Wednesday, April 29, 2009

End of month update

I'm back from Washington, where I've been trying to drum up some support . . . also planning to apply, maybe with other small NGO's for the Aceh Economic Development Financing Facility (EDFF) closeout grant that will, in a few of the many-thousand word RFP, "promote post-tsunami economic recovery and foster sustainable, equitable, and long-term economic development in Aceh." The World Bank, the Multi Donor Fund (the original group of donors who contributed significantly immediately post-tsunami) and USAID will all have a part in this last post-disaster hurrah, so we're going to position ourselves to do big what we've been doing small (and well) for 3 years. Meanwhile, the Rohingya are still living in sub-standard conditions in Aceh Timur, and we're running low on money and lower on food. We're hoping that Marie Antoinette will bring cake soon.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Headline: "Rohingya Not Our Problem, Burma Tells Bali Meeting"

A friend closely following the Bali Process and the Aceh Rohingya issue wrote us the day before yesterday:

Dear all,
No solutions for the Rohingya emerged from the Bali Process.
Statement by Stephen Smith, Foreign Minister of Australia. The Australians have donated $3.2 million to help the Rohingya. I have heard that this will be channeled through the UN and NGO AustCare (who work in NRS), but it may be worthwhile following up with them and asking if a small part of that might go towards the Rohingya in Aceh.Mention at the end of an ad-hoc working group being set up to discuss Rohingya issues further and come up with recommendations.
Strong statement from Bangladesh to follow.

Rohingya not our problem, Burma tells Bali meeting
Tom Allard in Nusa Dua, Bali
April 16, 2009
A LASTING solution to the plight of Burma's Rohingya minority remains elusive after Burma yesterday continued to deny they were its citizens or acknowledge they were persecuted.
Burma's police chief made the comments at the Bali Process meeting, a people-smuggling summit involving more than 40 regional nations and heralded as the forum that would address the Rohingya problem after several aborted attempts to tackle the issue.
The Rohingya came to global prominence this year when Thailand's military was accused of towing the boats of as many as 1000 asylum-seekers out to sea and leaving them to drift at the mercy of the currents without adequate food and water.
Those incidents in January also refocused attention on Burma's treatment of the Rohingya. Hundreds of thousands have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh or attempted the perilous sea crossing to South-East Asia.
Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, was among the leaders to hold talks with Brigadier-General Khin Yi, the deputy minister for home affairs and police chief of Burma (also known as Myanmar). Mr Smith pledged $3.2 million to aid programs for the Rohingya.
"Australia put to Myanmar all the human rights, democratic and rule of law issues that we have in the past," Mr Smith said of their discussions.
"The response from the police chief was … the traditional response of Myanmar not to accept the notion of citizenship."
Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirajuda, said he and others at the summit had told Brigadier-General Yi that "social and economic problems" were behind the exodus of Rohingyas, some of whom have washed ashore in Indonesia's province of Aceh. "Myanmar denied [the flight of the Rohingyas] was because of human-rights violations," he said.
Asylum-seekers from Myanmar have said they suffer beatings by Burma's security forces and had their property stolen while having punishing taxes levied on them.
Meanwhile, Thailand avoided scrutiny for its treatment of the Rohingya altogether after its foreign minister failed to turn up due to the political crisis in his homeland. He was represented by a deputy secretary from the Thai Foreign Ministry.
As well as towing out at least four boatloads of Rohingyas who had landed in Thailand, the Thai military is also accused of administering severe beatings to some of the asylum-seekers.
An ad hoc working group from Bali Process nations may address the Rohingya issue at a later date but any recommendations it makes will be non-binding.

At Last! An Article in the New York Times!

Thanks to my colleagues and friends whov'e been getting the word out, and the reporter from the Times, the Rohingya in Aceh--and our involvement there--are finally getting some good coverage .

