Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A ‘Catch-22’ Situation: Enclave Dwellers in Dilemma Over Land Rights

Statesman News Service
Siliguri, 22 June
Though Trinamul Congress leaders, including Cooch Behar district president Rabindranath Ghosh, met people in Bangladeshi enclaves in the Indian part and conveyed chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s greetings to them, many people, who have farmlands there but live in Indian part, are in a fix over land rights after the Land Boundary Agreement.

The matter came to light after some leaders of some organizations, including the BJP and the RSS, started interacting  with the people of those enclaves. It may be noted that RSS leaders accompanied by some members of the Kuchlibari Sangram Samiti were studying the situation of Bangladeshi enclaves and people’s happiness level there.

Some people, who have farmlands in Bangladeshi enclaves but now live in Indian territory after having acquired Indian voter identity cards, have sought suggestions on the problem they are now facing or may face  during the actual execution of the enclave exchange plan. An advisor to the Kuchlibari Sangram Samiti, Sadhan Kumar Paul, was taken aback after learning of the problems of the enclave dwellers and he failed give them proper suggestions, as, according  to him, it is completely a legal matter related to the transfer of land between India and

Bangladesh. “Bangladeshi enclave residents, who have start- ed living in the Indian part with valid papers but cultivate their farm- lands in Bangladesh for livelihood are in a dilem- ma,” said Mr Paul. “They have come to know (though we are all in the dark about it) that during the process of enclave exchange, the enclave land will  be decl- ared vest land and the government will  finally settle all matters related to land,” he said, adding, “They fear that they would be deprived of their land rights during the

LBA execution because they did  not  appear before the joint team of inspection in 2011 too.”

Notably, a man, who has a plot  of farmland in Baapokhri, a Bangladeshi enclave, but now lives in India, did  not meet the India-Bangladesh joint survey team because he wanted to enjoy Indian citizenship and use the land in Bangladeshi enclave for his livelihood. “There are several people, who are seeking suggestions from us as well  as the district administrative officials,” Mr Pual said.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Call for Papers: Refugee Watch Online

 Refugee Watch Online is a widely read, critically acclaimed bi-monthly web journal (published at It is a sister concern to the international journal Refugee Watch, both published from Calcutta Research Group (
Refugee Watch Online (RWO) seeks 700-1000 words long research articles, news reports, perspectives and views on issues related to forced migration, displacement, human rights’ violation, and other relevant matters regarding contemporary politics and society. Articles need to be in MSWord format, references clearly indicated within text or in endnotes.
We also welcome reviews of relevant books, films and other cultural products. Reviews should be of approximately 1000 words in length, and carry detailed information regarding the artefact reviewed. Summaries of longer news items published elsewhere are also solicited (with due permissions and acknowledgements procured by the author).  Photographs and other media, topical to the interests of RWO can also be sent for publication.
From the June 2015 issue, RWO is going to contain a special section on narratives, either in the first or in the third person. Narratives of the disposed, forced migrants are actively solicited to both enable their voices to reach a wider public, and to keep research grounded.
RWO also carries call for papers for books, journals, conferences, seminars and workshops.
Please send your submissions and direct your queries to The peer review process and editorial decision making can take up to three weeks.

Xenophobia in South Africa: A Report.

Madhura Chakraborty, Calcutta Research Group. She has been working on migrant labourers since 2011.  

Since 1994--the end of the Apartheid in South Africa--millions of migrants, particularly from neighbouring poorer African countries have been coming to the country to seek work and in hope of a better life. The deadly attacks across urban centres in South Africa against migrants, primarily of African origins but also from South Asian countries, that occurred in early 2015 started in Durban and then spread to parts of Johannesburg. These xenophobic attacks, according to Al Jazeera[i] are a result of the rising unemployment rates in South Africa where labour migrants are seen as a contributory cause. According projections by the ILO[ii] the country ranks as the eighth worst in terms of high unemployment rates. The attacks allegedly started after a comment by the Zulu King, Goodwill Zelithini who apparently asked the migrants to ‘pack their bags and leave’[iii] which he later denied having made. In Johannesburg text messages circulating via the social networks warmed foreigners to heed the Zulu King’s call to leave South Africa[iv].

