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Updated: 27 min 17 sec ago

Myanmar: Myanmar refugees give back through MCC

13 hours 25 min ago
Source: Mennonite Central Committee Country: Myanmar, Thailand

By Rachel Sommer

LANCASTER, Pa. – Before Lar Say moved to Lancaster, Pa., in 2010, she lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for more than two decades.

She and her family became refugees when violence forced them, along with many other members of the Karen ethnic group to which they belong, from their homes in Myanmar, the southeast Asian nation also known as Burma.

Each year, workers in the refugee camp distributed hand-knotted comforters, which Lar Say and her family used as bedding for the bamboo pallets on which they slept. She did not know who made the comforters or from which country they came, but she was grateful for the warmth they provided.

When she arrived in Lancaster, Lar Say connected with Habecker Mennonite Church, a nearby congregation in Manor Township that provides a home away from home for many Karen refugee families.

There, friends invited her to visit the Manor Sewing Circle, whose members meet monthly at the church to create material resources to contribute to Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) global relief work.

To her surprise, she saw sewing circle participants knotting exactly the type of blankets she and her family had received in Thailand. She decided to join them.

“In the camp, we wondered who made these things,” Lar Say said. “Now, we can say that we make them.”

While the blankets Lar Say and her family received in the refugee camp were likely not from MCC, which does not distribute material resources in Thailand, she is grateful for the opportunity to offer other refugees the kind of help she once received.

Long-time members of Habecker Mennonite Church and the sewing circle are also grateful for the renewed energy that Karen members have brought to their community.

Miriam Charles, of Manor Township, joined the congregation and sewing circle 67 years ago. Over the last few decades, she watched sewing circle participation dwindle as members aged.

“But then,” she said, “We were revived.” Female and male Karen refugees of all ages joined the sewing circle, bringing renewed energy and, in some cases, professional sewing experience to the group.

Charles also appreciates the opportunity to develop relationships with people who have received the kinds of resources she and other sewing circle members have made for decades. “We knew we were doing this for people around the world, and now they’re here with us. It’s wonderful,” she said.

Six years ago, Charles and her spouse, Arthur Charles, opened their home to a newly arrived Karen refugee family in need of a place to stay for one night. When one night turned into six weeks, other members of the congregation found a house and provided meals and babysitting for the family.

Soon, another family member arrived from Thailand, and more and more refugee families in need of church sponsorship followed.

Habecker Mennonite Church members continue to extend a welcome to these new families, helping to connect them with local services and providing transportation to church on Sunday mornings. One member, a farmer, provided a field for refugees to plant and harvest familiar, Asian vegetables.

Today, more than 75 percent of the church’s regular attenders are Karen refugees. “God is moving here and making a home for his people,” said Charles.

Karen Sensenig, pastor at Habecker, a congregation of Mennonite Church USA’s Lancaster Mennonite Conference, celebrates this new chapter in the life of the congregation, which she views as consistent with the community’s long-held beliefs and commitments.

“We looked back on our 300-year history and recognized a habit of hospitality,” said Sensenig.

Sensenig believes that the sewing circle helps participants to connect with one another across linguistic and cultural barriers. “Having the shared purpose of making comforters helps people to span gaps from person to person, culture to culture and country to country,” she said.

The comforters and other material resources that Manor Sewing Circle members create are donated through MCC’s Material Resources Center in Ephrata, Pa., which serves as a distribution center for items MCC ships around the world. Visit mcc.org/get-involved/kits for detailed comforter instructions and to find a drop-off location near you.

Myanmar: Intimidation, uncertainty mar aid work in Myanmar's Rakhine State

14 hours 36 min ago
Source: IRIN Country: Myanmar

SITTWE, 19 September 2014 (IRIN) - Nearly six months after international aid workers fled Myanmar's Rakhine State when Buddhist mobs attacked their offices and accused them of aid bias, international humanitarian aid services remain restricted, despite the needs of hundreds of thousands of people.

"The humanitarian situation is still unacceptably dire for far too many people," said John Ging, operations director at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), on 11 September after concluding a two-day mission to Rakhine State, adding however: "It is clear that progress has been made since my last visit one year ago. The humanitarian situation is now stabilizing."

The aid response in the western Burmese state has been tricky since two bouts of communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and the minority Rohingya Muslims in June and October 2012 resulted in more than 140,000 people - mostly Rohingyas - being forced to flee to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The number of IDPs in camps is the same as it was a year ago, and hundreds of thousands more outside the camps are in need of humanitarian assistance as the state's economy suffers from what the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called "the long-term effects of violence".

In February 2014, the government expelled Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the largest non-governmental medical provider in the state, over perceived bias toward Rohingyas, who are stateless in the eyes of Burmese law and often dubbed "illegal immigrants" from neighbouring Bangladesh. A month later, international aid workers fled after mobs targeted their offices. Operations have gradually recovered since then, though MSF effectively remains banned.

Signs of discontentment appeared early. A September 2013 OCHA bulletin noted that "growing community resistance about the perceived bias of assistance. as well as persistent threats and intimidation of staff has created an increasingly menacing atmosphere."

That same month, Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group noted that "bureaucratic impediments and threats by some Rakhine community leaders certainly hinder aid delivery," and an International Crisis Group analyst warned: "Without addressing the very real perception among the Rakhine population that assistance has been disproportionately provided to Rohingya, it will be difficult for humanitarian aid groups to decrease tension."

A fraught operating environment

"In many humanitarian operations, it's only necessary to communicate with the government," Amy Martin, OCHA's Rakhine coordinator, told IRIN. "But the situation in Rakhine has become such that humanitarian actors need to make it clear to a wide range of people exactly what we're doing and why - and we have to do it over and over again to make it abundantly clear that we assess needs based on needs alone."

Bibi Adna, a 20-year-old with a three-year-old son, lives at the Say Tha Mar Gyi Rohingya camp near Sittwe, Rakhine State's capital. She miscarried in July, when she was five months pregnant, causing severe bleeding and pain.

"I miscarried 17 days ago and I still haven't been to see a doctor," she said. "We can't afford the car and the bribe money to pay the guards to let us out of the camp so we can get to Sittwe Hospital."

A mobile medical team had visited the camp five days earlier on its usual rotating schedule. However, Adna said, they had only stayed in the camp for a few hours and she was not aware of their presence until after they had left.

Adna's struggles to access life-saving medical care are not unique. According to a July 2014 OCHA bulletin, "the Suspension of MSF-Holland 's activities and the disruption of aid operations following the attacks on the premises of UN Agencies and INGOs In March 2014 have seriously affected access to vital healthcare and other basic services for displaced people and vulnerable communities."

Seventeen-year-old Shamshida Begum, who lives in Baw Du Pha camp, was diagnosed with tuberculosis at an MSF-run clinic in December 2013 and started on treatment. But when MSF was forced out in February, she was compelled to go to a government-run clinic at the nearby Dar Paign camp.

"Last time we went to the Dar Paign clinic, they gave us a box for a specimen but she has no sputum. She needed an X-ray so we requested that they transfer her to Sittwe Hospital but they refused," Noor Jahan, Begum's mother, told IRIN. Sittwe Hospital, supported by ICRC, is the only referral centre in the state.

Jahan said the government doctors, who are mostly ethnic Burman, the nation's majority, sometimes asked for bribes or harassed her and her daughter because they are Rohingya,who have been subjected to decades of state and communal persecution.

"The harassment is too much," she said. "When we first went to the government clinic, I showed them the MSF treatment tracking book. They threw it on the floor - they said it came from foreigners so they would not follow it."

"Very real" anti-foreign sentiment

"Buddhist monks are preaching that international agencies are only helping kalaas," said Ubadjo, a Rohingya former school headmaster who lives in Dar Paign camp. Kalaa is a derogatory Burmese term for foreigners. "For them they see it as light-skinned kalaas, the aid workers, helping dark-skinned kalaas, the Rohingyas."

Buddhist monks hold considerable political stature in Myanmar due to their prominent role in the struggle to regain independence from British colonial rule and in democracy movements.

Today, in an environment ICG has called a "context of rising Burman-Buddhist nationalism" being pushed by a monk-led "populist political force that cloaks itself in religious respectability and moral authority", monastic rhetoric can fan the flames of communal hatred.

In February 2013, MSF said: "Intimidation, and not formal permission for access, is the primary challenge" to delivering aid, explaining that "in pamphlets, letters and Facebook postings, MSF and others have been repeatedly accused by some members of the Rakhine community of having a pro-Rohingya bias."

In the wake of the March 2014 attacks on aid agencies and their subsequent withdrawal, Lilianne Fan, a fellow in the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute argued: "This incident reveals the depth of animosity in the state from some communities towards aid agencies [and] demonstrates the failure of the government to guarantee the security of aid workers and to end the culture of impunity towards its citizens responsible for mobilising anti-Rohingya, anti-Muslim and anti-foreign campaigns."

UN and other international agencies have repeatedly called on the central and Rakhine State governments to assure humanitarian access and quell communal tensions. Analysts have criticized the "muted" response, suggesting the government's weak reactions are due to the possible belief that "they could instrumentalise racism and threats of violence from monks and lay supporters."

According to OCHA's Martin, part of the solution is increasing clarity about the work humanitarians are trying to do: "We are trying to more intensely and effectively communicate with all levels of the communities here - the elders, the leaders, and the government."

In late July the government announced MSF would be allowed to resume operations in Rakhine State. The organization responded with "cautious optimism", but to date they have not been allowed to return. In an 8 September statement about negotiating an agreement for re-entry with the Ministry of Health, MSF said they remained "committed to fully develop this agreement and stand ready in cooperation with the MoH to resume operations in Rakhine at any time."

However, substantial uncertainty remains. Said one humanitarian worker who asked not to be named: "It's not entirely clear the government knows what they want to do. But it's clear they can more or less do whatever they want."

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Myanmar: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back in Myanmar

21 hours 52 min ago
Source: Refugees International Country: Myanmar

By Sarnata Reynolds

Since a wave of violence displaced tens of thousands of Rohingya in June 2012, RI has visited Myanmar four times to document their humanitarian situation, publicize their persecution, and demand that the international community pursue a remedy for them as part of the normalization of relations with the Myanmar government. Now RI is returning to the country to push again for progress.

When RI last traveled to Myanmar in February 2014, the displaced Rohingya community remained in ghettos and the country’s central government was moving to deny them lifesaving aid. That month, authorities in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, officially barred Médecines Sans Frontières (MSF) from providing assistance in Rakhine State, claiming the group was biased toward the Rohingya community. The expulsion came just weeks after MSF disclosed that its staff had treated 22 Rohingya individuals wounded by weapons in a massacre the government said did not occur. In March, United Nations staff and other humanitarian actors were attacked by Rakhine extremists and forced to flee the state.

