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) http://merhrom.wordpress.com
(edited for brevity, but the blog is a MUST READ for anyone interested in the history of the Rohingya)
10 April 2009
URGENT APPEAL TO THE ASEAN AND WORLD LEADERS TO SAVE ROHINGYAS
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.
Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani
President Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM)