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Myanmar: Myanmar's Rakhine State denies persecution at root of migrant crisis

23 May 2015 - 1:43am
Source: Reuters - AlertNet Country: Myanmar

By Antoni Slodkowski and Tim McLaughlin

SITTWE, Myanmar/YANGON, May 22 (Reuters) - The head of the Myanmar state from which thousands of Rohingya Muslims are fleeing denied that persecution had prompted the exodus after the United States called on the country to deal with its root causes.

Read the full article

Indonesia: CFE-DMHA Disaster Information Report: Rohingya Crisis, 22 May, 2015 CHIP No. 1

22 May 2015 - 9:55pm
Source: Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance Country: Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar

BLUF – Potential Implications to PACOM

  • Mass migrations of ethnic Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar (Burma) may necessitate multinational support in looking for migrant vessels and providing locations to assist regional partner nations in alleviating the immediate humanitarian crisis.

  • Possibly requested support may include maritime domain awareness in Andaman Sea and nearby waters, search flights in international airspace, and information sharing with potential assisting countries: Malaysia, Indonesia,
    Thailand, and others as necessary.

  • Thailand is hosting a regional meeting on the issue on 29 May.

Myanmar: Visit Report | Thai-Burma Borderland, May 2015

22 May 2015 - 3:23pm
Source: HART Country: Myanmar

A new report from Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) detailing ongoing human rights abuses, land expropriation and military offensives committed by the Burmese Army against the ethnic national peoples in Burma.

The report is based upon findings from a recent visit to Burma, with interviews conducted with IDPs within Shan State and representatives from Community Based Organisations (CBOs) working with the Shan, Kachin, Karen and Karenni people.

Key findings:

Thai-Burma Borderlands 2015

  • The Burmese army uses ceasefires to extend its bases and escalate its military supply routes, and subsequently to renew military offensives. At present, fighting is rife in the Kokang self-administered region of Shan State, other areas of northern Shan State and Kachin State.
  • Atrocities perpetrated by the Burmese Army continue with impunity.
  • Expropriation of land, exploitation of natural resources and forced displacement continue unabated. The ethnic national peoples lack confidence in the ‘Peace Process’ and fear that the next election will not bring them stability and security: “Peace is only on the Government side’s terms. One side cannot make peace. There must be discussion between the Government, ethnic armed groups and political parties. There is no evidence of change for the people on the ground.”
  • Many aid organisations which have previously provided life-saving cross-border aid to ethnic national people have diverted their funds to official recipients working with the Burmese Government’s authorization in Rangoon and Naypyidaw: “It is very rare to have people asking about what is happening on the ground. No one is interested; they only care about the peace process”. This leaves small NGOs and CBOs seriously deprived of funds to help civilians in areas unreached by these larger organizations.

HART’s partners, Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and Doh Say, are making a transformational difference within communities in eastern Burma that are inaccessible by other aid organisations.

Myanmar: Japan Contributes JPY 2.362 Billion To United Nations Agencies In Myanmar

22 May 2015 - 3:15pm
Source: World Food Programme Country: Japan, Myanmar

NAY PYI TAW – Four United Nations organisations today welcomed a generous and timely contribution of 2.362 billion Japanese Yen (approximately US$ 19.5 million) from the Government of Japan to support humanitarian and development activities in Myanmar

Representatives of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) attended a ceremony at the Ministry of Border Affairs in Nay Pyi Taw to mark the occasion in the presence of Japan’s Ambassador to Myanmar H.E. Tateshi Higuchi; Myanmar’s Deputy Minister for Border Affairs H.E Major General Tin Aung Chit, and Deputy Minister for Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development H.E Dr Aung Myat Oo.

UN-Habitat received a contribution of JPY 631 million (US$ 5.2 million) which will contribute to helping Myanmar’s poor and vulnerable communities affected by conflicts and natural disasters to address the emergency needs to restore their normal life and to sustainably improve quality of life. The project has specific objective of assisting vulnerable communities, mostly women and children, to respond to unexpected disaster conditions through all project activities, promoting active participation of women, immediate recovery of vulnerable communities’ economic and social actions and providing safer and healthy environment for children. The project will support most vulnerable urban poor families to re-construct low-cost housing in Yangon and will assist conflict affected communities restoration community infrastructure in Mansi and Momauk Townships (Kachin State) and Pekkon Township (Shan State) through people’s process.

UNHCR received a contribution of JPY 279 million (US$ 2.3 million) which will support the agency’s activities in assisting the Myanmar Government in its response to the needs of internally displaced people (IDPs) as part of the United Nations inter-agency efforts in Kachin State, northern Shan State and Rakhine State. "Japan’s support will greatly assist IDPs and other people of concern to UNHCR as we work to support Myanmar in its efforts to find durable solutions to displacement and enhance the protection of people” said Giuseppe De Vincentiis, UNHCR’s Representative. In the inter-agency humanitarian response, UNHCR is the agency responsible for shelter, relief items, camp coordination and camp management, as well as leading the protection sector in its efforts in Myanmar.

Japan's contribution of JPY 452 million (US$ 3.75 million) to UNICEF will help to improve maternal and child health and equitable access to Infant and Young Child Feeding counselling, micronutrient supplementation and the management of acute malnutrition in Kachin State, northern Shan State and Rakhine State. This partnership will also help to increase access to primary and pre-primary education and Non Formal Education (NFE) opportunities, and to strengthen the protection of children from violence, abuse and exploitation through increased case management services. “Children do not start conflicts, yet they are most vulnerable to their effects. Violence and conflict harm children, disrupt their education, deny them access to essential health services, and increase poverty, malnutrition and disease”, said Bertrand Bainvel, Representative at UNICEF Myanmar. “This contribution will make a difference by transforming the lives of thousands of children from Myanmar.”