Businesses by migrants were attacked, looted and vandalised leading to many migrants fleeing their homes. The Star, a leading daily from South Africa reports that violent mobs even turned on journalists in some cases in Johannesburg. Thousands of migrants fled their homes and took up shelter in camps and shops owned by the migrants remained closed. The Star quotes Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega as saying the violence against foreign migrants was a criminal activity. The Star[v] quotes President Zuma who blamed criminality as opposed to xenophobia:

 “I don’t think we should use the simple word because it is easy to use excessively. It gives a wrong impression that South Africans are xenophobic. We are not,” said Zuma.

In the meanwhile as of 26 April the government operated camp in Johannesburg[vi] to shelter the displaced migrants were shut down. The camp which started with only four hundred displaced people on 16 April saw the residents’ numbers swell to over a thousand. The municipality officials presiding over camp management were assured of there being no danger in going back to the communities before closing the camp. In Durban hundreds of asylum seekers and migrants are still in camps even as the government pushes to close the camps[vii].

Meanwhile the police along with the South African Defence Force started a massive stop and search programme in Johannesburg to arrest undocumented migrants in which at least fifty were arrested as of 28 April[viii]. Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini, Gauteng police spokesperson, was quoted as saying:
It was a stop-and-search operation... It was a normal, crime-prevention operation.
Al Jazeera dubs the operation as one trying to end ‘anti-immigration unrest’.
As a direct result of the violence against migrants, diplomatic relations with some neighbouring countries have worsened. Nigeria decided to take back the envoys from Pretoria[ix] while both Zimbabwe and Malawi governments arranged transportation for their citizens from South Africa and Mozambique along with the other nations joined in publicly condemning these attacks.
In South Africa itself thousands marched in anti xenophobic rallies in both Durban and Johannesburg. Ranabir Samaddar, the Director of Calcutta Research Group, who was visiting Johannesburg at the time, was interviewed on Power FM 98.7.  He was quoted raising the question: “You have to ask yourself can any country do without migrant workers?”
This remains a crucial question in today’s world of tightening border controls and securitization where the ‘other’ is often working-class, labour migrants who are blamed for all ills of the host country.


Trafficked and Jailed: The story of Saukina

Sucharita Sengupta, Calcutta Research Group. The narrative she sent to Refugee Watch Online is based on interviews conducted at various prisons in West Bengal as part of her work on the Bengal-Bangladesh Borderland, especially on Bangladeshi women who have been incarcerated in various prisons of West Bengal, India. [She can be reached at or]

Her name is Saukina Begum[1] and she hails from Gopalganj district of Bangladesh. I met her in Alipore Correctional Home for Women, in Kolkata. Dressed shabbily and looking extremely nervous she asked “Are you a lawyer? Can you please help me in my case so that I get released? I did not know I would land up in prison after coming to India”. It took me some time to calm her and explain that the purpose of my visit was to give an ear to her and others who have similarly crossed the Bengal-Bangladesh Border to migrate from Bangladesh to India and have eventually got incarcerated in charge of crossing the border illegally, without having valid documents. With tears in her eyes and a trembling voice Saukina narrated her journey from home to India.

Belonging to a family of four brothers and two sisters with her father being the only earning member of the family, Saukina was used to hardships from a very tender age. Her father Siraj Mollah was a poor farmer in Gopalganj. She was regularly beaten up and tortured by her stepmother till she fled one day. “A kind owner of a garments factory saved me and gave me shelter in his home in Dhaka, where I started working as a domestic aid. Gradually I learnt stitching and work of embroidery and soon got a job in the shop of her owner. There I met Sabuj Miyan, who used to regularly visit the shop. He was very nice to me and soon we became good friends. He also was a frequent visitor to India and told me about his flourishing business of garments there. He used to sell clothes made in Bangladesh in India. One day he took me to his home and asked me whether I would marry him and settle with him in Mumbai, India. He also told me that in India I would be paid double for the work that I was doing here. It was a very tempting offer for me. We got married; I left my work in Dhaka and started with him for India having no clue about the formalities needed to cross the border. I thought Sabuj would know everything since he was a regular there and thus made the gravest mistake of my life. We crossed the Benapole border through Bongaon. Once in India, we boarded a train towards Mumbai…” (she can‘t recall from which station) and it was there when for the first time she became suspicious of the place where she was being taken to. I asked her the reason – “…I can’t explain but I just guessed that something was not quite right. It was 12 at night and we were joined by some more girls and two Indian men in the train. From their conversations I realized that we were being taken to a brothel in Mumbai. I was shocked and terrified. I also came to know that Sabuj had lied to me all along. He never had any business of garments and he already has a wife and two children in Mumbai. I do not know what his real business is but from their conversations understood that he regularly brings girls from Bangladesh to India and sell them to brothels. I started yelling and crying but could not find a way to escape. Help arrived in the form of police when the whole group was caught and arrested in one of the stations. I told them everything but still have been booked under the 14(a) Foreigners act. Sabuj through his influences got himself released after shelling out Rs 50,000 as bail fee but my case still remains pending. I do not know when I would be released from here. However, I do feel it was a blessing that I was caught by the police before I was sold off to a brothel. Here I still have hopes of freedom but I do not know what I would do even if I get released. Sabuj and his friends are very angry on me because I have exposed them to the police and have talked about them in Court. I have also told in Court that Sabuj is my husband and he has brought me here. Now they have threatened me of dire consequences…” her voice trails off.

