the future.” Talks on the issue between Thai and Burmese representative in Bagan last week were “fruitful,” according to a report in Tuesday's issue of the state-run The New Light of Myanmar. Of an estimated 2 to 3 million Burmese migrants in Thailand, only 1,310,686 have registered as migrant workers. Many of the migrants are from ethnic minority groups, such as Mon, Karen and Shan, who have fled Burmese army oppression and human rights abuses. The rights groups say very limited public awareness has been raised about the national verification process and its benefits, both for migrant workers and employers. http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=17843

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UN expert on migrants raises alarm on threat of massive deportations from Thailand GENEVA, Feb 18 (TNA/UN) Thailand's pending expulsion of large numbers of migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, caught between bureaucracies in their home countries and fearful and inconsistent Thai authorities was brought to international attention Thursday by the United Nations human rights expert on migrants. UN expert Jorge A. Bustamante raised serious concerns about the nationality verification process in Thailand and warned that the kingdom's implementation of procedures in their current form may lead to the forced deportation of a great number of migrants, in breach of fundamental human rights obligations. “A potentially large number of documented and undocumented migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic face the threat of deportation from Thailand after 28th February,” said the expert, who is mandated by the Human Rights Council to monitor the human rights of migrants.

Last month the Thai Cabinet resolved to allow two-year extensions of work permits for some 1.3 million migrants provided that they submit biographical information to their home governments prior to February 28. However, migrants who fail to do so by this deadline risk deportation after the deadline. While welcoming the resolution to extend the period of registration, Mr. Bustamante was concerned that “the scheme is only applicable to regular migrants who submit registration before February 28 and does not include irregular migrants.” “The precarious situation of migrants in Thailand is further exacerbated by the requirements of the nationality verification process,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on migrants. “In addition, among the groups who may potentially be deported, there may be some who may be in need of international protection and should not be returned to the country of origin”, warned Mr. Bustamante. “Thailand should respect the principle of ‘non-refoulement’”. “I am disappointed,” the UN expert added, “that that the Government of Thailand has not responded to my letters expressing calls for restraint; I reiterate my earlier messages to the Government to reconsider its actions and decisions, and to abide by international instruments.” “If pursued, the threats of mass expulsion will result in unprecedented human suffering and will definitely breach fundamental human rights obligations,” he said. (TNA/UN) http://www.mcot.net/content/22760

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UN expert warns of mass deportations of Burmese Feb 19, 2010 (DVB) Jorge A. Bustamante, a UN expert on the human rights of migrants has expressed concern about the millions of migrants in Thailand who face deportation if they have not registered biographical data by the end of the month to governments in their nations of origin. The independent expert urged Thailand to abide by the notion of ‘refoulment’ where by deporting many put them at risk and would thereby be knowingly putting them in danger. Thailand’s nationality verification process seeks to register the millions of migrant workers and refugees from neighbouring countries but requires that foreign nationals have proof of their nation of origin. The lack of bureaucracy in Burma and fear of authorities has prevented many migrants from Burma registering, thus making them unable to apply for the Nationality Verification process in Thailand.

“I reiterate my earlier messages to the Government to reconsider its actions and decisions, and to abide by international instruments,”...“If pursued, the threats of mass expulsion will result in unprecedented human suffering and will definitely breach fundamental human rights obligations.” Mr. Bustamante told the UN web site. A labour activist in Mae Sot recently told DVB that; “there are rumours that local authorities will threaten and extort money from the families of migrant workers”. Furthermore many migrant workers come from ethnic areas that are not in SPDC control. These workers will then be deported as they will have no way of proving their country of origin. While archaic bureaucracy means that many longer term migrants will no longer be on local authority ‘family lists’ that every ‘village peace and development council’ keeps of families. Workers in Mae Sot have detailed to DVB how deportations occur whereby migrant workers are handed by the Thai authorities to non government armies such as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). If the deportees are unable to pay a fee dependent upon where they were detained by the Thais they are put into forced labour by the group which has been regularly criticised for human rights abuses and severely lacking accountability. Mr Busamente was further quoted on the web site saying that; ““I am disappointed that that the Government of Thailand has not responded to my letters expressing calls for restraint,”. The UN web site also noted that Mr Busmanete is not paid by the UN and is an independent expert. http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=3332