Japan’s generous JPY 1 billion (US$8.2 million) contribution to WFP will support life-saving food assistance to internally displaced people in Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan States, whose livelihoods have been disrupted by conflict and violence. The contribution will be used to buy rice, pulses, oil and salt - the food commodities that WFP distributes each month to the displaced populations - as well as blended food, which is provided to children under five and pregnant women and nursing mothers in view of preventing malnutrition. Ninety percent of the food will be purchased locally, thereby also supporting Myanmar farmers and contributing to the national economy.

#

For more information please contact:
Oddy Angelo Barrios - Project Manager, United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat, oddyangel@gmail.com, 95-1-542910-19 Ext. 160
Medea Savary - Associate Public Information Officer, UNHCR Myanmar / savary@unhcr.org / +95 944 802 7892
Mariana Palavra - Communication Specialist, UNICEF Myanmar / mpalavra@unicef.org / Tel: +95 9795452618
Ayuka Ibe - Head of Partnerships, Reports & Communications, WFP Myanmar / ayuka.ibe@wfp.org / +95 9450061236

Myanmar: Bay of Bengal: Who are the "boat people", trapped at sea?

22 May 2015 - 1:55pm
Source: Solidarités International Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

Recent months have seen thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi people, fleeing difficult living conditions in their home countries, take to the seas aboard makeshift boats. Since the closure of the Malaysian border a few days ago, they have been trapped at sea, often in appalling conditions. But who are these people, and what exactly are they trying to escape? Christophe Vavasseur, Solidarités International’s Asia Desk Manager, offers some insight.

Who are these "boat people", adrift at sea?

Most of the "boat people" are from the Muslim Rohingya minority, but there are also some Bangladeshi people. The Rohingya are fleeing oppression in both Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh. Over a million Rohingya live in the two countries combined, with hundreds of thousands more living in other countries in Asia. After the inter-communal violence which broke out in 2012, many of them found themselves living in camps in Rakhine State, Burma, where conditions are appalling, and where their movements are strictly limited. They are deprived of access to education and health services, and are subject to stringent administrative restrictions. While the Burmese authorities are engaged in the search for a sustainable solution, there has been very little concrete improvement in the Rohingya people’s living conditions. The entrenchment of this situation gives them an even greater incentive to leave: but they are often unaware of the risks they’ll face during the journey.

Why do they face discrimination in their countries of origin?

The Rohingyas face discrimination from some extremist Buddhist leaders, and from some elements of the Burmese population. These groups consider the Rohingya to be a threat to Burmese identity. It’s a kind of religious nationalism according to which Muslims cannot be considered to be Burmese citizens, nor their presence tolerated on Burmese soil. The situation has been ongoing for several decades, but it’s also a result of the dissolution of the Junta in 2011, which led to the resurgence of religious tensions that had been suppressed for decades, revealing a latent Islamaphobia. But their suffering is not confined to within the Burmese border, and their statelessness - the Rohingyas were stripped of their Burmese citizenship under the citizenship law of 1982 - both makes them outcasts, and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation throughout the sub-region.

Why do they take to the sea? Have they been forced out of their homelands?

They haven’t necessarily been forced out, as such. In most cases, they choose to leave (whether Burma, Bangladesh or another neighbouring country) to escape the fate that awaits them, and in the hopes of making a better life for themselves and their families. But all too often, their lives are shattered.

Where do they come from, exactly? And what kind of conditions do they live in?

The majority of the Rohingya people live in Rakhine State, Burma, or in Bangladesh. Because they are stateless, they are often forced to live in isolated areas, in villages or camps, where hygiene conditions are very poor and where access to basic services is extremely limited. This creates what are essentially lawless areas, where people are extremely vulnerable to human exploitation and severe malnutrition. However, it is hard to have a clear picture of the situation because it’s so difficult for humanitarian actors to gain access to these areas.

Why do we never hear about them in the media?

Although this catastrophic situation is not new, it’s rarely covered by the mainstream Western media, which tend to prefer stories with a more immediate appeal to their audiences. At the moment, people are perhaps more open to the issue because of the tragic events that are happening in the Mediterranean. And it maybe reminds people, albeit subconsciously, of the Vietnamese boat people of the 1970s, which was something of a turning point in the history of humanitarian aid. But the crisis in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea is regularly covered by the sub-region’s media. It’s a human crisis which people are aware of on a local level. Those actors with the power to change things cannot claim not to know what’s going on.

How and why should we help them?

To put an end to the despair in which these people live - a despair so profound that they’re prepared to risk their lives to escape it - a sustainable solution must be found, and this can only happen at a regional level. Those countries concerned by the issue need to come together and agree on what can be done to stop these harmful trends, particularly under the aegis of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), whose policy of non-interference reached its limits when so many countries found themselves incapable of properly managing the flow of migrants. Coupled with advocacy actions, solutions to ease suffering, here and now, can only be found by humanitarian NGOs working tirelessly to increase access to these families in order to supply them with decent basic services. There are only a handful of us who manage to do so. SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL is one of the main actors working on this issue in several of the countries concerned.

What is SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL doing to help them?

SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL is working to ensure that at least some of these people have access to clean drinking water, in camps for displaced people or in host villages. These populations already face serious problems stemming from the scarcity and salinity of water available. Hygiene conditions are generally appalling. One of our goals is therefore to improve sanitation and encourage the adoption of good hygiene practices. This helps reduce the risks of epidemics and lower morbidity among the most vulnerable segments of the population, without interfering with their way of thinking - which sometimes leads them to take to the sea. The responsibility for rescuing those stranded at sea, and for ensuring that International Law is respected, lies with states. Once people take to the sea, there is very little we as humanitarian NGOs can do to help without taking serious security risks. But working to help them as long as they are still on dry land is a considerable feat - and it’s something we can be proud of, given the many difficulties we face in trying to do so.

Myanmar: Visit of Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken May 21-22

22 May 2015 - 11:27am
Source: US Department of State Country: Myanmar

May 22, 2015

Yangon – During his May 21-22 visit to Naypyitaw and Yangon, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken emphasized the importance of continued political, economic, and social reforms to ensure sustained democratic change in Myanmar in his meetings with government, ethnic and civil society group leaders, political party representatives, and youth leaders. Deputy Secretary Blinken shared U.S. government concerns about the migrants from Rakhine State and Bangladesh who are increasingly risking their lives for a better future. He emphasized the importance of regional actors to cooperate to address this issue and urged governments in the region, including Myanmar, to provide urgent humanitarian and medical assistance to those aboard these ships, and allow individuals to disembark safely. Deputy Secretary Blinken reiterated that the Myanmar government must fulfill its previous commitments to improve the living conditions of all those affected by the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State in order to find durable solutions to these problems. The U.S. government continues to support the efforts of humanitarian organizations to provide assistance to all vulnerable populations, without regard to ethnicity or faith.

Deputy Secretary Blinken conveyed the U.S. government’s support for inclusive, credible, and transparent elections to occur on schedule later this year, and encouraged active engagement between civil society and the government to promote reform. He also expressed support for continued high-level political dialogue among key stakeholders to build trust, discuss constitutional reform, prepare for the elections, and advance national reconciliation.

He also raised concerns on the four bills related to race and religion, the status of “white card” holders, and the harmful impact of hate speech targeting minority groups in meetings with President Thein Sein; Shwe Mann, Speaker of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw; Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services; Minister of Foreign Affairs Wunna Maung Lwin; and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, MP and Chairperson of the Pyithu Hluttaw Committee for Rule of Law and Tranquility.

Deputy Secretary Blinken’s meetings in Yangon focused on the upcoming election, the peace process, empowering youth and civil society, and the inherent challenges faced by the country in its transition to democracy. The Deputy Secretary commended all sides for continuing to pursue a national ceasefire agreement, but also acknowledged that a durable peace would require trust building, military restraint, and sincere commitment to political dialogue. He stressed that Myanmar’s potential was tied to embracing the religious and cultural diversity of the country. He highlighted our commitment to Southeast Asia’s youth, embodied in the U.S. government’s Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI). Over 3,000 YSEALI members are from Myanmar, and nearly 30 members have already participated in YSEALI exchanges programs to the U.S. and around the region.

This was Deputy Secretary Blinken’s first trip to the country.

Bangladesh: A lifeline for undocumented Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

22 May 2015 - 10:39am
Source: European Commission Humanitarian Aid department Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

Over the last week, the world has been following the tragic fate of thousands of migrants drifting in the Andaman Sea after being abandoned by ruthless human traffickers. Many of these desperate migrants are Rohingya, a muslim minority from Myanmar who have been fleeing persecution back home – where they are not recognised as citizens.

The present crisis was triggered by inter-ethnic violence in 2012. Since then, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled the country, hoping to find a better future in South-East Asia. But this is hardly the first time Rohingya are pushed across borders: for 30 years the community has been seeking refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

However, only a fraction of those who have crossed over are officially recognised as refugees. For years, the European Commission has been funding life-saving support to some 45 000 non-registered refugees, who cannot access government services and don’t have access to any other form of aid. European solidarity also extends to the local host communities, as the Rohingya are settled in one of poorest districts of the country.

Read more about EU humanitarian aid to the Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar/Burma.

Text and photo by EU/ECHO/Pierre Prakash

Myanmar: Myanmar's Rohingya parents anxious for news of missing children

22 May 2015 - 8:46am
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Myanmar

Sittwe, Myanmar | AFP | Friday 5/22/2015 - 08:52 GMT

By Kelly MACNAMARA

A generation of young Rohingya Muslims are disappearing on boats to escape persecution and despair in Myanmar, leaving frantic parents behind clutching on to little more than photographs and fading hope that their children are safe.

Fragments of news of the boat people crisis gripping Southeast Asia has filtered into Ohn Daw Gyi displacement camp on the fringes of the Rakhine state capital Sittwe in western Myanmar, stirring panic among families from the stateless Rohingya minority.

Tun Hla Shwe's 19-year-old daughter and her two small children have been missing on the seas for more than two months.

"We heard about the stranded boats. Some people said the crew throw people into the sea if they die. They do it if children die. When I heard about it, I thought that my two grandchildren may die," he told AFP of the infants, aged two and four.

"They cannot even stand it if they don't have a snack every five minutes. It has been more than two months. If they don't eat anything they will die," he said, breaking into sobs.

Tens of thousands have taken to the sea in recent years from Myanmar and Bangladesh, risking everything with people smugglers for the chance of a better future in Malaysia and beyond.

It is the largest regional exodus since Vietnamese fled in droves following the end of the Vietnam war.