After six months of negotiations, MSF still awaits permission to return. Other humanitarian agencies were recently allowed access Rakhine State, but their schedules – and therefore, their ability to provide care to large numbers of people in need – must be approved by the recently-formed Emergency Cooperation Committee. This committee, whose members are appointed by President Thein Sein, is composed entirely of ethnic Rakhine leaders, many of whom have promoted extreme anti-Rohingya positions. In August, the ECC publicly proposed that all “Bengalis” (meaning Rohingya) who could not demonstrate they were citizens of Myanmar be permanently detained in Rakhine or other states.

During RI’s visit, we will assess how the central government’s barring of international actors from camps in Rakhine State affected access to food and nutrition, clean water and sanitation, and healthcare.

RI’s team will also assess the fallout from Myanmar’s 2014 census, which barred the Rohingya from claiming Burmese nationality. The Myanmar government is currently conducting a “citizenship verification” survey, in which it is again requiring the Rohingya to identify as “Bengali” – and therefore not citizens of Myanmar – in order to participate. This mission presents an opportunity for RI to assess the census and identification verification processes, and to advise the international community on how to respond.

Coming two years after the onset of violence in June 2012, this mission is also a chance to review how the Rohingya and Rakhine communities experience the presence of international actors, and whether current conditions may permit the reopening of dialogue between those communities and aid providers.

Our trip is strategically timed in preparation for President Barack Obama’s planned participation in a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in November 2014, which Myanmar will chair. Myanmar has declared that the Rohingya population will not be discussed through ASEAN, despite the fact that the Rohingyas’ deteriorating situation and attempts to flee to other nations have serious regional implications. We will be pushing the U.S. and other nations to raise the Rohingya issue in November in line with our findings.

Thailand: Thailand to Allow Foreign Day Laborers Without Passports

18 September 2014 - 11:35pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar, Thailand

By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY|

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Thai authorities plan to put a new rule in place allowing foreign migrant laborers without passports to work in border towns of the Kingdom on a day-to-day basis, in an attempt to reduce the number of migrants who travel on to bigger cities for better paying jobs.

The Thai Labor Ministry’s new regulation will allow foreign workers to enter and work legally without passports, but only in border areas and with the stipulation that they must return to their home country at day’s end. Daily entry documents will be used in lieu of passports.

The news comes as a rare spot of good news for many Burmese who work in Thailand illegally and have seen a deterioration in their fortunes since a May coup brought several measures restricting their ability to live and work in the Kingdom.

Most of Thailand’s foreign labor force is from neighboring Burma, with the number of Burmese nationals working in the Kingdom estimated to be as high as 3 million. Migrants’ rights groups estimate that about 2 million have been registered under a “national verification program” and are legally eligible to work in Thailand, but hundreds of thousands are believed to be undocumented and stand to benefit from the opportunity to work legally under the new regulation on day laborers.

Htoo Chit, executive director of the Thailand-based migrant rights group Foundation for Education and Development, welcomed the new policy.

“It is a good system for migrant workers because it will be easier for them to come and work daily in Thai border towns,” he said. “The new law will allow them to work officially with border passes.”

Htoo Chit, however, said the new regulation would not affect registered migrant workers who have already passed national verification and obtained passports to work and travel across Thailand.

“They [Thai authorities] won’t stop issuing or extending passports for migrant workers who hold them. So I think it is a good regulation,” said Htoo Chit, adding that he was not aware of when the new plan would go into effect.

Many migrant workers travel beyond Thailand’s border towns for big cities, where they can earn more money after passing the national verification process and obtaining passports. The trend has been a source of frustration for business operators on the border, who are forced to deal with disruptive employee turnover rates as a result.

Though Thai law mandates a minimum daily wage of 300 baht (US$10) for both domestic and migrant workers, many foreign laborers on the border earn far less.

Thailand’s permanent secretary for labor, Jirasak Sukhonthachat, told the Bangkok Post newspaper that Labor Ministry authorities had approached the ruling Thai junta, which calls itself the National Council for Peace and Order, for approval and the plan is now under consideration.

“The regulations would stipulate which documents could be substituted for passports, where the workers could work, suitable occupations and work timeframes for those foreign workers,” the Bangkok Post reported, citing Jirasak.

Currently, Thai law states that border passes only allow foreigners to enter Thailand to visit or trade, but not to work. Only migrant workers with passports are officially allowed to travel around the country.

The Bangkok Post reported that the new regulations must be approved by the cabinet before negotiations with neighboring countries can move forward.

The Thai junta in July approved special economic zones to be set up in a handful of border towns including Mae Sot, which borders Burma’s Karen State.

Businesses along the border are also expected to view the forthcoming regulation favorably, as it has the potential to reduce the number of migrant workers that leave their jobs in border towns for Bangkok and other urban centers.

Myanmar: Tensions Rise as Military Orders Rebels to Disarm in Myawaddy

18 September 2014 - 11:32pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY

RANGOON — Tensions continue to rise in Karen State’s Myawadday after a local Burma Army commander reportedly ordered some armed Karen rebel groups not to carry weapons or wear uniforms in the Burma-Thai border town.

The news comes just days after the discovery of two small bombs in and around Myawaddy, and follows a temporary blockade of a nearby road by a Karen rebel group last week.

The order was sent by the commander of Light Infantry Battalion 275 in Myawaddy in a letter dated Sept 14, according to Col. Tiger, who leads a small armed group callings itself the KNU/KNLA-Peace Council, a splinter faction of the Karen Nation Union (KNU).

He said he his men would ignore the order.

“Why can they use guns and wear their uniforms, but not us? We will keep holding on to our weapons and uniforms. Our weapons are to protect our people,” Col. Tiger said. “We will only agree to their order when their units decide not to hold guns and wear uniforms.”