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MYANMAR: Political uncertainty pushes out ethnic minorities BANGKOK, 18 February 2010 (IRIN) A restive political situation in Myanmar has prompted thousands of Burmese refugees to flee to neighbouring countries, and the numbers are expected to grow as uncertainty continues, analysts and aid workers warn. More than 30 ethnic armed groups have been involved in insurgencies against the central government since 1948, when Myanmar - previously known as Burma gained independence from British colonial rule. In the past 20 years, more than a dozen ethnic rebel groups have signed peace agreements with the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). But there are fears of renewed fighting as the government tries to force the ethnic armies to surrender their weapons and form a special Border Guard Force under

Burmese military control before long-awaited elections this year. "If the political situation in Burma deteriorates further and fighting erupts, we can expect more than 200,000 new refugees, mainly Shan and Wa," the head of Thailand's National Security Council, Bhornchart Bunnag, told IRIN. Many of the signatories have resisted this move, including the largest organizations representing the Kachin, Mon and Wa, although some smaller groups have accepted it. Estimates are rough, but the Wa say they have 20,000 armed soldiers, while the Kachin and Mon have 6,000 and 3,500 respectively. "At a time when we are trying to accomplish everything through politics, the SPDC wants to do something else," said James Lum Dau, a spokesman for the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO). Aid workers and analysts say they are bracing for a further influx of thousands of Karen and Mon refugees if fighting resumes. "The political instability in Burma - with the elections due some time [in 2010] - and pressure on the ethnic armies to disarm, will drive more refugees to seek safety across the border, especially in Thailand," said Win Min, a Burmese academic based in Chiang Mai, in Thailand's north. Signs of conflict In August 2009, the Burmese army attacked the ethnic Chinese Kokang, who call themselves the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), near the Chinese border. The clashes resulted in more than 40,000 Kokang fleeing to China's southern Yunnan Province; activists say most have yet to return, even though the fighting has stopped. Fierce fighting in eastern Karen State at the border with Thailand in June 2009 forced more than 3,000 refugees to flee across the border for safety, according to the regional office of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Bangkok. Nearly all of these refugees are still in Thailand, said UNHCR regional spokeswoman, Kitty McKinsey. "Right now, UNHCR does not feel conditions exist for the Karen or any other refugees in the nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border to return to their homes in safety and dignity," she said. Fresh Burmese army offensives are expected against the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) in eastern Myanmar. They have been fighting for autonomy from the central authorities for more than 60 years, and so far have not negotiated a truce. Meanwhile, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) - which broke away from the KNU more than a decade ago and agreed a ceasefire pact with the Burmese army -

has been forcibly conscripting civilians into its militia in preparation for the new border police force, according to KNU leaders. "The press-ganging of Karen villagers started early this year and is continuing now the wet season is over," KNU general secretary, Zipporah Sein, told IRIN. "Every village has to provide two soldiers and money for equipment like walkie-talkie radios," she said. Fleeing conflict "Successive military regimes have tried to eliminate all the ethnic minorities inside Burma in an effort to purify the population," David Thakerbaw, a Karen spokesman, said. Muslim ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State, who are considered stateless, typify the extent of systematic persecution faced by ethnic minorities, and have fled in their hundreds of thousands to Bangladesh, rights groups say. "They are effectively denied citizenship, they have their land confiscated, and many are regularly forced to work on government projects," Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Burma researcher, told IRIN. "The regime creates conditions and circumstances that make it clear to the Rohingyas that they are not wanted or welcome in the country," he added. Genuine political solution needed Analysts say the plight of Myanmar's ethnic minorities will not be resolved until there is a genuine political solution, and their rights are recognized. "The first thing that needs to be done is to allow ethnic people to be educated in their own languages," Suboi Jum, a former Kachin Baptist bishop in Myanmar, told IRIN. A new constitution pushed through in 2008 guarantees a substantial number of seats for the military government and its allies in national and local parliaments, while marginalizing other political groups, rights organizations say. And the 2010 national elections - the first to be held for 20 years - are not expected by observers such as the International Crisis Group to be free or fair. The polls are unlikely to help the process of assimilation or integration of Burma's ethnic minorities, experts say. "Burma's ethnic nationalities will find it difficult to achieve lasting peace and security without a settlement that guarantees their social and political rights," said Ashley South, a historian of the Mon and an ethnic specialist. "Socio-political transition in Burma is likely to be a drawn-out process, rather than a one-off event."