Saukina was caught on 13 April 2013 and her case was tried in Basirhat Police Station. During the time of this interview she had already spent a year and almost seven months in jail but till now her charge sheet was due because her case partners were not making their appearances in the court. Case partners are the persons with whom Saukina was caught by the police. The norm is all persons caught together should be produced together in court for trial and even if one person from the group does not appear on the day when they have been summoned for trial, the case loses its merit and gets deferred. What happens often in cases like Saukina‘s is that the middle men or traffickers easily get themselves released either by paying hefty amounts or through connections, and once they are out of the police custody they generally return back to Bangladesh or go under cover deliberately, making themselves untraceable. Cases therefore remain pending causing many women like Saukina to languish relentlessly in prisons. ‘Freedom’ for them remains just as a word- as a notion and forever elusive- devoid of any meaning.

[1] The interview was taken on 14 November 2014

“My players are now construction workers”: Narratives from Jindal Steel Works, West Bengal

Suman Nath, Haldia Government College. This article was part of his ongoing fieldwork in Paschim Medinipur, where he enquires about the links between local governance and large scale political changes.

Fig 1: Wooden plank used to cross the newly constructed fence.

Until recently, Jindal Steel Works (JSW) project, in Salboni, West Bengal was commonly believed to be a successful case of land acquisition without major unrest even at a time when land related movements were at their peak in Singur. The amount of land acquired is about 4562 acres of which only about 500 acres is taken from the villagers and the rest is part of an existing animal farm and vested land. With lack of irrigation and fertile land the compensation seemed lucrative which is Rs.600,000 per acre of which 50 percent is given in cash and rest as share to the company and one job per family. A daunting delay in implementation of the project because of problems with coal block allocation and transportation of water, in December 2014 JSW declares to give back 294 acres of land to the villagers[i]. This initiative is dubbed by the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as “a pro-farmer move on the part of the industry group.”[ii]
This article, part of my ethnographic work in twelve villages surrounding the proposed project area, reflects on the loss of vital livelihood supports of the people surrounding the project area and resultant forced migration.

The Villages and the vested land:

Among 12 villages, five are inhabited by the Santals and the rest are multiethnic: occupied by castes like Mahato, Teli, Bagal, tribes like Santals and also a few Muslims. These are located approximately 10 - 15 km away from the National Highway 60, approachable through the farm road--- the name suggesting previously existing animal farm. Each of the villages depend heavily on forest and domestic animals – a dependence which has been supported by now obsolete animal farm and now acquired vested land. The multi caste villages perform agriculture and people from both these and tribal villages work as casual labour to neighbouring Medinipur town.

Fig. 2: Tree roots soon to be used as fuel.
When I started my fieldwork back in 2008, only a few pillars were installed marking the boundaries of the project area without halting free access to the acquired land which was moderately forested. Major resources which have been supporting their livelihoods since time immemorial include fuel wood, fodder, food, and medicines. The vested land also provided a space for the people to do open defecation. With Joint Forest Management initiatives some of the villagers also invested in production of cashew nuts from cashew trees in the forest. Over the years they have looked after those trees only to see them chopped down. In several villages Jaher Than, the sacred grove – essential aspect of Santal spirituality had to be removed which entailed not only emotional burden over the villagers but also a huge cost in performing the ritual. Post 2010, the construction of a wall covering a circumference of approximately 40 km began. JSW chopped down all the trees, levelled the land blocking the natural flow of water from Western side to the eastern side on which farming depended. Without the forest, people continue to dig up tree roots in order to meet their fuel needs. People sold off livestock because the grazing land fell within the project area and could not be accessed any longer.