He quoted the letter as stating that, “Starting today, we fully prohibited all armed groups to wear uniforms and hold guns while travelling in the town. In urgent cases, your liaison offices in Myawaddy first need to inform us about the number of troops and guns, and where they want to go, before they can travel in the town.”

“Traveling in the town in full uniform disturbs the security of the civilians… Therefore, we ask you to act in accordance with the rule of law, which is the basis of our ceasefire agreement,” the letter said.

Col. Tiger said the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the small rebel group Klohtoobaw Karen Organization (KKO) also received the letter of the Burma Army commander.

Maj. Saw Roe, in charge of the KNU liaison office in Myawaddy, said he did not receive the Burma Army order, but added that KNU officers did not wear uniform or carry arms in the town.

“We heard that they [Burmese authorities] issued the letter ordering Karen armed groups not to wear uniform and carry weapons when traveling in towns and cities. They sent it to other Karen armed groups, but not us,” he said.

The KNU, the DKBA, the KNU/KNLA-Peace Council and the KKO all have signed bilateral ceasefires with the central government and are allowed to maintain liaison offices in Myawaddy and their soldiers regularly travel into town. This is the first time that they have been ordered to disarm when entering the town and it is unclear what prompted the message.

Myawaddy is the most important route for Burma-Thai trade, but has always been vulnerable to the influence of Karen rebels in the surrounding countryside, who have fought an insurgency against the Burman-dominated government for decades. In 2010, the DKBA temporarily seized the town.

Many of the groups also seek a cut from the profitable cross-border trade and smuggling of goods and drugs in the region.

Earlier this week, authorities discovered two small explosive devices in and around Myawaddy. None of the armed groups have claimed responsibility for the explosive devices.

Last week, the KNU/KNLA-Peace Council temporarily blocked 30 trucks that were attempting to transport Thai goods across the border in a show of force meant to draw the attention of Thai authorities.

The group has accused Thai border authorities of mistreating and extorting Burmese migrant workers, citing the daily bribes that migrants crossing the border to work in Mae Sot are forced to pay as an example.

The KNU/KNLA-Peace Council have threatened to stage another blockade if they are not granted a requested tripartite meeting with the Burmese and Thai governments to address migrant workers’ mistreatment.

Additional reporting from Chiang Mai by Saw Yan Naing.

Myanmar: Karen Rebels, Govt Troops Clash as Peace Talks Loom

18 September 2014 - 11:30pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY|

As Burma’s government and ethnic armed groups prepare to meet for peace talks next week, on-and-off fighting between the Burmese Army and ethnic Karen rebels continues to plague eastern Burma.

The latest clash took place on Sept. 9 in an area controlled by Brigade 5 of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the military wing of the Karen National Union (KNU), near the Oo Thu Hta region of Karen State’s Papun District.

Maj. Saw Kler Doh from KNLA Brigade 5 told The Irrawaddy by phone from the frontline that one Burmese Army soldier was killed in the clash.

“They [Burmese Army troops] crossed the limits of the border line and entered our territory. They also didn’t inform us before they patrolled. They met with a group of our soldiers by surprise, and both opened fire. We later found out that one Burmese soldier died.”

The KNU signed a ceasefire with the Burmese government in 2012, but clashes between the two sides have continued intermittently ever since. Critics say a failure to consolidate the ceasefire through efforts such as the implementation of a code-of-conduct to govern the armed groups has contributed to the ongoing hostilities.

“We asked them [the Burmese Army] to inform us first if they want to travel anywhere in our territory. They can travel only where we allow. If they cross the line or don’t inform us in advance, there is always the possibility of a clash,” Saw Kler Doh said.

According to Karen sources who asked for anonymity, some clashes in the area controlled by Brigade 5 are not even reported to senior KNU leaders for fear that the fighting might affect the peace process.

Some KNU leaders are thought to be eager to press ahead with a government-spearheaded effort to ink a nationwide ceasefire agreement between Naypyidaw and Burma’s ethnic armed groups, while Brigade 5 leaders are viewed as more reticent to move quickly on the proposed accord.

Brigade 5 has an estimated 3,000 troops and is believed to be the KNLA’s strongest brigade.

On Sept. 1, the KNU suspended its participation in a bloc of 12 ethnic armed groups known as the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), saying it would focus its peacemaking efforts on a process led by the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an alliance of 16 ethnic armed groups.

The move raised speculation that the Karen group might take the lead in pushing for a nationwide ceasefire, which the Burmese government is trying to secure but has failed several times to meet deadlines it has set for a signing.

In addition to the Karen rebels, two other ethnic armed groups—the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—have regularly traded fire with government troops in recent months. Those two rebel groups do not have ceasefires with the central government in place.

The NCCT is due to meet on Sept. 22 with government negotiators from the Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC), led by President’s Office Minister Aung Min, in Rangoon to continue discussions on a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

Myanmar: Severe floods swamp Shan border

18 September 2014 - 7:30am
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

Five residential areas of Tachilek, on the border between Shan State and northern Thailand, were devastated by floods on Wednesday evening. Heavy rains caused nearby mountain streams to overflow and sweep through low-lying towns.

Houses in Talaw , Ponhtwan, Makahohkam, San Sai and Mae Khao in Tachilek town are reportedly submerged in several feet of water, and many stranded civilians were in need of rescue.

“The water was about neck-deep and even higher in some areas,” said Hla Moe, chairman of a local charity group, Tachilek Funeral Assistance Association. “We had to evacuate some residents in badly hit areas, physically carrying them out of their houses, where their beds and furniture were floating in the water.”

Schools in the region are closed until further notice. No deaths have been reported. While the extent of the damages have not been fully assessed, many market stalls in the town –which is a major trade hub between Burma and Thailand — were reported to be severely damaged.