http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=88133

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Rohingya Can Only Starve in Bangladesh: MSF By SIMON ROUGHNEEN Thursday, February 18, 2010 BANGKOK—Pressure is mounting on the Bangladesh Government to cease what European Parliamentarians and NGOs are calling “an unprecedented crackdown” on Rohingya refugees now settled outside the two official camps in Cox's Bazaar District near the Burmese border. As Dhaka clamps down on Rohingya refugees, local anti-Rohingya sentiment—never far from the surface in a relatively-poor region of Bangladesh—has been whipped-up by the authorities and by local media. The recent crackdown in Bangladesh risks creating a humanitarian crisis for tens of thousands of refugees who already face precarious living conditions. “All they [Burmese Rohingya] can legally do is starve,” said Paul Critchley, mission head for Médecin Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Bangladesh. Speaking at a press conference in Bangkok on Thursday, Critchley said women and girls have been raped leaving the camp to collect firewood, which they hope to sell and earn some meager resources for their families. MSF said it is imperative the Government in Dhaka and the UNHCR do more to help the unregistered Rohingya, whose living conditions are getting worse as they are crowding into a crammed, unsanitary area without any support infrastructure. MSF, which is operating a basic healthcare program at an unoffical camp at Kutapalong in Ukhia, said, “As camp numbers continue to swell, conditions pose a significant risk to people's health.” Around 30,000 Rohingay have flocked to the makeshift camp. Of an estimated 230,000 Burmese Rohingya refugees thought to be in Bangladesh, only around 28,000 Burmese Rohingya are registered as refugees and receive UNHCR-led assistance. The rest try to survive unaided and unprotected in villages and slums in south-eastern Bangladesh. A report released earlier this week by The Arakan Project entitled “Unregistered Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: Crackdown, forced displacement and hunger” says the refugees at Kutupalong have fled there to evade arrest or being pushed back into Burma. The report adds that “In several areas of the District, thousands were evicted with threats of violence. Robberies, assaults and rape against Rohingyas have significantly increased.”

Last year, some Rohingya were controversially pushed-back to sea from Thailand after arriving by boat from Bangladesh. The recent clampdown could see renewed Rohingya boat movement despite the risk the refugees incur if they try to get to Thailand or Malaysia by sea. The Director of the Arakan Project, Chris Lewa, told The Irrawaddy that some boat movement had already started, but the destination of the refugees was difficult to trace and remained unclear. There is some speculation that refugees are landing on the west coast of Burma and trying to cross into Thailand by land. According to a resolution adopted on Feb.11 by the European Parliament, which currently has a delegation visiting the region, the Government of Bangladesh must “immediately cease arrests, push-backs and forced displacement of the unregistered Rohingya population.” The resolution urges Dhaka “to recognize that the unregistered Rohingyas are stateless asylum seekers who fled persecution in Myanmar and are in need of international protection; and to provide them with adequate protection, access to livelihood and other basic services.” However, the Rohingya issue requires a broader regional and international approach, starting with the treatment of the Rohingya in Burma itself, where they have fled oppression by the army. Around 800,000 Rohingya live in the western Burmese Arakan region, which is also known as Rakhine State. Denied citizenship in what for many Rohingya is their homeland, they face physical and sexual abuse by the Burmese army, as well as onerous restrictions on travel and work opportunities, even to the point of having to go through a mountain of red tape just to get a ‘marriage permit,’ a process which can take years. Myat Kraw, an editor of the Bangladesh-based Arakanese news agency Narinjara News, told The Irrawaddy that Bangladesh cannot solve the problem without the Burmese government's help: “Bangladesh has requested the military government to bring back Muslim refugees to Burma from Bangladesh.” Kraw added that Bangladesh has concerns about recognizing all the Rohingya as refugees as this would entice more to cross from Burma. The Burmese junta is currently building a border fence along the frontier with Bangladesh. According to its web site, the European Commission allocated over €600million in aid money to Bangladesh between 2003-6,, with a further €200million to be spent between 2007-10. In some cases this is separate to bilateral assistance given to Bangladesh by individual European states. Given the scale of development and humanitarian assistance provided by Europeans to Bangladesh, Lewa feels the parliamentary delegation can use their visit to make a

strong statement in support of the Rohingya refugees. “They are in a good position to challenge the Government on this,” she said. http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=17842&page=2