Fig. 3: Reconstructed Jaher Than.

Where does the money go?

“When I had money as the compensation, my elder son started a business venture, my younger son demanded a motorbike. I had to pay some amount to my son-in-law. My wife wanted an expensive television. My neighbourhood friend needed a loan... the rest I have invested in a scheme with high return and as it appears I have been cheated...” [Reported by one of the older villagers after getting the compensation money]
From 2008 onwards it became difficult to talk to the villagers because of the visits by the ‘investment advisors’. These investment advisors could pursue most of the villagers who got compensation to invest in a variety of schemes starting from mutual fund to chit fund. By 2013 I could locate most of the motorbikes bought are no longer running because of the lack of money to buy the fuel. I could not identify a single villager generating durable asset. By 2013 a committee supported by the All India Trinamool Congress demanding quicker commencement of the project started rallying. One of the local leaders reflects in 2013:
“...some of us are given some preliminary training with a promise of job. We are taken to visit other plants by JSW to have a feel what this place will be soon. Now that we have lost all our money and assets, we need the factory to start as soon as possible...”

The compulsive migration:

With diminishing livelihood supports villagers started to migrate from the end of 2013. The first to move out was a group of young men to Karnataka not only to work as construction worker but also to keep in touch with JSW Karnataka. Today most of the families have at least one migrant labour. In absence of these youngsters the sports activities in the villages have also taken a beating. One of the local coaches who enthusiastically formed a football team in A. B. R. Kherwal Gaota Club reports “JSW steel plant has taken away more than our traditional forest dependent lives. It has destroyed relationships, raised walls between the villages, making near places distant... more painfully they have dismantled our team. My players are now construction workers who will never return...” [recorded in December 2014].


The Killed Migrants : Encounter Killings and the State

Ajmal Khan, TISS Mumbai. He was part of a fact finding commission that enquired into the killings of migrant workers in Seshachalam, Andhra Pradesh on 7th April, 2015. The killings, claimed by the Special task Force to have been in “self defense” created a nationwide controversy.

Tribal migrant wood cutters  from Tamilnadu to Andhra Pradesh are again in news after the killings of 20 laborers by Special Task Force which was set up to curb the smuggling of red sanders. Tamilnadu was one of the states that used to be a principal contributor of the migrants to the Indian cities during the seventies. However, there has been huge decrease in the number of emigrants from the state recently after the state government was able to provide better welfare measures. However, migration of labour still continues from the state. The migration of wood cutters from Tamilnadu still continues. Their issues come out when some of them are arrested or are killed by the government forces. The migrant workers who get killed are mainly from the Thiruvannamalai and Dharmapuri districts adjacent to Andhra Padesh. Those who come to chop down the red sanders wood are generally tribals and scheduled caste people from these two districts. The situations of the hamlets from where the migrants are coming are almost always ignored whenever there is a discussion on red sanders cutting. They are categorized as “smugglers” which they are not . They remain the laborers who happened to occupy the bottom most position in the big mafia network that exports the valuable red sanders to the countries like Japan and China. The economic conditions of the Hamlets of these two districts are extremely poor that compels these men to go for such risky jobs. The livelihood options that are available to them are mostly construction works in the nearest cities which also involves migration. There are thousands of such wood cutters in different jails of Andhra Pradesh who are arrested while they enter into the state. Recently ten laborers are killed by the forces in the different fake encounters and around 2500 are being imprisoned. The recent killings are evidently seen to be the result of a  fake encounter and many questions have already been raised against the credibility of the government version of the encounters story.