But unwanted at home, they often encounter exploitation abroad, a trail of misery facilitated by a web of traffickers.

Many are Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar fleeing discrimination, poverty and the threat of violence in Rakhine state, where communal bloodshed and waves of arson attacks swept tens of thousands from their homes three years ago.

The displaced now live in camps in scrubland currently baking under a tropical sun and soon to bear the brunt of another monsoon season.

The Rohingya are not recognised in Myanmar where they are largely viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, denied citizenship status by the government, and face a raft of restrictions on their movement and family size.

Faces of the missing

As AFP spoke to relatives of migrants in a makeshift bamboo camp teashop, a queue of anguished families formed saying that had no idea what fate had befallen loved ones swept into a vast and lucrative people-smuggling chain stretching across Southeast Asia.

Many were clutching precious photographs of the missing, protected in plastic wrapping.

In one picture two teenage boys in matching green football strips posed solemnly in front of their bamboo hut. Another showed a young woman dressed for a special occasion in her finest sequined outfit.

All of the dozen or so family members and friends of migrants who approached AFP were worried about missing young people, aged between 17 and their early 20s, a sign that a whole generation are fleeing.

Many were just children when unrest in Rakhine in 2012 forced them from their homes in and around Sittwe and into the sprawling camps that now house some 140,000 people.

The makeshift tents and emergency shelters have made way for sturdier bamboo huts, internationally-funded schools and modest grocery shops.

But the settlements remain bleak, with little prospect of education or jobs for those reaching adulthood under the restrictions that govern even basic aspects of daily life.

Mahmood Husoon said his 17-year-old son Eimar slipped away from home a month and a half ago without telling his family, but his reasons for leaving were less of a mystery.

"It is difficult to make a living here. He might have been angry," said Husoon, showing Eimar smiling with a friend in a blurred picture on his battered old mobile phone.

For many of the parents, the loss of their children has exacerbated the agony of the isolation they already face in the camps.

One mother, named only as Janankhathu, said the last time she heard of her 17-year-old son Abu Hashin was from a woman claiming to have passed him food on a boat in Thai waters two months ago.

"Even if he wanted to call me," she said, "I have no telephone."

klm/apj/fa

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: Some 200 people brought ashore in Myanmar

22 May 2015 - 7:48am
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees Country: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes the landing today of more than 200 people who had been stranded at sea off the coast of Rakhine State, Myanmar. Following their disembarkation, they were taken to a reception centre in southern Maungdaw where they are receiving immediate assistance.

UNHCR has set up the reception centre in collaboration with local authorities. We are working closely with partners to assist the Myanmar Government in ensuring that the needs of people – including water, food, medical assistance and protection – are met.

It’s estimated that up to 2,000 people are still stranded on boats in the Bay of Bengal, and a further 1,500 further to the south in the Andaman Sea area. We hope that this recent positive development will be followed by other disembarkations in Myanmar and across the region. This needs to happen before the coming monsoon rains. As we have previously emphasized, the priority is to save lives by getting people safely off these boats as soon as possible.

Since Wednesday’s announcement that Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand would work together to assist people in distress at sea, UNHCR has been talking to governments about support we can provide. We have shared recommendations on the way forward, which include meeting emergency humanitarian needs and jointly finding medium-to-longer term solutions.

UNHCR has already beefed up its response in Indonesia’s Aceh and North Sumatra provinces, where most of the rescues have taken place. More than 1,800 Rohingya and Bangladeshis have arrived since May 10 and UNHCR has deployed staff from Bangkok, Jakarta, Medan and Kupang to assess their protection needs. So far our teams have registered close to 600 Rohingya asylum-seekers at two sites.

Out of the more than 300 Rohingya registered at the Kuala Cangkoi site in Aceh province, half are unaccompanied children. UNHCR has conducted a rapid assessment of their needs and is working to trace their families in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia. Our team has also conducted an awareness session on gender-based violence for designated community leaders.

More than 400 people who were rescued on Wednesday off the green boat that was featured prominently in the media, are now at a site in Bayeun, Aceh. UNHCR is setting up protection mechanisms and mapping partners’ activities and will start registering asylum-seekers shortly.

In Malaysia – where over 1,100 people have arrived since May 10 – UNHCR has offered its assistance to the Malaysian authorities and is awaiting a response.

In southern Thailand our team is distributing relief items to recent boat arrivals and people found after their jungle camps were abandoned by smugglers. We continue to interview and counsel these Rohingya men, women and children to identify their needs, trace family links and seek longer-term solutions.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

In Bangkok, Vivian Tan on mobile +66 818 270 280

In Yangon, Kasita Rochanakorn on mobile +95 94 48 02 78 92

In Malaysia, Yante Ismail on mobile +601 3 352 6286

In Indonesia, Mitra Salima Suryono on mobile +62 818 157 962

In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120

In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106

Myanmar: Myanmar: Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 4 | 1 – 30 April 2015

22 May 2015 - 7:23am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Myanmar

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Small-scale returns to Laukkaing as clashes continue in Kokang

  • Temporary displacement in northern Shan and Kachin states

  • Over 300 IDP households move into new individual housing in Meiktila

  • Hundreds displaced by clashes in Rakhine State

  • Working with the government to strengthen disaster preparedness

FIGURES

People who remain displaced in Rakhine State 139,000

People who remain displaced in Kachin and northern Shan states 100,000

FUNDING

$190 million requested for the 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan (US$) 16% funded ($29.5 million)

$53.9 million: Total humanitarian funding received for Myanmar (includes activities outside the Humanitarian Response Plan)

Myanmar: IOM Sees Progress in SE Asia Migrant Crisis, But Warns More Must be Done

22 May 2015 - 7:05am
Source: International Organization for Migration Country: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

Indonesia - The migrant crisis in Southeast Asia has entered a new phase, with over half of those originally estimated to be at sea now on dry land, some for the first time in almost four months.