April 17, New York Times
Boat people from Myanmar face an uncertain future in Indonesia camps ­
--by Peter Gelling
The only solace for the almost 200 men living in a squalid refugee camphere is the freedom they now have to pray.“In Myanmar, if we pray we are killed,” said Alam Shah, 38, a member of the Rohingya Muslim minority who fled predominantly Buddhist Myanmar last year. “I’m scared they will send us back there. It is a very, very dangerous country.”The Rohingya here were found floating at sea Feb. 2 after three weeks aboard a small wooden boat with no motor, no food and no water. When they were found by an Indonesian fisherman off the coast of Aceh, Indonesia’s northernmost province, many were close to death. A few months before, another boat loaded with about 200 Rohingya refugees landed in Sabang, on the northern tip of Aceh, where they are now being held at a Navy station. Several more boats were found by the Indian coast guard carrying almost 400 Rohingya.
Research by nongovernment organizations suggests that all the refugees had passed through detention camps on islands just off the coast of Thailand. According to interviews with the refugees, the Thai military towed and abandoned at least six boats at sea between November and January, when the international media picked up the story and the so-called “push-backs”were halted.The expulsions reversed a policy in which Thailand had allowed thousands of Rohingya to land in recent years, mostly on their way to seek work in Malaysia. The Thai military had denied accusations of pushing the refugees out to sea but Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of Thailand said in February that some boats had been towed out to sea and that he intended to investigate. About 1,200 men are known to have been pushed out to sea, more than 300 of whom drowned, according to the Arakan Project, a private human rights group. There are fears, however, that many more Rohingya from Bangladesh and Myanmar were originally abandoned by the Thais and are still missing. “It is difficult to say what the exact numbers are. But based on the interviews we have done with refugees that have ended up in India and Indonesia, we think there were many more push backs than have been confirmed,” said Chris Lewa, an expert on Rohingya issues who heads the Arakan Project. Researchers for the Arakan Project have managed to interview refugees from five of the six boats rescued. “What does seem clear, what is consistent among all the interviews we have done with the refugees, is that they were detained on islands off the coast of Thailand before being towed out to sea and set adrift by the Thai military,” she said. This week, after months of delays, the United Nations has begun the process of “status determination” for the 391 men being held in Idi Rayeukand Sabang. The process, a series of interviews with individual refugees,will determine if they are in need of protection and can stay in Indonesia, or if they are economic migrants who should be returned to Myanmar. At the same time, on the resort island of Bali, leaders from around Southeast Asia, including from Myanmar, are beginning discussions about regional migrants, which will include discussions on the plight of theRohingya. Indonesia, which analysts have praised for taking a leadership role with issues like human rights, disaster reconstruction and other issues involving Myanmar, fears a flood of thousands of Rohingya to its shores if the men in Aceh are allowed to stay. The United Nations estimates that about 723,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar, where the military regime considers them foreigners and denies them citizenship, passports or the right to own land. There are also hundreds of thousands of Rohingya living in Bangladesh. The Rohingya in Myanmar live mostly in the northern Rahkine State and inthe past fled through bordering Bangladesh and into the Middle East. But new travel restrictions imposed by the Bangladesh government have forced the Rohingya to find alternative destinations like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Rohingya of Myanmar are one of the most vulnerable minorities in a severely impoverished country.“Indonesia is trying to play a leadership role in this situation,” said Lilianne Fan, a humanitarian worker who has worked in Aceh and Myanmar and is now advising the Acehnese governor. “Compared to other regional governments, the Indonesians have respondedv ery well, especially since they have engaged international organizations,” she said.The whole process of status determination and the subsequent negotiations that will need to take place between Myanmar and Indonesia could take many more months. Meanwhile, the few aid organizations working in Idi Rayeuk are concerned that the camp is not equipped to house the refugees for that long.The men were greeted generously by the local Acehnese, many of whom live in abject poverty themselves but can relate to the Rohingya’s situation. Many Acehnese here have family members who were forced to flee a separatist conflict that raged in Aceh for 30 years until a peace agreement was reached in 2005. Idi Rayeuk, in fact, was once a central launching point for Acehnese trying to flee the country. “The support has been unreal and an inspiration for the rest of the world,” said Sara Henderson, president of the Building Bridges to theFuture Foundation, one of the only international nongovernment organizations working with the Rohingya refugees in Aceh. “They are still giving free fish to the camp when they have barely enough to eat themselves.” But the generosity of the local Acehnese and the local government is nowhere near enough, Ms. Henderson said. The men still live in tents and are forced to walk around wet, muddy ground. Sanitation, food and water remain basic and security is almost non-existent. Seven men, in fact, fled the camp early Monday morning but were all later apprehended by theIndonesian military.“The ones who tried to escape said that they were frightened they were going to be deported,” said Ms. Henderson. “We have many times verbally and in writing brought up the lack of security, but it has gotten usnowhere.” Ms. Fan added that the Rohingya here were in danger of “falling through the cracks” and that a lack of interpreters has created an atmosphere of confusion and fear that probably led the seven men to try and escape.The Building Bridges to the Future Foundation, which was founded in response to the 2005 tsunami in Aceh, has been pressing for donations to help coordinate the camp and provide necessary logistics. The local government has offered to provide a larger plot of land if money can be raised for necessities like temporary barracks, sanitation and food.“The local community and the government do not have the funds to support a refugee camp of 198 men,” Ms. Henderson said.