Seschachalam killing incident is not the first one there are examples of fake encounters of Tamil laborers who come to cut the wood. All the Ten men were below the age of 30 years, brutally killed after grabbing them in different places. It indicates that, there has not been an encounter anywhere as the police version of the story says. As the evidences suggest, the workers might have been killed somewhere else and later on police has placed the dead bodies in the fores. There is also a chance that they might have been taken to the forest killed pointblank.  After that they have placed the bodies and the logs to cook up the story as it has been told.
The important question here is that, if these are all fake encounters then what is the motive to kill these poor laborers? Since the mafia that controls the red sanders smuggling is strong, the killing of laborers are the manifestations of the relationship between government, ruling and other political parties and the dynamics between these relations. The motive behind the Seschachalam killing can be that the government of Andhra Pradesh wants to give a message to the private and other smugglers who belongs to the opposition parties. The message is loud and clear that, if anyone comes to cut the woods, they will kill them. The Chandrababu Naidu government might want to give a message to Reddies that, they are in power and they will not allow the Reddies and their friends to smuggle now. Moreover it also projects the fact that only they will control the red sanders wood business with a monopoly.  However, the people who are the victims for this are the poor Adivasi and most backward caste laborers. Poverty and hunger makes them migrant laborers. They take up these life threatening jobs even without knowing the kind of illegal activity they are taken up. If the government of Andhra Pradesh is genuinely committed to the protection of red sanders tree, instead of killing and arresting the poor migrant laborers they should have arrested the real smugglers and mafias who are involved in the red sanders smuggling. None of the Governments so far been able to do that, because, these smugglers form one of the most important financial resource for the political parties who are closely associated to the government, police, forest and other departments. As far as the socio-economic situations in these two districts of Tamilnadu continues to be the same and there is no government commitment for protection and initiation of a state owned trading of the read sanders, the  migration of these laborers and using them for wood cutting will continue. These poor people will continue to get arrested and killed for no reason.

At Sea: Rohingya Refugees Abandoned to their Fate

Madhura Chakraborty, Calcutta Research Group. She is currently engaged in a research on forced migration with specific focus on Rohingya refugees in India

According to the International Organisation for Migration around eight thousand Rohingyas and Bangladeshis were stranded[i] in the Malacca Strait, being refused entry by the South East Asian nations of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The current crisis with boatloads of migrants abandoned in the sea comes in the wake of the discovery of mass graves in people smuggling
camps in Southern Thailand. As Thai authorities are cracking down on human smugglers, many
traffickers along with the crew have left these boats with hundreds of desperate asylum seekers
on board without food, water or any means of survival in the open sea.

In early May a series of mass graves and jungle camps were discovered in the Songkla province of Thailand near the Malaysian border. These were discovered to be the bodies of Rohingya migrants as well as Bangladeshis who were smuggled via sea in exchange for money by traffickers who promised to take them to Malaysia. Many were held at these camps and tortured while their relatives back home were extorted for money. Thai police start investigating the trafficking network and begins crackdowns which lead to the arrest of many trafficking ring leaders including a local municipal councillor in Thailand[ii]. On 6 May Bangkok Post ran a report predicting that these crackdowns would make the situations even worse: they quote Chris Lewa who said that "The raids have gone up in the last few months and the smugglers keep moving their camps, abandoning those who are too ill to leave with them,"[iii] .

In recent months traffickers have switched to keeping thousands of migrants on boats in international waters, rather than risk bringing them to Thailand.
"There is a huge bottleneck at sea," Ms Lewa said. "That is an even more dangerous situation."[iv]
The ‘blitz on people-smuggling trade’[v], as one report put it, came in the wake of pressure from European Union and USA regarding the way Thailand handles trafficking.

On 8 May, speaking from Geneva, the UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards[vi], voiced concerns over the increase in numbers of desperate boat migrants in the Bay of Bengal. He reported that despite the risks of these journey and extortion by smugglers 25,000 people of Rohingya and Bangladeshi origins boarded these boats in the first three months of 2015. This is double the numbers in the same period in 2014. Based on interviews with survivor UNHCR has drawn the following conclusion:

1.      The Modus operandi of the smugglers have changed--the victims are given passage for low cost or for free provided that they promise to repay the debt once they get jobs in Malaysia. In some cases there are cash incentives and promises of jobs. People are unaware that money will be extorted from them later in the journey and what started with being smuggled soon turns into forceful trafficking. There are accounts of children being abducted and forced on boats.
2.      An estimated 300 people have died due to starvation, dehydration and abuse in the boats in the first quarter of 2015
3.      The boat passengers disembark in southern Thailand and are taken on a day long arduous trip to jungle camps in the borders of Malaysia where they are held while their relatives are extorted for ransom. Rapes, torture and shootings are not uncommon.
4.      UNHCR notes that since last October it has been the practice of some traffickers to hold the people ransom at sea and once money is paid for them they are taken directly to Malaysia.
5.      UNHCR enjoined the countries in the region to work more closely together to counter the smuggling and trafficking of vulnerable people.

