Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Rohingya panel discussion in Bangkok . . . with both JMD AND Matt Dillon? Too good to be true!

JMD Board Member Lilianne Fan sent us some pretty impressive photos this morning. She was a panelist in Bangkok at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand’s (FOCCT) discussion “Boatloads of misery: Southeast Asia and the Rohingya pushback.”  Lilianne’s co-panelists were Matthew Smith, Director of Fortify Rights, Chutima Sidasathian, a journalist tracking Rohingya refugees for Phuketwan, an online newspaper, and Htike Htike Rohingya co-founder of Bangkok based Equal Harmony Together, who recently returned from working with refugees and migrants in Aceh. Lilianne has been a Board member since JMD was founded in 2005 and is a Research Associate with the Overseas Development Institute and founder of Geutanyue Yayasan in Aceh.  She was also recently in Aceh with Chris Lewa, Director of the Arakan project.

So there they were, and Matt Dillon popped in. (Lilianne is on the far right.)

His presence at the well-attended discussion, along with yesterday’s visit to a camp in Aceh by Ann Richard, Assistant Secretary of State (of what we used to call BPRM—Bureau of Populations, Refugees and Migration), seem to have turned the tide, if you’ll pardon the expression, against Myanmar being able to continue the pretense of uninvolved onlooker.

Still, Myanmar government officials persist in denying that the people adrift somewhere in the area, possibly the Bay of Bengal, are not Rohingya, or if they claim to be, they’re not from Myanmar.  Nearly every other organization and individual on the planet believes otherwise, including the Arakan project which has been tracking them for 10 years.

Speaking at a news conference in Bangkok Tuesday, Arakan Project Director Chris Lewa said it appears that with smugglers' transit camps now exposed by authorities and shut down along the Thai-Malay border, arrangements are being made for more people to land near the origin of their risky trips.”

That will mean that Burma better get ready to welcome its citizens back and have some decent living conditions ready.
And I’d better prepare my coronation speech for when I’m crowned Queen of Scotland.

“A tally from [Lewa’s] grassroots nongovernmental organization monitoring the situation showed at least 5,600 Rohingya and Bangladeshis coming ashore in five countries last month. . . . Myanmar’s government said authorities are escorting a boat carrying more than 700 migrants to what it calls a "safe" location where their identities can be determined.”

Subtext: none of them will be determined to be from our country, no siree.

“The office of Myanmar's president said the hundreds of migrants aboard the boat, who were abandoned by their smugglers, have been given food and water and have expressed a preference to go to Bangladesh.”

The creepy logic of this country is astounding. “See, they said they wanted to go somewhere else, so they’re not our problem.” Of course they wouldn’t want to go back home, if that meant the same inhumane treatment they’d always been getting. 

“The internally displaced Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority in predominately Buddhist Myanmar, have received scant international attention.
That has been changing in recent weeks since mass graves of migrants were discovered in Thailand and Malaysia and warnings by aid agencies that those stranded at sea with little food and water were in peril with no country eager to accept them.”

But then at the end of May, along came Matt Dillon and out came the crying towels in Myanmar.

In response to a VOA question at the briefing in Bangkok for correspondents [the press dinner where Lilianne was speaking] , Dillon characterized the plight of the Rohingya as a “sad and heartbreaking” man-made problem that is solvable.
‘The people aren't living in camps because of some disaster, natural disaster. This is a humanitarian situation that is caused by human beings' intolerance, fear, an unwillingness to allow people to co-exist,’ Dillon said.
The actor said he decided to go to the camp after hearing a desperate appeal a month ago from a Rohingya activist.
Dillon said, ‘Ultimately, they can't be stateless.’”  EXACTLY my point!

“U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday called on Myanmar to stop discriminating against the stateless Rohingya. The president said this is crucial for the successful transition to democracy in Myanmar.
Obama commended Indonesia and Malaysia for giving temporary refuge to thousands of those displaced and he said the United States will also take some of the Rohingya.”


And as for Lilianne?  She writes: “All I can say is, I am not one to get star struck but Matt was so compassionate and genuine that I am officially in love.”

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