Friday, April 17, 2009

$2 a day to save a refugee’s life . . . and there are no takers. Where are you now, Angelina?

Like I said, I’m writing an article. For the New Yorker, maybe. Or Oprah’s magazine. I don’t know. I’ve talked to my friends and staff about it, and I’m thinking it’s really the only way to frame what I realize now is a huge discussion about an insurmountable world problem, that our poor tiny NGO stumbled into and wondered why we can’t just, oh, I don’t know, kiss it and make it better. And what everyone else apparently hopes they can ignore long enough for it to go away.
So there are 198 Rohingya refugees in the district of East Aceh (Aceh Timur) and another 193 on Sabang Island, being fed (for the time being) and wondered about by the Indonesian Navy. That’s 381 people that Aceh received as a result of the January 2009 wave of escapes from either Myanmar (Burma) or Bangladesh; many of the estimated 2,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi who began the journey died at sea, some went to Thailand but were unceremoniously ejected, some got to remain in Thailand. A friend recently asked me, “What is so special about these people that you are trying to help them?” Meaning, I suppose, that JMD’s target citizens are the poorest, hardest-to-access, most at-risk in all Aceh (and that’s saying a lot), so why drop everything for this group? The only thing I can come up with is: because they’re human, and they’re starving, they’re homeless, and they have no one. But it got me thinking, surely there are not just 398 people in the world who have no country, no citizenship, have been persecuted and evicted for hundreds of years, and end up corralled in a camp on foreign soil with no way to communicate, no way to work or feed their families, looking different, believing different, exhausted from the last escape? Only 398?
Well, a) I guess that’s pretty good, and b) why then is it like pulling teeth to get the UN and big international aid agencies/donors interested?
I mean . . . right before I left Aceh in March I drew up a needs and cost list with our staff and came up with a figure of $70,000 to house, feed, and provide medical and education services to the refugees for the next 6 months. That’s (wait for it) $2.03 per person per day for ALL their needs. Chump change for any government, right?
Economy of scale, I was told by a higher-up.
There are too few starving, frightened, persecuted individuals to justify the paperwork.
Isn’t that nice.
But! I was told, fear not: the UN High Commission for Refugees and the International Order of Migrations will be conducting “refugee verification” for a month in the camp starting next week. Which is an interrogation process designed to determine your “status.”
To sum up the process, you will be categorized as one of the following:
--Rohingya from Myanmar , starving
--Rohingya form Bangladesh, starving
--Bangladeshi from Myanmar, starving
--Rohingya from Thai internment, starving and beaten.
Then presumably the interviewer gives you a piece of paper telling you what they decided you are . . . and you take a bite out of it.
Funny thing. Still starving.
And for those lucky Rohingya who are determined to have actually come from Myanmar (though they aren’t considered “citizens” because the Rohingya are everyone’s favorite piece of inhuman garbage in southeast Asia) you get to go back to the bosom of your step-motherland . . . IF you admit you’re NOT Rohingya after all but Bangladeshi!
Is anyone else besides me made physically sick by this?
I went back to my original question . . . why was it that I was so interested in these 198 people? I’d met some of them last month in the temporary camp where our staff was helping by donating food, water, etc. and they are every bit as needy and desperate as the Acehnese JMD serves every day. I just kept thinking . . . why is this tiny $70,000 problem so untouchable?
Then the rational me took over.
Get real, she said. (I call her Sheila. She’s very well dressed, perfect hair and makeup, and she sits across the table from me sometimes, when I’m bleary-eyed in a ratty robe, staring blankly into a coffee cup, and she berates me for my foolishness. I loathe her most of the time, But she’s always right.) She asks pointedly, Do you really think that 398 Rohingya refugees, or even all Rohingya refugees, or even all Rohingya for that matter, represent all people who wind up in already impoverished or war-torn places, worse off than the already decimated host country’s population, unable to prove their citizenship or political/social/economic persecution, asking to just have a place to live and breathe?
And I realized, it’s not economy of scale after all—it’s the exact opposite. What do we as nations do about people with no country? How do we hold each other accountable, do the right thing, and in the meantime feed the kids, teach the dads how to communicate with us, protect the moms from being sold into slavery?
What the big organizations have been trying to tell me and the few small agencies in East Aceh building latrines and cooking diner and keeping TB out of the camp, is that if they provide direct assistance to 198 people, they will have to think about the millions more, all over the globe, that can then no longer be comfortably forgotten.
So in my mind I sent my eye around the world . . . just to remember a little bit of what I’d heard and read over the years—me, who’s been focused on Aceh for so long . . . so much suffering—I guess we all just take as much as we can stand, and try to forget the rest. So I had to remember what I’d been forgetting. Eastern Europe. The Roma, Ashkali, Gorani . . . still in camps maybe? Still treated as non-citizens by both Serbia and Kosovo, and maybe even Romania? And what of Africa? All the tribes and nations there. Darfur. Displaced by conflict. Where are they? How many camps are they in? The Congo. My god, how do you start looking for groups there? South America. Indigenous communities shoved off land newly discovered to have key mineral deposits. Afghanistan. Who takes care of the farmers in areas where the Taliban now control the opium trade? I wanted to find people who have no country, So if, for example, I learn of the nearly 30 million people in India who last year the government admitted were unaccounted for after the earthquake, I have to take them off my list, because as awful as their situation is, they still are considered citizens. Same as some nations of Native Americans in western US—I don’t think the Oglala Sioux are living any higher off the hog than they were when the FBI raided them in 1973 and falsely convicted Leonard Peltier of murdering an agent. But they’re US citizens, so they don’t go on my list.
So many lists, when you think about it.
So much atonement.
Maybe this is why all this gets me. I’ve been a banker all my life. I believe in accountability. The karmic bottom line, where the balance sheet is hopefully zero, ideally in the black, but never, never owing.
And we owe so much. How will it ever get repaid? And who or what are we repaying?
I don’t run around trying to madly balance all injustices, if that’s what you’re thinking.
I would, however, like to see justice. I would not have to frantically always look to see where it’s hiding in places like East Aceh. Atonement is a bottomless well, and justice is a big dark pit. Martin Luther King said, "The arc of history is long . . . but it bends towards justice.” I work with that in mind, but as a human I would like to create some small measure of comfort in the lives of people like these 198 Rohingya, who let’s face it will never see justice. They may see food, and a permanent home, and a reunion with their families, maybe—but they won’t see justice. They are too few, and too many, at the same time.
There are, I found, several websites and publications dealing with stateless people, as they are called, and the solutions offered that would help them obtain a quality of life that most now lack. But what I found was so vast, and the problem is so insidious . . . Refugees International, for example, has published Nationality for All: A Progress Report and Global Survey on Statelessness that is a must-read for anyone interested in knowing the magnitude of this issue.
At the risk of quoting too much from their 68-page report, going to just share their introduction with you (the emphases are mine):