Reports of stranded boats refused entry by the countries of the region started making a splash on international media with photos and videos of desperate migrants calling out for help, around 13 May. For the next week more such boats were reported--abandoned by the crew and the smugglers, without food and water and any knowledge of navigation, the migrants were starving to death. The victims reported that their boats were forced back to the open sea at gunpoint by the Malaysian and Thai authorities[vii].

As more and reports and videos poured in there were discussions about the policy of ‘push back’ for refugees and migrants. Mathew Davies from Australia writes:

The Government's policy of "turning back the boats" has been one of its few political success stories - first in opposition when it bludgeoned the Gillard government with it, and then in power when it militarised the issue, authorised the tow-back of incoming boats and crafted elaborate offshore processing systems. The victims have remained largely faceless, stripped of their identity in the press and safely kept away from the cameras.
But in crafting this policy Australia weakened both the international refugee regime as a set of rules and norms that should shape how states deal with such refugee flows and helped along a regional trend that has questioned the international regime as never before.[viii]

Days later, in midst of the crisis Australian prime minister was quoted as having said:
"I don't apologise in any way for the action that Australia has taken to preserve safety at sea by turning boats around where necessary...And if other countries choose to do that, frankly that is almost certainly absolutely necessary if the scourge of people smuggling is to be beaten." If that meant taking "more vigorous" action on the high seas or closer to Burma, so be it, he said[ix].

Online media platforms from the region  interviewed Yangon residents who all expressed sympathy for the victims[x]. With international pressure mounting with requests to intervene from UN and USA, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia convened an emergency meeting. While by the 20 May more than 3000 migrants had landed in Malaysia and Indonesia, the Globe and the Mail reported that an estimated 6000 still remain trapped[xi]. As the talks were being planned, Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein’s office announced that they would not participate in the meeting if the term ‘Rohingya’ was brought up[xii]. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said:
"As there are many of them, we cannot look after them properly. Where will we put them?...In the future, if many more of them come, it will cause a problem. They will steal the jobs and livelihoods of Thais."

Philippines was the first country that indicated its willingness to give refuge to the boat people[xiii] before the talks took place.

On 20 May urgent talks between the Foreign Ministers of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia were held following which statements were issued by officials of the last two countries that they will "continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants still at sea". The shelter provided to the rescued migrants, however, will be of temporary nature conditional upon repatriation within a year[xiv]. To rescue the remaining migrants in sea Thailand offered a floating naval base but refused to take anyone but the seriously ill on shore[xv].

As Malaysia urged Myanmar to take responsibility, military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing responded that ‘some “boat people” landing in Malaysia and Indonesia this month are likely pretending to be Rohingya Muslims to receive UN aid and that many had fled neighbouring Bangladesh[xvi] The Burmese authorities ‘accused governments of trying to divert their human smuggling and slavery problems by dumping the blame on Myanmar’[xvii]. On the other hand, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena, called the migrants, and those who want to migrate ‘mentally sick’ and accused them of tarnishing the country’s image[xviii].

On 26 May yet more jungle camps and mass graves were discovered in Wang Kelian in Malaysia in the border of Thailand. Currently bodies are being exhumed and twelve police officers have been arrested in this connection.

The number of jungle camps, offshore boat internments and mass graves give an estimate of the scale of the problem and the consistent refusal of the Myanmarese and Bangladesh to deny that they had any part in it does nothing but exacerbate the situation. Many have drawn comparison with S.S. St. Louis full of German Jews were refused asylum in USA and had to return to Germany where many died in the ensuing Holocaust[xix]. The Rohingyas, as the world watches, Nikolas Kristof writes for New York Times, are in the same predicament. And countries who have resumed ties and lent their support to the democratic process in Myanmar should put pressure for them to stop the discrimination and massacre of Rohingyas.