IOM welcomed the positive statement made by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on Wednesday (20/5), but says there is still much to be done.

“Regardless of the excellent humanitarian gestures from the countries directly affected, there are still thousands of highly vulnerable people at sea,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing. “Every hour that they are at sea is an hour too long. That is why our clarion call is for them to be found, rescued, brought to shore and given the urgent, life-saving care that they need.”

Consolidated government/IOM figures released late yesterday showed that over 3,600 people had disembarked in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh. Just under half are from Bangladesh; the remainder claim to be Rohingya.

Regional governments, IOM, UN agencies, the US government and other concerned parties are due to meet in Bangkok on May 29th to discuss the Indian Ocean migration crisis.

The meeting is expected to address long-term solutions for migrants and asylum seekers, in accordance with the conditions put in place by the three affected governments of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. It will also look at how trafficking and people smuggling in the region can be halted.

“IOM’s view is, and has always been, that the source, transit and destination countries have to cooperate to protect the vulnerable and prosecute the smugglers, who are no peddlers of misery and death,” said Ambassador Swing.

“However, this has to be backed up with enlightened development policies and legal migration to allow every human being to provide for themselves and their families,” he added.

IOM has begun to dramatically increase its presence in centres where the boat people have been housed in Indonesia, with 25 staff already at four centres, providing medical and psycho-social assistance, food and water, shelter and non-food relief items.

As the operation intensifies, IOM will continue first aid and health screening on arrival for any injured or sick migrants, as well as providing water, food, shelter and live-saving assistance.

The organization will also provide transport to reception centers, as well a full range of services within these centers. This will include Assisted Voluntary Return to their home countries and reintegration for those who request it.

“IOM guarantees to be part of the long-term solution to this long-running saga, which this week has pricked the conscience of the world,” said Ambassador Swing. “But without an immediate surge in search and rescue there will – tragically – be no long term for these desperate, marooned migrants.”

Analysis: An estimated 58,000 people are believed to have undertaken dangerous, irregular migration by boat across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea in 2014. Another 25,000 joined them in the first quarter of 2015.

They were part of a mixed migratory movement that included asylum-seekers, stateless people and economic migrants. Unregulated and until recently inconspicuous, the scale of the movement has tripled since 2012 and the abuse of voyagers has become increasingly grotesque.

Men, women and children risked being starved, constrained, beaten and forcibly separated. Women and girls are particularly at risk of rape and sexual violence.

Often ashore, but recently also on board smugglers’ boats, migrants have been detained and held for ransom, with smugglers extorting on average USD 2,000 each from their families. Non-payment could be fatal.

What may have begun as a voluntary journey was transformed into something no one would choose. The number of deaths is unknown, but is likely higher than the 1.2 per cent estimated to perish of disease or mistreatment at sea or in clandestine smuggling camps.

IOM also estimates that 1.9 per cent of migrants undertaking this perilous journey developed beriberi – a vitamin B1 deficiency that if left untreated can lead to death.

The widely publicized discovery of numerous graves in smuggling camps in Southern Thailand last month prompted a crackdown on smuggling networks, confirming the brutal conditions that were widely suspected.

Myanmar: Myanmar: Kayin State - All Projects Under Implementation (Village Tract Level) - March 25, 2015

22 May 2015 - 2:57am
Source: Myanmar Information Management Unit Country: Myanmar

Note: This map represents information as reported by organisations contributing to the MIMU 3W. Inclusion of an organisation on this map does not imply endorsement by the United Nations or its projects. Note that this map shows presence of an organisation and does not indicate the volume of assistance, the number of beneficiaries, or the extent to which needs are met or unmet.

Overview of the April 2015 3W Kayin State

Myanmar: Myanmar: South East - All Projects Under Implementation (Village Tract Level) - March 25, 2015

22 May 2015 - 2:50am
Source: Myanmar Information Management Unit Country: Myanmar

Note: This map represents information as reported by organisations contributing to the MIMU 3W. Inclusion of an organisation on this map does not imply endorsement by the United Nations or its projects. Note that this map shows presence of an organisation and does not indicate the volume of assistance, the number of beneficiaries, or the extent to which needs are met or unmet.

Overview of the Apr. 2015 3W for South East of Myanmar (Bago (East), Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Shan (East), Shan (South) and Tanintharyi)

Myanmar: No: 160, 20 May 2015, Press Release Regarding the Delivery of Humanitarian Aid to the Rohingyas and Bengalis Stranded in the Andaman Sea

22 May 2015 - 1:52am
Source: Government of Turkey Country: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Turkey

Turkey’s initiatives at the regional and international level continue in order to ensure a rapid response to the tragedy of thousands of Rohingyas and Bengalis, who, as they were being taken from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Indonesia and Thailand by human traffickers, were stranded in the Andaman Sea in their boats.

In this context, we have pledged 1 million US dollars to the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to be used for humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas and Bengalis.

Turkey is also exploring the possibilities of conducting a humanitarian aid operation to ensure the direct delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas and Bengalis stranded at sea.