Nationality is a fundamental human right and a foundation of identity, dignity, justice, peace,
and security. But statelessness, or the lack of effective nationality, affects millions of men,
women, and children worldwide.
Being stateless means having no legal protection or right to
participate in political processes, inadequate access to health care and education, poor employment
prospects and poverty, little opportunity to own property, travel restrictions, social exclusion,
vulnerability to trafficking, harassment, and violence.

Stateless people are found in all regions of the world. Among the most vulnerable groups are
Rohingya in Burma and throughout Asia
, Bidun in the Middle East, Roma in Europe, children
of Haitian migrants in the Caribbean, individuals from the former Soviet bloc, denationalized
Kurds, some Palestinians, and certain groups in Thailand. Their situations of legal limbo result
from many factors such as political change, expulsion of people from a territory, discrimination,
nationality based solely on descent, and laws regulating marriage and birth registration.

Because states have the sovereign right to determine the procedures and conditions for
acquisition and loss of citizenship, statelessness and disputed nationality must ultimately be
resolved by governments.
But state determinations on citizenship must conform to general
principles of international law. Numerous international instruments, including the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, affirm nationality rights. Two UN conventions on statelessness
have long existed, but they are not widely ratified. To date, 63 countries have become party to
the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and 35 countries have acceded
to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Millions. That’s what it says. No wonder just 198 don’t have a chance.
When the 2004 tsunami and earthquake hit Aceh, it precipitated a 2005 peace agreement between the Indonesian government and opposition forces in Aceh. The effects of the tsunami grew to encompass, and almost become indistinguishable from, the effects of the former conflict: people left homeless, with 80% of the family dead, livelihoods wiped out, survivors being tempted into activities such as drug smuggling illegal logging, membership in tiny roving militia groups—anything to get something to eat. The international community showered an enormous amount of money at the more obvious needs—mostly housing and infrastructure in the larger cities. But after that: show’s over. On to the next attractive disaster. Which I believe was Katrina and New Orleans. How many people are still volunteering down there? Not many, I suspect. The thrill of being in the epicenter of history is over; the banality of true altruism does not appeal to most. My agency JMD looked around Aceh and went to areas where nobody wanted to go, and found that the conflict victims (such as those in east Aceh) suffered just as much as those hardest hit by the tsunami . . . but they were in tiny villages, on impassable and thug-controlled roads, suspicious and wandering . . . economy of scale—remember? Best forget em.
Tiny bits of suffering, suffering in small groups, does not make governments feel good enough to open the books. Even when the Rohingya briefly became the It-Refugee of 2009 after Angelina Jolie’s visit to Thailand, no one stepped up to the plate with donations, not even Ms Jolie, who to her credit has made donations . . . just not to the Rohingya. How about it, Angelina? It’s only $70,000.
Get a grip, Sara.
That’s Sheila talking. She’s doubtful that Oprah or the New Yorker will be tolerant of the tone this is taking.
I’m off to Washington anyway to meet with some donors about this and maybe we will get somewhere by the end of the week. (Actually I am probably already there as of the date of this being posted.)
Go to UNHCR’s website and make a donation. And write to Angelina and tell her to do the same. I’ll keep you posted on my meetings in D.C.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