[xiv] latin;             mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";          mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Rohingya crisis in Burma has become 'a protracted, squalid, stateless status-quo'

Last month Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma (also known as Myanmar), criticised the Burmese government’s attitude towards its own Rohingya people. In Burma’s Rakhine province, there are currently more than one million Rohingya – an Islamic ethnic group – living in apartheid-like conditions.
Don’t feel too guilty if you don’t know much about this humanitarian crisis; coverage in the mainstream western media has been gradually tailing off since 2012. What you should be made aware of, though, is the fact that the Rohingya were previously recognised as the most persecuted people in the world. Just let that sink in. It has actually been possible to identify one ethnic group as the world’s most persecuted people.
But on Wednesday, rather than address its deliberately poor handling of the crisis, Burma’s ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement saying it “unequivocally” rejected the term Rohingya and labelled it “terminology which has never been included among over 100 national races of Myanmar”. The ministry went on to accuse Lee of exceeding her jurisdiction, warning that insistence on using the term Rohingya would make the current crisis more difficult to address.
The Burmese government is complicit in the persecution of the Rohingya, a group it declared stateless through the passing of the country’s 1982 citizenship law. With that law, the Burmese government effectively declared the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Subsequently, Burmese officials have made it impossible for them to seek any help and now, following clashes with Burmese Buddhists in 2012, 140,000 Rohingya currently live in displacement camps.
“The displacement camp is no different to a concentration camp,” says Nurul Islam, chairman of the London based Arakan (Rakhine) Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO). Formed in 1998, ARNO campaigns for the self-determination of the Rohingya within the Burmese federation, as well as the repatriation of displaced peoples and “the establishment of a welfare society based on equality, liberty, democracy, human rights and freedom for all peoples”.
While the crisis has been on-going for the last five decades, Islam says that the Rohingya are now waiting for the rest of the world to increase pressure on the Burmese government. “[The Burmese government] are persecuting their own people,” he says. “It is now up to the international community to help us. People are dying; all the ingredients for genocide are in place – a slow genocide is taking place in Burma.”
David Mathieson, a senior research for the Human Rights Watch in Burma, explained that through rejection of the term Rohingya the Burmese government are perpetuating a culture of violence against its own people. “[This] is a betrayal of the principle of self identity, and has acted to justify decades of appalling violence and repression,” Mathieson says.
“This denial has been exacerbated by growing numbers of international donors, diplomats and dubious analysts and experts who kowtow to Rakhine extremists and government hardliners like callow collaborators.
So what needs to happen? Well, most importantly, western governments need to be more vocal in their condemnation of the crisis as it stands. Military aid, supplied by countries including the UK, should of course be halted. We need sanctions and, most importantly, our politicians must use the term Rohingya. Loudly.
Both Islam and Mathieson are vocal in their condemnation of nations that have not spoken out about the rejection of the term Rohingya, describing it as “tantamount to being a co-conspirator in ethnic cleansing”. As Mathieson says, the crisis has turned into “a protracted, squalid, stateless status-quo”; it is becoming increasingly clear that we need to do more to bring about a swift resolution.

Myanmar Halts Citizenship Verification Project for Muslim Minorities

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has halted a national pilot project to verify the citizenship status of Muslim minorities in western Rakhine State.
Rakhine Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn told VOA Burmese Thursday that since the program began last year, only 40 Muslims were given citizenship and more than 200 were granted temporary citizenship because only those who identified themselves as Bengali were accepted.
“The Rakhine situation is too complicated. The verification process is difficult since applicants are applying with an identity which does not exist in the country,” said Maung Maung.
Most Muslims in the state refer to themselves as Rohingya, a term rejected by the government, which sees the Rohingya as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and refers to them as "Bengalis."
Officials have said the verification process was being conducted under a 1982 law that bars citizenship registration using the term Rohingya instead of Bengali.
Shwe Maung, a Muslim member of parliament from the western part of Rakhine, said there may be a way around the problem.
“I want to point out we should look at the generation of those who hold temporary citizenship cards," he said. "The problem will be solved in short term if those who hold [temporary] citizenship cards and whose parents hold [temporary] citizenship cards are allowed to apply for citizenship [using] normal procedures, instead of a specific project."
For years, international rights groups have criticized government policies that deny the Rohingya citizenship and restrict their travel.
Violence between Myanmar's Buddhist majority and Muslim minority has killed more than 240 people and forced about 140,000 out of their homes since 2012. Most of the dead and displaced are Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine state.