Our contacts with international organizations, including the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the International Organization for Migration as well as with regional countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia continue at the highest level.

It is the humanitarian and moral duty of the international community to mobilize all capabilities with a view to finding a solution to this tragedy.

Turkey is also ready to do its utmost to help the Rohingyas and Bengalis in the face of this terrible situation.

We welcome the pledge made by Indonesia and Malaysia during the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand held in Kuala Lumpur on 20 May 2015 to temporarily host the people stranded at sea. All of our relevant institutions and organizations, particularly AFAD and the Turkish Red Crescent, have already mobilized their efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to Indonesia and Malaysia.

As the world’s largest humanitarian donor with respect to national income and fully cognizant of its humanitarian duties and responsibilities, Turkey will continue to mobilize all efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the people in need in a most rapid and effective manner, wherever they are in the world. As humanitarian crises such as this one painfully demonstrate, there is an urgent need to make the global humanitarian system more efficient.

Myanmar: Myanmar navy carries out first rescue of migrant boat

21 May 2015 - 11:39pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

Sittwe, Myanmar | AFP | Friday 5/22/2015 - 09:48 GMT

By Kelly MACNAMARA / Hla-Hla HTAY

Myanmar's navy Friday said it had carried out its first rescue of a migrant boat after mounting international pressure, as the UN warned the impending monsoon rains imperil thousands still stranded at sea.

"A navy ship found two boats... on May 21 while on patrol," Tin Maung Swe, a senior official in the western state of Rakhine told AFP, adding "about 200 Bengalis were on one of the boats".

"Bengalis" is a term often used pejoratively by Myanmar officials to describe the Muslim Rohingya minority, 1.3 million of whom live in the country but are not recognised as citizens.

The widespread persecution of the impoverished community in Rakhine state is one of the primary causes for the current regional exodus, alongside growing numbers trying to escape poverty in neighbouring Bangladesh.

The navy rescue was welcomed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which said it was helping local authorities provide assistance to the migrants.

But fears remain for many more still left on boats in the Bay of Bengal.

"We hope that this recent positive development will be followed by other disembarkations in Myanmar and across the region, well in advance of the coming monsoon rains," UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan told AFP.

The imminent monsoon season, when heavy rains and cyclones lash the region, usually signal a significant drop off in regional boat migrant numbers.

But a recent crackdown on the people smuggling trade in Thailand led to scores of migrants being abandoned by gangmasters on stricken boats just as the weather is set to change.

In the Bay of Bengal, the UNHCR believes up to 2,000 migrants are still stuck on vessels controlled by people smugglers who have been unwilling to begin the journey south because of the crackdown.

A trickle of would-be migrants have recently returned to Myanmar after relatives raised funds to buy them back from smugglers.

The boat discovered by Myanmar's navy was Thai-owned and was guided to shore in Maungdaw township before dawn on Friday -- the departure point for many Rohingya boats.

Photographs on the Ministry of Information's Facebook page showed scores of bare-chested men crammed into the hull of a wooden fishing vessel as it made land.

The second vessel was empty, Tin Maung Swe said.

"Necessary medical healthcare and foods have been provided" to the passengers at a temporary camp in Maungdaw, he said.

"All of the 208 on board are from Bangladesh," he added, repeating Myanmar's official line that the migrants are from over the border.

US urges regional partnership

On Thursday the foreign ministers of Malaysia and Indonesia -- whose countries are destination points for Rohingya fleeing persecution -- met Myanmar officials as pressures mount to stem the migrant exodus from its shores.

Earlier this week, Malaysia and Indonesia relented on a hardline policy of pushing back the boats, and said their nations would accept the migrants for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies.

A US team led by Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken was also in Naypyidaw for talks with Myanmar's President Thein Sein.

In a Facebook post released late Thursday the US Embassy in Yangon said Blinken had "urged the Myanmar government to work with regional partners" in tackling the crisis.

The senior diplomat also "noted the contradictions inherent in the four race and religion bills to the government's efforts to protect human rights".

That was a reference to draft legislation that includes curbs on interfaith marriage, religious conversion and birth rates, which are seen by activists as particularly discriminatory against women and minorities - with the already marginalised Rohingya likely to be affected.

Myanmar has seen surging Buddhist nationalism in recent years and spates of violence targeting Muslim minorities have raised doubts over its much vaunted reforms after decades of harsh military rule.

Both the US and UN have raised particular concerns about the laws proposed by President Thein Sein, seen as a response to campaigns by hardline Buddhist monks in a key election year.

Noble Peace Prize winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is yet to comment on the current crisis, a silence that observers attribute to fears over alienating a swathe of the electorate just months ahead of the polls.

hla/jta/apj/as

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: Boat people grateful for sanctuary, baffled by Gambia offer

21 May 2015 - 11:39pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Bangladesh, Gambia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

Bayeun, Indonesia | AFP | Friday 5/22/2015 - 03:07 GMT

by Olivia Rondonuwu

Boat people who have come ashore in Southeast Asia after harrowing journeys are delighted that Indonesia and Malaysia will give them temporary shelter -- although some were baffled by an offer of sanctuary in a tiny African nation they had never heard of.

Nearly 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have been rescued or swum to shore in recent days in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, after a Thai crackdown on long-established human-trafficking routes threw the illicit trade into chaos.

The three nations had sparked outrage by turning away some vessels, but on Wednesday Indonesia and Malaysia relented, saying they would no longer drive boats away and would give migrants temporary shelter.