As the Bali Process looms . . . the Rohingya gain a small (but important) measure of press

This week I've been writing an article concerning my experiences in Aceh with the “Rohingya Issue,” as they seem to be calling it for the April 14 Bali Process. I'm going to publish the article here first, but while I am editing it for excessive venom and name-calling (which, while making me feel better, doesn’t forge any lasting positive relationships—darn it all) I would like to reprint the following two pertinent pieces, that I think are good complements, in that the first is the journalist version and the second is the activist version of the current attention paid to this group of stateless people, 198 of whom we've been trying to help in East Aceh. It appears there’s activity afoot regarding these refugees, but there are so many little political, social and economic threads to this web it’ll be a miracle if political correctness doesn’t render us paralyzed to exercise any kind of compassion at all.

From the Jakarta Post (and edited for brevity):
RI [Republic of Indonesia], Myanmar discuss democracy, refugees –17 Mar 09
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met with visiting Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein here Monday to discuss the contentious issues of the Rohingya boatpeople and democracy in the junta-ruled country. Yudhoyono emphasized the need for a “practical solution” to resolve the Rohingya problem, and urged Myanmar to prove to the world that its “road map to democracy” could work by holding “fair” and “inclusive” general elections planned for next year. “Prime Minister Thein Sein said the Myanmar government is paying close attention to the [Rohingya] issue. Basically it says it will accept back the Rohingya people as long as they can prove they are indeed from Myanmar,” [emphasis added] Indonesian presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal told the press after the meeting of the two leaders at the State Palace in Jakarta. He added some of the refugees may have come from Bangladesh.
Dino said both leaders had basically agreed the Rohingya issue needed to be resolved through the Bali Process, a regional mechanism aimed at combating people smuggling, trafficking and related transnational crimes, which was agreed upon by ASEAN leaders during the recent ASEAN Summit. Myanmar, however, wanted the Bali Process not to focus on the Rohingya refugee issue. Dino added Indonesia would extend the interim phase of humanitarian assistance for 400 Rohingya boatpeople stranded in Aceh province until a final solution to the problem was found. The refugees, believed to have come from Myanmar, were heading to Thailand before being stranded in Indonesia’s westernmost province. “The Indonesian government will establish bilateral cooperation with the Myanmar government, and will involve the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to solve the problem,” Dino said. The two leaders also discussed the touchy issue of democracy in Myanmar. . . .[and] a range of other issues, including regional and international matters. . . . It is Thein Sein’s first visit to Indonesia since he assumed his present post in October 2007. This would be the time for Myanmar to prove to the world it would complete its seven-step road map to democracy. Erwida Maulia.

And from the most recent post on the blog of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM)
(edited for brevity, but the blog is a MUST READ for anyone interested in the history of the Rohingya)