Earlier this month, Tachilek witnessed its worst flooding in 15 years, with more than 4,000 people forced to flee their homes, 800 houses submerged and large scale destruction of property and business assets.

Pakistan: The 2014 Rainfall Season: South and East Asia

17 September 2014 - 12:14pm
Source: World Food Programme Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam preview

Highlights

• The dominant feature of the 2014 season across East Asia so far has been widespread rainfall deficits that led to delayed starts of the growing season across vast areas of the continent.

• Conditions were worst around mid July, followed by a general improvement, which still left moderate rainfall deficits as the predominant pattern. SE Pakistan has been the worst affected area, in particular for livelihoods dependent on rainfed agriculture and pastoral resources.

• In early September, extreme rainfall events, the heaviest in at least 30 years, led to flooding and loss of life in Kashmir. In contrast, heavy rainfall relieved dry conditions in Gujarat, India.

• Seasonal forecasts indicate a continuation of broadly drier than average conditions across the continent. Weakening El Nino conditions may change these perspectives.

World: The 2014 Rainfall Season: South and East Asia

17 September 2014 - 12:14pm
Source: World Food Programme Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam, World preview

Highlights

• The dominant feature of the 2014 season across East Asia so far has been widespread rainfall deficits that led to delayed starts of the growing season across vast areas of the continent.

• Conditions were worst around mid July, followed by a general improvement, which still left moderate rainfall deficits as the predominant pattern. SE Pakistan has been the worst affected area, in particular for livelihoods dependent on rainfed agriculture and pastoral resources.

• In early September, extreme rainfall events, the heaviest in at least 30 years, led to flooding and loss of life in Kashmir. In contrast, heavy rainfall relieved dry conditions in Gujarat, India.

• Seasonal forecasts indicate a continuation of broadly drier than average conditions across the continent. Weakening El Nino conditions may change these perspectives.

Myanmar: Myanmar: Internal Displacement in Kachin and northern Shan States (1 August 2014)

17 September 2014 - 5:46am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Myanmar preview

Myanmar: Myanmar: Internal Displacement in Myanmar (1 August 2014)

17 September 2014 - 5:44am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Myanmar preview

Myanmar: Rakhine State to receive K1 billion from presidential reserve fund

17 September 2014 - 2:51am
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

Kay Zue

Development activities in Rakhine State will be allocated more than K1 billion (US$1 million) during the 2014-2015 fiscal year from President U Thein Sein’s presidential reserve fund, the Rakhine State Minister for Social Affairs, Dr Aung Kyaw Min told Mizzima on September 11.

Dr Aung Kyaw Min said the fund would be overseen by Union Vice President Sai Mauk Khan, support development in education, agriculture and fisheries, and be implemented through six working committees.

The involvement of the Vice President and the working groups was required because the Rakhine State Government would be unable to manage the fund independently, said the State Minister.

He added that the fund would support both Buddhist and Muslim communities in the state that has in the recent past witnessed communal violence fuelled by religious and ethnic tensions.

U Aung Win (Rakhine State Hluttaw, Rakhine National Party, Myebon Township) told Mizzima on September 11 that he believed the funds should be managed by people with local knowledge.

“Funds should be spent in consultation with the state government and state hluttaw who understand the needs of the state,”he said.

Other members of the state hluttaw told Mizzima on September 11 that when the Vice President visited Rakhine in the first week of September they had been refused the opportunity to present their opinions on the development needs of the State.

World: Global emergency overview Snapshot 10–16 September

16 September 2014 - 8:37am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, Ukraine, World, Yemen, South Sudan preview

Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea: Transmission remains high, and case numbers doubled between the last week of August and the first of September in Liberia; in Sierra Leone 150 cases were reported for each of the last two weeks. Fewer cases have been reported in Guinea – 49 between 5 and 7 September – but the case fatality rate has been extremely high, at 65%. Currently, the secondary impact of the epidemic will potentially leave 500,000 in dire need of humanitarian assistance in Sierra Leone, while WFP has targeted 449,000 people for food assistance in Liberia.

Pakistan: Monsoon rains have affected almost 2.5 million people in Azad Kashmir, Punjab, and Gilgit Baltistan. 140,330 evacuations had been made. In Sialkot, Punjab, waterborne diseases have been recorded in Bajwat, Head Marala, Chaprar, and Pasrur (DAWN, 11/09/2014). The flood waters are now moving towards Sindh province, with warnings for Guddu and Sukkur.

Updated: 16/09/2014. Next update: 23/09/2014

Global Emergency Overview Web Interface

Thailand: In Thailand’s refugee camps, a shift in attitudes towards sexual and reproductive health

16 September 2014 - 1:40am
Source: UN Population Fund Country: Myanmar, Thailand

MAE SOT, Thailand – Visiting a sexual and reproductive health clinic may seem like an ordinary routine for many women. This is not the case for Saba, a 21-year-old mother who has been living in the Mae La refugee camp along Thailand’s border with Myanmar for the last two years.

Covered in a pink and black headscarf, Saba is paying a visit to one of the camp’s sexual productive health clinics operated by the Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand (PPAT) with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Saba recently gave birth and is seeking advice on how to delay her second pregnancy.

“I want to have time for myself. I don’t want to have the second child any time soon,” she said through an interpreter.

Family planning is essential to improving the lives of women, but in a refugee camp, it becomes critical. In times of upheaval, many women lose access to family planning services, exposing them to unwanted pregnancy in perilous conditions. Living in cramped quarters, they often lack knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and hygiene.