Thailand did not sign on fully to the initiative, saying only that it would no longer push boats out of Thai waters.

In Indonesia's western Aceh province, where around 1,800 Rohingya -- a persecuted Muslim minority from predominantly Buddhist Myanmar -- and Bangladeshis have landed since the crisis began, the news was greeted with joy.

"I am happy now that Indonesia and Malaysia are accepting Rohingya," said Muhammadul Hasson, a 17-year-old who was rescued last week along with hundreds of other desperate people.

"Everything will be better now. People in Arakan are tortured continuously and they will keep on coming," he added, referring to the Rohingya's home state of Rakhine in western Myanmar.

But there was some confusion over an offer from the impoverished West African nation of Gambia to take in all Rohingya migrants as part of its "sacred duty" to alleviate the suffering of fellow Muslims.

Asked about the offer, Hasson simply responded: "What is the meaning of Gambia?"

Muhammad Jaber, a 27-year-old Rohingya, was another migrant who was puzzled when confronted with the idea of going to live in a country thousands of miles away that he knew nothing about.

However, he concluded: "If it is a Muslim country and they accept us as their citizens, why not?"

Gambia's offer stands in stark contrast with iron-fisted President Yahya Jammeh's professed disdain for the thousands of African migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, including many from his own country.

  • 'Everything will be better now' -

The migrants' joy at the decision by Malaysia and Indonesia was untempered, however.

The stateless Rohingya suffer constant abuse in Myanmar, with the government insisting they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

They have long been boarding rickety boats to cross the Bay of Bengal, normally headed for relatively affluent, Muslim-majority Malaysia, and have in recent years been joined by Bangladeshis seeking to escape grinding poverty.

Jaber said he did not feel any anger towards Indonesia or Malaysia, despite their previous hardline stance.

Both countries are now offering to accept the boat people for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies. Jakarta is not obliged to resettle migrants as it is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention.

"We are ready to go to any country where they can accept us as citizens, but we will not go back to Myanmar," Jaber said.

The migrants normally spend months at sea before making it to land and grim tales have emerged, with Rohingya and Bangladeshis on one boat telling how they fought fierce battles over dwindling supplies that left at least 100 dead.

Some of the latest arrivals, from a group of 400 Rohingya rescued off the Aceh coast Wednesday, were being housed in a hastily erected tent village in the ruins of an old building in the village of Bayeun.

They told of a horrific voyage, drifting helplessly in the final days as they were pushed away by Thailand and then Malaysia, and said sending them back to Myanmar would be a death sentence.

"If the government of Indonesia returns us to Myanmar, it is the same as killing us," said Sohidullah, 45.

Hasson said he was happy to go to any other nation, but he had one condition: "I never want to go to another country by boat. Never again."

olr-sr/st/sls

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Thailand: HART Visit Report: Thai-Burma Borderlands

21 May 2015 - 10:09pm
Source: HART Country: Myanmar, Thailand

A new report from Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) detailing ongoing human rights abuses, land expropriation and military offensives committed by the Burmese Army against the ethnic national peoples in Burma.

The report is based upon findings from a recent visit to Burma, with interviews conducted with IDPs within Shan State and representatives from Community Based Organisations (CBOs) working with the Shan, Kachin, Karen and Karenni people.

Key findings:

  • The Burmese army uses ceasefires to extend its bases and escalate its military supply routes, and subsequently to renew military offensives. At present, fighting is rife in the Kokang self-administered region of Shan State, other areas of northern Shan State and Kachin State.

  • Atrocities perpetrated by the Burmese Army continue with impunity.

  • Expropriation of land, exploitation of natural resources and forced displacement continue unabated.

  • The ethnic national peoples lack confidence in the ‘Peace Process’ and fear that the next election will not bring them stability and security: “Peace is only on the Government side’s terms. One side cannot make peace. There must be discussion between the Government, ethnic armed groups and political parties. There is no evidence of change for the people on the ground.”

  • Many aid organisations which have previously provided life-saving cross-border aid to ethnic national people have diverted their funds to official recipients working with the Burmese Government’s authorization in Rangoon and Naypyidaw: “It is very rare to have people asking about what is happening on the ground. No one is interested; they only care about the peace process”. This leaves small NGOs and CBOs seriously deprived of funds to help civilians in areas unreached by these larger organizations.

HART’s partners, Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and Doh Say, are making a transformational difference within communities in eastern Burma that are inaccessible by other aid organisations.

You can download the report below. Printed and large copies are available on request from HART.

Cambodia: Cambodia to accept first Australia deal asylum-seekers

21 May 2015 - 3:19pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Australia, Cambodia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Myanmar, Nauru

Phnom Penh, Cambodia | AFP | Thursday 5/21/2015 - 14:00 GMT

Cambodia said Thursday it has agreed to take its first batch of asylum seekers from Australian custody as part of a controversial deal between the countries that triggered widespread international criticism.

Four refugees held by Australia on the remote Pacific island of Nauru will soon be transferred to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation, Cambodia's interior ministry said.

"The four refugees have filled in the voluntary applications," Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the ministry, told AFP.

"Then the Ministry of Interior asked the government to have the four refugees resettle permanently in Cambodia and the head of the government (Prime Minister Hun Sen) approved this request yesterday," he added.

The refugees include a Rohingya man from Mynamar, two Iranian men and one Iranian woman, all of whom were granted refugee status on Nauru and had agreed to be moved, Khieu Sopheak added.

No date has been set for their arrival.