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In-Depth: Myanmar’s refugees still on the run Friday 19 February 2010 A year ago, the world was shocked by images of boatloads of ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar being pushed out to open sea off the Thailand coast to fend for themselves with little food or water. The plight of the Muslim Rohingya boat people from Myanmar's northern Rakhine State galvanized international attention, and highlighted a refugee crisis that seemingly has become part of the region's geopolitical make-up. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Myanmar is the largest source of refugees in Southeast Asia; globally, it ranked 13th behind Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia at end-2008. In what is described by the UN and specialists as one of the world's most intractable refugee situations, people have been fleeing Myanmar for more than a quarter of a century. Ethnic conflicts Analysts say the root causes of Myanmar's refugee exodus lie in the ethnic and political conflicts since independence in 1948 from the British. Myanmar, with an estimated population of 57.6 million, is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Southeast Asia. About two-thirds of the population are ethnic Burmese, while the remainder are Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Chinese, Mon and Indian, as well as the Akha, Chin, Danu, Kachin, Kokang, Lahu, Naga, Palaung, Pao, Rohingya, Tavoyan and Wa peoples. There are about 135 ethnic sub-groups, according to the government. The minorities live mostly in the hills and mountains bordering Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand, while the Burmese are found in the central alluvial plains and major towns and cities. The military, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, has sought a centralized, unitary state, while ethnic groups want a federal structure and greater independence and autonomy, as well as greater recognition of their cultures. "The root problem is that the government does not recognize ethnic aspirations and appears to want total military victory. Nothing will improve if that's what they want to do," said Jack Dunford, executive director of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), which provides food and shelter in nine refugee camps in Thailand, one of

18 NGOs working in the camps. While several armed ethnic groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the government, there are long-running insurgencies in the country's border regions by groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU). The insurgencies, the government's counter-insurgency strategies and growing militarization have seen civilian populations increasingly bearing the brunt of the conflict and fleeing. Forced labour by the military, the forced relocation of villages, enforced disappearances, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture, arbitrary detentions, and discrimination against ethnic minorities are all cited as concerns in Myanmar by the UN and international rights groups. Regional action urged Burmese refugee populations are mainly found in Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh and India, though some Rohingya travel as far afield as Saudi Arabia. The refugees are vulnerable to human traffickers and people smugglers. Where there are no refugee camps, they receive little support and are routinely subject to detention, discrimination, harassment and exploitative working conditions, rights groups say. None of the main asylum countries in Asia is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, leaving Burmese refugees with little protection or recognition of their rights. Kitty McKinsey, regional spokeswoman for UNHCR, said many Asian countries lacked national refugee legislation, with the result that legitimate asylum seekers and refugees are instead treated as migrants in breach of immigration laws. Countries "feel the right place for them is in an immigration detention centre. So they quite often put people in detention who we think are asylum seekers and refugees," she said. With few prospects for change in Myanmar's domestic politics, rights groups have long urged regional governments to exert political pressure on the military government to reform. "Burma has been like a pressure cooker and the international community has worked [hard] over the past few decades to ease the pressure minimally," said Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the rights group, Altsean-Burma. "There hasn't been the political will to fundamentally resolve the root causes that have pushed people out of Burma." The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, has maintained a policy of "constructive engagement" with the country and does brisk trade with it.

Myanmar, rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, and timber, also counts regional superpowers China and India among its allies, helping to buffer international criticism. "We need to understand holistically that all of these things are connected, that working with the regime for short-term gain or trying to accommodate the regime's misbehaviour for the sake of geopolitical interests entails the cost of receiving asylum seekers and hosting them," said Stothard. Bali process Following the incident with the Rohingya boat people last year, ASEAN in March 2009 informally discussed the problem of Rohingya refugees, but found no solution. There were then hopes that a regional conference known as the Bali Process, which largely tackles human trafficking and people smuggling, could address the issue. "For us it's an achievement that it even got on the agenda because we've been trying to get it on to the international and Asian agenda for years," said UNHCR's McKinsey. At the Bali conference in April 2009, there was agreement on setting up an ad-hoc working group on the issue. However, little has been made public since about Bali Process discussions, or whether concrete actions will arise from this move. "Though there are occasional flare-ups in relations, as was the case in the first months of 2009 over Rohingya boat people, these issues have been resolved more by pushing them back under the table than by providing real solutions that could benefit the refugee population," said Camilla Olson, an advocate for the US-based Refugees International. "After 20 years, regional governments should acknowledge that a policy that ignores Burmese refugees will not make them go away," she said. "Instead, it has created a new class of largely urban poor, who have few opportunities for education, healthcare, or productive futures." Donor fatigue The intractable nature of the emergency is vividly illustrated by nine refugee camps in Thailand along the 1,800km border with Myanmar, where some 150,000 Burmese live. Uniquely, the camps are run by the refugees themselves, with support from NGOs. The genesis of these camps dates back to 1984, when the military government's bid to seize more control of areas in the east sent the first large influx of 10,000 mainly Karen refugees into Thailand. The camps still exist, and with little end in sight to the flow of refugees, aid workers say the needs are greater than ever. "We have had new refugees arriving every day for the last 25 years," said TBBC's Dunford. "We are dealing with an ongoing emergency, not something static."