With more than 40,000 residents, Mae La is the largest refugee camp in Thailand. Sharing a long border with Myanmar, the country has been home to one of the largest protracted refugee populations in the world, most of them from Myanmar.

Traditionally, refugee women in the Mae La camp, most of whom are ethnic Karen, would not openly visit a sexual and reproductive health clinic. Social norms and family pressure had long discouraged them from doing so. In addition, most of them had married at a young age and did not discuss family planning openly.

But today, the reproductive health centre is teeming with people and young children are running about; some women even brought along their husbands. This would have been an unlikely scene just a few years ago.

Earning and building trust

The positive changes in the Mae La camp were possible in part thanks to the partnership between UNFPA and the PPAT, who have been providing integrated services and educating refugees in the camp about reproductive health, including counselling on domestic violence, since 2012.

Significantly, a group of refugees has been selected and trained as assistant nurses and peer-educators, which has helped to communicate and build trust by working with people from within the community instead of relying on outside teachers.

In a small building with walls made from local jute, Naw Shair Paw, a refugee assistant nurse, speaks to Saba in Burmese. She then puts her on a scale to measure her weight and blood pressure before leading her to a private room for a contraceptive implant.

“I can use the needle,” said Naw Shair Paw, who was trained by Thai nurses through the UNFPA-sponsored programme. Beaming with pride, she lifts another assistant nurse’s arm to show the spot where she injected the contraceptive implant. “Birth control provides women free time to study, like us, who can be assistant nurses.”

Dispelling myths

In addition to the lack of understanding about the vital role of family planning and sexual and reproductive health, some refugees also had misconceptions about the programme an attempt to ‘control’ the refugee population.

UNFPA and the PPAT worked with local communities to dispel these myths and build demand for services by providing information about the benefits of family planning and its positive effect on maternal health and the survival of newborns. This information was conveyed by refugee nurse assistants and peer educators through a series of small group meetings in various communities.

Saba came to the clinic with the consent of her husband. Traditionally, Muslim husbands would have been reluctant to have their wives seek out family planning services, but he now understands the health benefits to his wife and his family.

“I came here many times. And now my husband understands that it is good for our family,” Saba explains.

Since 2012, UNFPA has partnered with the PPAT to provide reproductive health services in five camps across the Thai border with Myanmar. It is estimated that more than 55,000 refugees of reproductive age directly benefited from integrated reproductive health and gender-based violence services between January and November 2013. In addition, more than 18,300 refugees, including peer educators and assistant nurses, received sexual and reproductive health and related training.

Jeerawat Na Thalang

Myanmar: 3 Rohingya Drown After Police Fire Rubber Bullets at Boat

16 September 2014 - 12:13am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG

RANGOON — Two women and a man of the Rohingya Muslim minority drowned near the Arakan State capital Sittwe on Friday after they jumped from a boat because police fired rubber bullets at them, a local officer said.

Sittwe Police Col. Tun Oo told The Irrawaddy on Monday that a group of about two dozen Rohingya was travelling on a small boat in an estuary near Sittwe at around 8 pm Friday when a police patrol boat caught sight of them and approached the vessel. He claimed the passengers acted hostile and police were forced to draw their weapons.

“They held knives and prepared to defend their boat. And then we opened fire, shooting [warning shots] into the air first, but they still did not let us get into their boat. Finally, we used rubber bullets like we were trained to and we shot at them,” he said. “They became afraid and jumped out of the boat into the water.”

On Saturday morning, police found the washed up bodies of two women and a man, all in their early 20s, Tun Oo said, adding that eight Rohingya were picked up out of the water and arrested.

“We don’t know what happened to the rest—they disappeared. We could only arrest eight people,” he said, adding that the police were formulating charges against the detainees and would bring them to Sittwe Township Court.

Asked what charges authorities would bring against the Muslim civilians because of their alleged resistance against the police patrol, he said, “We will see, at least we can charge them with travelling without the right documents.”

The stateless Rohingya minority in northern Arakan, which numbers around 1 million people, are denied citizenship rights by the Burmese government. The Rohingya say they have lived there for generations, but authorities claim they are illegal “Bengali” immigrants from Bangladesh and impose numerous restrictions on the group, such as limiting their right to travel and access to health care and education.

International human rights group accuse the government of persecuting the Rohingya and say police regularly carry out rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings, with impunity.

Many Rohingya try to flee the dire conditions in their impoverished communities and the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Sittwe townships. Some 140,000 Rohingya have been living in dirty, crowded camps since mid-2012 when they were displaced by clashes between Muslims and the Arakanese Buddhist population.

The UN has said that last year an estimated 86,000 Rohingya fled by boat on a perilous journey through the Bay of Bengal in an effort to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Aung Win, a Rohingya rights activist and community leader in Sittwe’s Muslim neighborhood Aung Mingalar, said he had heard that the Rohingya on the boat had been trying to flee from Ohn Taw Gyi 1 camp in Sittwe Township, a site which according to the UN houses some 6,200 IDPs.

“Many of them tried to get out from the camp. Unfortunately, the police found their boat,” he said, adding that the group were travelling in a small boat and probably trying to reach a bigger boat waiting off the coast, which would take them to Thailand and on to Malaysia.

Tun Oo, of the Sittwe police, however, claimed that his patrol boat had tried to stop the boat because the Rohinya passengers were trying to enter Ohn Taw Gyi 1 camp.

“Usually, if we know they are trying to get out of the camp by boat we just ignore it and let them get out… but there are also people who come inside the camp. We have a duty to arrest them if they come inside the camp, this is why we tried to arrest them,” he said.