Under Canberra's hardline immigration policy, asylum-seekers who arrive by boat are denied resettlement in Australia and sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, even if they are genuine refugees.

Canberra signed a deal with Phnom Penh in September to allow those granted refugee status in Nauru to permanently resettle in Cambodia, one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.

The UN condemned the deal, while refugee advocates said asylum-seekers do not want to be sent to Cambodia.

Cambodia has also been criticised for its own record of helping refugees, including Vietnamese Montagnards who are often deported.

The mainly Christian ethnic minorities in Vietnam's mountainous Central Highlands have crossed the border to Cambodia in recent years to escape discrimination.

suy-jta/as/jom

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: Joint statement: Ministerial meeting on irregular movement of people in Southeast Asia

21 May 2015 - 1:07pm
Source: Government of Indonesia, Government of Malaysia, Government of Thailand Country: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand met in Putrajaya, Malaysia on Wednesday, 20 May 2015 to discuss the issue of irregular movement of people into Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. This is with a view to finding a solution to the crisis of influx of irregular migrants and its serious impact on the national security of the affected countries.

They agreed to resolve this issue in keeping with the spirit of unity and solidarity of ASEAN as well as the aspiration to have a people-oriented and people-centered ASEAN.

Acknowledging the dire humanitarian circumstances of the crisis, the Ministers expressed their deep concern on the plight of the irregular migrants, including those currently on the high seas, and in particular women and children.

The Ministers emphasized that necessary measures have been taken by the three (3) countries on humanitarian grounds, beyond their international obligations, in addressing the current influx of irregular migrants and further underlined that the issue cannot be addressed solely by the three (3) countries.

The Ministers strongly condemn people smuggling and human trafficking and expressed their governments’ determination to continue to take the necessary action, individually and collectively, to bring the perpetrators of such heinous crimes to justice.

The Ministers acknowledged that a comprehensive and durable solution to the crisis requires, inter alia, the involvement of relevant stakeholders and through the various existing international mechanisms. This notwithstanding, they agreed to implement the following interim measures:

1. Addressing the Root Causes

The root causes and other contributory factors to the recent influx of irregular migrants should be immediately identified and addressed by the parties concerned. To this end, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand remain prepared to continue to assist and work, in a constructive manner with the parties concerned.

2. Role of Affected Countries

Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand will continue to uphold their responsibilities and obligations under international law and in accordance with their respective domestic laws, including the provision of humanitarian assistance to the irregular migrants.

Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants still at sea. We also agreed to offer them temporary shelter provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community. In the meantime, Malaysia and Indonesia invite other countries in the region to join in this endeavour.

The enforcement agencies of the countries concerned will continue to share intelligence information in their efforts to combat people smuggling and human trafficking.

3. Role of the International Community

Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand call upon the international community to uphold their responsibility and urgently share the burden of providing the necessary support to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in addressing the problem. Subject to assurances by the international community to provide the necessary support, the Ministers propose the following:

i. The international community will be responsible in providing Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand with the necessary support, particularly financial assistance, to enable them to provide temporary shelter and humanitarian assistance to the irregular migrants currently at risk. These migrants will be sheltered in a designated area to be agreed by the affected countries and administered by a joint task force to be established by the affected countries;

ii. The international community will take responsibility for the repatriation of the irregular migrants to their countries of origin or resettlement to third countries within a period of one year.

4. Role of ASEAN

The Ministers called on ASEAN to play an active role in addressing the issue in an effective and timely manner, in the spirit of ASEAN solidarity. The Ministers further recommended the convening of an emergency meeting by the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime to address the crisis at hand. They welcomed ASEAN’s initiative to establish a regional framework to address trafficking in persons as well as provide assistance to victims through the ASEAN Convention on Trafficking in Persons.

Putrajaya

20 May 2015

World: Overview of Natural Disasters and their Impacts in Asia and the Pacific, 1970 - 2014 - March 2015

21 May 2015 - 11:19am
Source: UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Country: Bangladesh, China, Japan, Myanmar, Philippines, World

Key findings

  • Over 2 million people died from natural disasters between 1970 and 2014 in Asia and the Pacific, or 56.6 per cent of the fatalities globally. Earthquakes and tsunamis were the main cause of deaths, despite their relatively infrequent occurrences.

  • 6 billion people from the region were affected by disasters over the same period, or 87.6 per cent of people affected globally. Floods and drought were not the deadliest disasters but affected the highest number of people at 5 billion.

  • While reports on natural disasters are generally on the rise, floods and storms showed a steep increase in number and were the most frequent events.

  • The average number of fatalities per event is decreasing. The percentage of disasters killing more than 100 people has reduced since 1970.

  • Over US$ 1.15 trillion was lost from natural disasters during this 45 year period. Four types of disasters - earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and storms - were responsible for 91.8 per cent of the total economic losses.

  • Economic loss from natural disasters surged significantly in the region from $5 billion in the 1970s to around $75 billion in recent years, or 28 per cent of the global economic loss to 51 per cent more recently.

  • In Asia-Pacific, economic losses increased by almost 15 times since 1970 while the region’s GDP only grew 5 times, suggesting that building resilience to disasters is likely a necessary condition for protecting region’s growth prospects.

  • LDCs and SIDS are highly exposed to disaster risk. Natural disasters often jeopardized hard earned development gains in the region, and at the national level, vulnerable people generally suffer more when a disaster strikes.

  • When comparing the average annual economic losses from disasters with their GDP, LDCs lost US$ 592 million per year on average, or 0.97 per cent of their GDP.