10 April 2009
Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM) is deeply concerned over the increase of the human rights abuses against Rohingyas in Arakan State of Burma in recent months. The situation of Rohingyas in Arakan State became worst after the International media highlighted Rohingya Boat People plight since December 2008.
The military regime continued to subject Rohingya and Muslims in Arakan State to harassment, arbitrary arrest, extortion, and religious persecution. In the current development, a Rohingya girl, identified as Hamida (16) was killed and hacked into three pieces by monks in Sittwe (Akyab), the capital of Arakan State on March 28, 2009.
. . . . The Rohingya villagers did not dare to file a case in the police station against the monks for fear of retaliation from the Rakhine community. . . . In the same month, it was reported that at least 10 houses belonging to Rohingyas were set fire and burnt into ashes by Rakhine mobs around Sindi Prang village of Buthidaung Township at night time. No action was taken against any culprits by the military regime. Further to this, the military regime has deployed hundreds of thousands of military forces into Arakan State which lead to excessive human rights abuses against Rohingyas.
. . . .MERHROM is deeply concerned over the way ASEAN countries have been handling the Rohingyas issue. There were suggestions from some ASEAN countries including Malaysia and Thailand to send Rohingyas back to Burma. This would only make our situation worst as we know exactly how we will be treated by the military regime once we are forcefully deported. This is a matter of life and death. The ASEAN countries cannot take peoples’ life for granted what more when the ASEAN have its own charter now that gives priority to its peoples.
We applaud the statement by the Singapore government that they will assist Rohingya refugees by providing humanitarian assistance so that they can depart for a third country. . . . We appeal to the Malaysian government . . . to make sure that the Rohingyas in exile will not be sent back forcefully to the place where they would face persecution and prosecution. Although most ASEAN countries did not sign Refugee Convention 1951 and its 1967 Protocol, the ASEAN countries are binding to the Non-Refoulement principle.
. . . [R]eturning Rohingyas to Burma seems to be the main agenda of the ASEAN Leaders. This cannot happen as there will be repercussion on Rohingyas. The military regime had announced clearly that Rohingyas are not the citizen of Burma. They further stated that the Rohingyas are dark skinned and “as ugly as ogres.” This is disgrace to the human being as we are the creation of Almighty GOD. The military regime stated that they will only accept Rohingyas if they admit that they are Bengali and their status are still non citizen. This cannot happen as the Rohingyas are not Bengali. Rohingyas has its own language and culture which is different from Bengali.
. . . .According to Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim, a total of 144 Rohingyas in Malaysia were sent to other countries between 2003-2008. This show the lack of commitment and political will of UNHCR and third countries. Resettlement countries though UNHCR and the World Leaders are fully aware the plight of Rohingyas in Burma and why we became refugees. The main reason remains Rohingyas are Muslim. [emphais added]
. . . . We recommend that the ASEAN Leaders to visit Arakan State and to get the accurate information on situation of Rohingyas from the Rohingyas themselves. We also recommend that the ASEAN Secretariat to consult the regional and international human rights organizations who have done many research on Rohingyas in order to get accurate and non-bias information.
The visit by the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres to the Arakan State on March 7, 2009 revealed the real situation of Rohinyas though he did not say much to the media about his visit. On the basis of his observations and the discussions held, the High Commissioner came to the conclusion that UNHCR’s current level of activities in northern Rakhine State does not correspond to the actual needs and a decision was taken to upgrade the program with immediate effect.
We welcome the move by the ASEAN Leaders to discuss the Rohingyas issue at the Bali Process scheduled for 14-15 April. However we would like to emphasize that the Rohingyas issue is not just relating to Human Trafficking but there is more to it. The discussion must be broader, especially focusing on the recognition of Rohingyas as citizen as well as addressing the ways to stop gross human rights abuses against Rohingyas. The ASEAN Leaders must recognize that Rohingyas are very in need of the International protection as refugees.
We also call on the UNHCR and the Resettlement countries not to discriminate Rohingyas in the Resettlement program as we are also recognized refugees who need the same protection. At the same time we call the ASEAN and World Leaders for more comprehensive and effective intervention in Burma.
Thank you.
Yours sincerely,
Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani
President Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How the New York Times Got My Goat

Now I know what it feels like to be “scooped” for a story—and by The New York Times no less! A great article in the Dining & Wine Section of the NYT (April 1) extols the virtues of—you guessed it—goat meat and dairy. As a matter of fact, over the last year we’ve been cooking up ideas for a goat recipe book, featuring dishes from Indonesia and Southeast Asia, where goats are the preferred livestock in many areas due to their hardiness, temperament, and nutritional qualities. Our “green” goat breeding and fattening programs in Aceh are quite successful, and even dairy products are becoming more popular with the locals (as opposed to just for export). See JMD’s website for more info.

Here’s the article. As my friend James says, read it and bleat.
How I Learned to Love Goat Meat
Goat, the most widely consumed meat in the world, has been edging its way into yuppier climes for a year or so.