Sources at Ohn Taw Gyi 1 camp could not be reached for comment.

Thailand: 2013 Nutrition Survey Report to CCSDPT Health Agencies

15 September 2014 - 11:46pm
Source: American Refugee Committee International, Malteser, International Rescue Committee, The Border Consortium, Première Urgence - Aide Médicale Internationale Country: Myanmar, Thailand preview

*The Committee for Coordination of Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand (CCSDPT) is the coordinating committee for 20 NGOs working in nine refugee camps along the Thailand / Myanmar border.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

TBC and CCSDPT Health Agencies conducted collaborative nutrition surveys of children 6-59 months of age in all camps in 2013. Additionally, the Household Hunger Scale, a simple indicator to measure household hunger in the refugee camps, was added to the Nutrition Survey. The Household Hunger Scale will be used to inform TBC and its partners about the impact of the 2013 ration changes.

Survey Methods

Random sampling was used to select households with children 6-59 months of age in all camps using TBC’s Total Population Database. TBC trained health agency staff to implement surveys in all camps, and supervised all surveys to completion. Data were analyzed using SPSS software (version 19). WHO growth standards were used to report principal anthropometry results.

Results

A total number of 4,782 children were surveyed in all camps.

Thailand: Flash Flood in Ban Mai Nai Soi Camp

15 September 2014 - 11:37pm
Source: The Border Consortium Country: Myanmar, Thailand

Heavy rains followed by flash flooding in the early hours of Wednesday 27 August caused significant damage to many sections of Ban Mai Nai Soi camp in Mae Hong Son Province. Homes, NGO and CBO buildings, schools, TBC warehouses, roads and bridges were all affected by the flash flood.

TBC staff immediately visited the camp to support the community, as well as to participate in emergency coordination meetings with KnRC, Thai officials, and UNHCR.

Initial assessments indicate that 25 houses affecting 99 persons were completely destroyed and will need to be rebuilt. Landslides have also created unstable conditions for other houses within the camp which affects a further 44 people. Inhabitants of these unstable dwellings, as well as the aforementioned 25 families, are now staying with friends and relatives.

13 sacks of AsiaREmix and 864 sacks of charcoal in TBC warehouses were destroyed.

TBC will immediately supply five days of rice, oil and pulses for the 25 families who have lost everything, and then provide regular rations once numbers of those in need are clarified. An initial shelter assessment has been carried out, which will be further refined in the next day or two, so that replacement building materials can be quickly sourced and delivered to the camp.

A further emergency coordination meeting between the humanitarian community, refugee leadership and Thai authorities will take place at 15:00 Thursday 28 August.

Syrian Arab Republic: R2P Monitor - 15 September 2014 Issue 17

15 September 2014 - 9:11pm
Source: Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect Country: Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, South Sudan preview

R2P Monitor:

» Provides background on populations at risk of mass atrocity crimes, with particular emphasis on key events and actors and their connection to the threat, or commission, of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

» Offers analysis of the country’s past history in relation to mass atrocity crimes; the factors that have enabled their possible commission, or that prevent their resolution; and the receptivity of the situation to positive influences that would assist in preventing further crimes.

» Tracks the international response to the situation with a particular emphasis upon the actions of the United Nations (UN), key regional actors and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

» Suggests necessary action to prevent or halt the commission of mass atrocity crimes.

Syria {p. 2}
Iraq {p. 4}
CAR {p. 6}
Sudan {p. 8}
Nigeria {p. 9}
South Sudan {p. 11}
DR Congo {p. 13}
Burma/Myanmar {p. 14}

Myanmar: Briefing: Myanmar’s “Rohingya” - what’s in a name?

15 September 2014 - 2:42am
Source: IRIN Country: Myanmar

BANGKOK, 15 September 2014 (IRIN) - Already widely reduced to statelessness and in many cases forced into camps for displaced people, an 800,000-strong population of Muslims in western Myanmar now faces increasing efforts to eradicate the very word they use to identify themselves as a group. Under pressure from Myanmar’s nominally-civilian government, the international community sometimes appears complicit in the airbrushing of “Rohingya” from official discourse.

In this briefing, IRIN breaks down some of the questions about a group of people that has been called one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

Who are the Rohingya?

Approximately 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar. Tens of thousands have fled in recent decades to Malaysia, up to half a million to neighbouring Bangladesh, and an unknown number are scattered from Thailand, to India, to Saudi Arabia.

A 1799 study lists an identity called “Rooinga” in what is now Myanmar’s Rakhine State. However, a historian in March 2014 argued that “this term has only become popular since the late 1990s”.

Some Muslims were brought to Myanmar territory under British rule in the 19th and 20th centuries, fuelling a popular claim that more continue to pour over the border from Bangladesh, which has been refuted by economists.

Why are they so marginalized?

For years, Rohingyas have had their rights - from movement to reproduction to citizenship - restricted by what a Bangkok-based human rights organization called deliberate state-designed "policies of persecution".

In July and October 2012, violence erupted between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas. The outbursts and ensuing round-ups by security forces resulted in 140,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, being held in government-built camps.

Meanwhile, government officials openly promised to tighten regulations on Rohingya movement and other rights.

Nearly two years later, the outgoing UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar said: “The pattern of widespread and systematic human rights violations in Rakhine State may constitute crimes against humanity.”

What does the Burmese government say?

When Myanmar’s reform-minded president, Thein Sein, addressed the UN General Assembly in 2012, he referenced the Rakhine violence without naming parties to the conflict.

U Shwe Maung, a Rohingya member of parliament, told IRIN: “When I talk about the Rohingyas with government officials, they just go silent. They know their silence is extremely powerful.”