Dunford said there was donor fatigue after so long, and few prospects that refugees could lead a normal life. Since anyone who ventures outside the camp is considered an illegal migrant, the ability of refugees to pursue productive lives and greater selfreliance by seeking employment or other activities is limited. "As we go into 2010, our budgets are going up, the numbers [of refugees] are going up and we have this pressure now from donors wanting to see change," he said. "We also want to see change, and in particular for the refugees to be more self-reliant. But change will take time, particularly when the Royal Thai Government is concerned about creating a pull factor by improving refugees' quality of life." Dunford said that in the short term, additional funds were needed to support livelihood initiatives before basic support could be reduced. Resettlement prospects There are three solutions to any refugee crisis, says UNHCR: voluntary repatriation to the country of origin, integration into the asylum country, and resettlement in a third country as a final measure. Recognizing that voluntary repatriation is not a real option, and that settling in asylum countries such as Thailand is difficult, donor countries have offered in recent years to resettle thousands of Burmese refugees. Since 2004, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has helped to resettled more than 57,000 Burmese refugees from Thailand who belonged to the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups. They were mostly resettled in the US, as well as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Michiko Ito, assistant resettlement coordinator with IOM in Bangkok, said countries would continue to be interested in resettling Burmese refugees, but that there was a shift away from accepting refugees out of Thailand, which had "peaked". "The number out of Malaysia will definitely go up. And the resettlement countries are also looking into the resettlement of Rohingyas out of Bangladesh," said Ito. Thailand has peaked because resettlement countries look at refugees' living conditions, and the camps provide better help than in Malaysia or Bangladesh, where refugee populations have little assistance, she said. "In Malaysia, they are living in urban settings and there is absolutely no protection mechanism available for them," said Ito. http://www.irinnews.org/InDepthMain.aspx?InDepthId=82&ReportId=87861

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Bangladesh: Violent Crackdown Fuels Humanitarian Crisis for Unrecognized Rohingya Refugees

Friday, 19 February 2010 12:09 Stateless Rohingya people in Bangladesh are currently victims to unprecedented levels of violence and attempts at forced repatriation. Recent weeks have seen thousands of people arrive at Kutupalong makeshift camp as they flee what appears to be a violent crackdown on the Rohingya presence in the country. At its clinic in Kutupalong, in Cox’s Bazar District in the south of the country, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has treated victims of beatings and harassment by the authorities and members of the community. The victims are people who have been driven from their shelters throughout the district and in some cases forced back into the river which forms the border to neighboring Myanmar. http://www.kaladanpress.org/v3/

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Unregistered Rohingya refugees displacement and hunger Friday, 19 February 2010 12:05 in Bangladesh: Crackdown, forced

An unprecedented crackdown by Bangladesh law enforcement agencies against unregistered Rohingya refugees who had settled outside the two official refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar District started on 2 January 2010. More than 500 Rohingyas were subsequently arrested in January and the crackdown continues. Some of those arrested were pushed back across the Burmese border and others were charged under immigration legislation and sent to jail. In parallel to the roundups, there is a resurgence of anti-Rohingya movements among the local population and of antiRohingya propaganda in the local media fuelling xenophobia and pressing the government to take action against the Rohingya. A similar campaign started earlier in 2009 in Bandarban District and is still ongoing. http://www.kaladanpress.org/v3/

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Fate of 48 Rohingya unclear 19/02/2010 at 12:00 AM The future of 48 illegal Rohingya migrants remains in limbo after 28 confirmed Bangladeshi citizens were deported on Wednesday. Burmese diplomats interrogated the 48 at the immigration office in Ranong in February last year but there has been no response from the diplomats since, a Foreign Ministry source said yesterday. The ministry had contacted the Burmese embassy in Bangkok and the Thai embassy in Burma had also asked the Burmese government for the outcome of the interrogation but there had been no reply, the source said. The Bangladeshi government also talked to them and insisted they were not from Bangladesh, the source said.

They were among 78 Rohingya rounded up by the navy in the Andaman Sea on Jan 25 last year, after having gone for a long period without food and water aboard a fishing boat. They were charged with entering the country illegally and kept at the immigration office in Ranong before being moved to the detention centre of the Immigration Bureau's Suan Phlu office in Bangkok. Two of them died in the congested detention camp in Ranong. Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said 28 Rohingya were sent back to Bangladesh on Wednesday. Surapong Kongchantuek of the Lawyers Council of Thailand, who worked on the issue, yesterday hoped for collaborative gestures from the Burmese government and the Thai government's active approach to solve the issue of the Rohingya. http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/33117/fate-of-48-rohingya-unclear

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