The politician argues that the term appeared in a government-published geography textbook as recently as 2008.

However, in response to a September 2014 announcement that Bangladesh would repatriate some of the verified Myanmar citizens it hosts, the Burmese government rejected the name of the group itself, saying: “We have never had ethnic nationals called ‘Rohingya’”.

What happened on the 2014 census?

Myanmar had not conducted a census in 30 years, and partnered with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) for its 2014 survey.

Despite warnings from local leaders, the Transnational Institute (TNI), the International Crisis Group (ICG) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), the questionnaire included a particularly contentious item: a question about ethnicity for which a 1982 list of 135 ethnic groups, which does not include “Rohingya,” would be used.

The government initially promised they would allow Rohingyas to self identify on an open-ended “other” option. But two days before the start of enumeration in March 2014, international aid workers fled western Myanmar after being targeted by Buddhist mobs who attacked their offices over perceived humanitarian bias towards Rohingyas. The government reneged on its promise to record “Rohingya” on security grounds.

Anyone who asked to be recorded as “Rohingya” went uncounted; some were allowed to be listed as “Bengali”. “Both options entailed denial of the ethnic group's existence,” prominent international lawyer Geoffrey Nice and analyst Francis Wade wrote in a May 2014 article, which warned that the Rohingya were likely to fall victim to more organized violence.

“The census team asked me ‘what is your ethnicity?’ When I answered ‘Rohingya’, they walked away. They didn’t even ask me any of the other questions,” Nor Mohammed, 60, who lives in the Dar Paign camp in Rakhine State, told IRIN. “Now if we don’t appear in the census, are we really here?”

UNFPA’s country representative Janet Jackson explained: “In Rakhine State before enumeration, opposition to any use of the term Rohingya proved far more serious than anticipated” and that “UNFPA voiced regret that people could not self-identify and were consequently not included in the census.” In a statement the agency said the move “could heighten tensions in Rakhine State.”

In the wake of the census, David Matheison, HRW’s senior Burma researcher lamented “the failure of the government, the UN and international donors to take action to effectively address the ethnic and religious divides that help fuel instability, violence and disenfranchisement”.

An international observer report called the census process in Rohingya areas “a complete failure”, explaining that Rohingyas “very much wanted to participate in the census but were prevented from doing so by the census field staff and the Department of Population officials.”

Why does exclusion from the census matter?

Srdjan Mrkic, chief of demographic statistics at the UN Statistics Division, explained that while an ethnicity question (along with religion and language) is not mandatory on a census, about 85 percent of countries do include it.

However, he explained, if ethnicity is included, there are guidelines for asking the question: “Ethnicity should be a completely blank line. Even if you list five options for ethnicity and have a line marked 'other', you are in a certain way appearing to limit the choice of responses. The enumerator must not guide responses in any way.”

In September the government released provisional results from the census, but said ethnicity data would not be published until 2015 on the grounds that such data could enflame intercommunal tensions.

Nonetheless, census information, with a zero count for Rohingya and an unknown number of people registered as “Bengali”, appears to be informing citizenship verification programmes, designed to determine who is eligible for documents based on how long their families have lived in Myanmar.

However, for those who qualify, documents will come without the label “Rohingya,” and probably with “Bengali” instead. According to HRW, “the stipulations of the Burma Citizenship Law governing the right to one of the three types of Burmese citizenship effectively deny to the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality.”

The government is running verification programmes in several locations, including Rakhine’s Myebon Township, which was razed in the 2012 violence, and where a high percentage of people reportedly accepted “Bengali” as their ethnicity on the 2014 census.

Some cling intensely to the identity term.

“I am Rohingya, I am not Bengali,” said Muhammad Uslan, 58. “I’m holding onto the name no matter what. In 2012 the Rakhines attacked us for our ethnicity, and today if they want to try to kill me again, they can - I’m not changing it.”

Others are open to the idea of shedding the Rohingya label in exchange for more rights.

“If we get equal rights with other ethnic groups by calling ourselves Bengalis, then we should accept that name,” said Hamid Huq, a 36-year-old living in a camp outside Sittwe.

However, even in his assertions, Huq retains distrust of the government and acknowledges pressure to change identity terms has been increasing.

“At every meeting we have with government officials, they always tell us we are going to have to register as Bengalis. But the government must declare it genuinely equal citizenship. I don’t trust this government so they must say this specifically or I won’t believe them,” he said.

“Even when foreign missions come to meet with us, Western government officials take us to the side and tell us that we should accept Bengali so we can leave the camps.”

What do international actors say?

In June 2014 after local media reported that the government had asked the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to apologize for using “Rohingya” in a presentation, UNICEF called the incident “an oversight”, asserting that the agency “had no intention of engaging in a discussion on [the] sensitive issue of ethnicity at that forum”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continues to use the term in his speeches about Myanmar.

In July, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar explained at the conclusion of her mission to the country: “I was repeatedly told not to use the term ‘Rohingya’ as this was not recognized by the government.”

A joint OCHA/UNDP mission to Rakhine ending on 11 September mentioned “ethnic Rakhine” and “Muslim” communities, but not “Rohingya”. An ICRC statement one day earlier used the same terms.

kk/am/cb

India: India's lack of refugee recognition leaves Myanmar's Rohingya in limbo

15 September 2014 - 1:56am
Source: AlertNet Country: India, Myanmar

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 15 Sep 2014 05:08 GMT

Author: Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Kohinoor, a stateless Rohingya Muslim, fled her home in Myanmar after a wave of attacks by majority Buddhists, she hoped for a chance to rebuild her life in a new country.

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