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Bangladesh: Concern over Bangladesh move to repatriate Rohingyas to Myanmar

4 September 2014 - 7:31am
Source: IRIN Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

DHAKA, 4 September 2014 (IRIN) - Bangladesh announced this week that it will send back over 2,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, stoking concerns about the prospect of returning them to an increasingly dire situation.

"Myanmar has agreed to repatriate some 2,415 Myanmar nationals who are living in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar [southeastern Bangladesh]," Shahidul Haque, secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka, told IRIN. "We consider it a major breakthrough. They have remained verified [for repatriation] since 2005."

The Rohingyas have long faced persecution and discrimination, including being stateless in the eyes of Burmese law. Myanmar's government claims that historically they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and labels them 'Bengalis', vehemently denying the existence of any people called 'Rohingya'. The Bangladesh government would like the Rohingya refugees on its territory repatriated.

Outbursts of violence - called ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya by some - in Myanmar in 2012 led to 140,000 people (mainly Rohingyas) living in camps in Rakhine State, where they remain today.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are 200,000 to 500,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, of whom only 32,355 are documented and living in two government camps assisted by the agency, both within 2km of Myanmar. Most live in informal settlements or towns and cities in what Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has described as "deplorable conditions".

From 1992 to 2005, around 230,000 Rohingyas returned from Bangladesh to Myanmar under an agreement between the two governments, but the repatriation process stopped when the Burmese government refused to extend the agreement.

The decision to restart repatriation procedures was announced after the eighth round of consultations between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar in Dhaka on 31 August.

"Both sides agreed to start work on the formation of a joint committee within two months to exclusively deal with the issues of repatriation of refugees and their offsprings," Haque explained, adding that repatriation would begin once the joint committee was in place. Onchita Shadman, communication and public information associate at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Dhaka, explained: "We have learnt about an agreement between the two countries and are looking forward to finding out more information about the proposed repatriation."

While details remain for the committee to decide, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh greeted the announcement with mixed emotions - the prospect of returning home is both a cause for excitement and trepidation. Life as a refugee in Bangladesh is difficult; but the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State, which Rohingyas call home, has worsened in recent months as some aid agencies have withdrawn following attacks on facilities in March over perceived pro-Rohingya bias.

"Appalling" IDP camps in Rakhine

In March international aid workers fled Rakhine State after being targeted by Buddhist mobs who threw rocks at homes and offices in Sittwe (Rakhine's capital), over perceived humanitarian bias towards Rohingyas. Agencies have been slowly resuming full-scale operations since then.

During a 13 June visit to camps for internally displaced people in Rakhine State, the assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator, Kyung-wha Kang, called the situation "appalling, with wholly inadequate access to basic services including health, education, water and sanitation."

Mohammad Islam, a Rohingya refugee who lives at the Noyapara Rohingya Camp in Cox's Bazar, told IRIN: "I am really thankful to Bangladesh government for the initiative. We would be very delighted even if some of us can go back to Burma, because that's our home."

However, the 30-year-old said, choking back tears: "Our biggest concern is if we will be safe back in Burma? We don't have any rights in Burma. We don't have any dignity as human beings there. We are not entitled to our identity. Our properties and religious institutions are damaged. How we can be assured that we would be safe out there?"

Problematic returns

According to Shadman, "UNHCR hopes that any repatriation will be voluntary and in line with international standards thereby ensuring the safety and dignity of refugees."

However, the deteriorating situation and ongoing tensions in Myanmar's Rakhine State have others worried that any return could be dangerous for Rohingyas.

"We are ready to go back, but we are worried that we might have to face similar persecution again for that we once fled Burma," said Mohammad Zubair, 26, a Rohingya refugee at Noyapara Camp. "Now under these circumstances, if we go back, who will ensure that we will be safe there? I appeal to the Bangladesh government and the international community to create a congenial atmosphere for Rohingyas so that we are safe when we are back in Burma."

According to Islam, between 1992 to 2005 "more than 200,000 Rohingya were repatriated to Burma, but as much as 77 percent of them were forced to do so. They did not want to go back because they feared that they would not be safe there."

Observers have noted that past attempts to repatriate Rohingyas from Bangladesh have been problematic.

"The Rohingya repatriation, which the Bangladeshi and Burmese governments began in September 1992, was troubled from the outset," Human Rights Watch said, pointing to the December 1992 withdrawal of UNHCR from the joint repatriation programme with the Bangladeshi authorities after just a few months of operation "when it became clear that coercion was continuing".

An attempt in 2011 to repatriate the same 2,415 people (confirmed Myanmar citizens) now slated for return also failed, but Haque told IRIN he was confident that this time the process would be followed through.

Myanmar Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs U Thant Kyaw explained in a statement that Myanmar was prepared to receive the 2,415 Burmese citizens after the joint committee was formed, but asserted: "We have never had ethnic nationals called 'Rohingya', according to official list of indigenous ethnic groups of Myanmar as well as our historical records."

khk/kk/cb

Myanmar: Myanmar/Kachin: WASH Cluster Snapshot, August 2014

4 September 2014 - 2:04am
Source: UN Children's Fund, WASH Cluster Country: Myanmar preview

Highlights of the month

  • WASH surveillance template was finalized and started in some camps in Bhamo and Myitkyina area.
  • KAP survey and PDM-HK templates were finalized and will be facilitated to Partners as a monitoring tool.
  • Cluster supported to Oxfam facilitation about desludging technical working group meeting, TOR was stand by the end of August.
  • WASH-SHELTER cluster joint meeting was done. The Coordination, cross cutting issues and technical issues were discussed by WASH and SHELTER actors.
  • Participated in OCHA’s ERF (Emergency Response Fund) sharing with WAS partners in Bhamo.
  • The cluster monitored the updated information of North Shan emergency and closely work with NSS WASH actors for response if needed.
  • Organized to collect actual population data in camps and host families.
  • Presented the last cluster review to RRD

Myanmar: What Burma’s Rebel Educators Want From School Reform

3 September 2014 - 11:38pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By SAMANTHA MICHAELS / THE IRRAWADDY

HTEE KAW HTAW, Karen State — Forget your typical school district. If you’re a student in Karen State, what matters most for your education is whether you live in a white, gray or black zone.

Colors on a map. During six decades of civil war, ethnic Karen rebels divided their homeland in this way. White zones were enemy territory, where you would find government soldiers in pressed green uniforms. Farther into the lush jungles, gray zones were contested areas of mixed control, while black zones were held by the rebels themselves.

Education was also split along these lines. In white zones, teachers at government schools spoke Burmese language and taught the government’s approved curriculum. In black zones, the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) ran its own expansive school system, with teachers instructing in Karen language while emphasizing Karen history. In gray zones, especially in the later years of the war, so-called “mixed schools” promoted elements of both curricula.

But now, the distinctions are blurring. Both sides signed a ceasefire deal in 2012, and since then the government and government-approved NGOs have built more schools in mixed and rebel territories. Today, leaders of the KNU’s education department—known as the Karen Education Department (KED)—complain that sometimes the government sends its own teachers to KNU-funded schools and appoints them as headmasters.

Along with political and economic reforms, leaders in Naypyidaw are attempting to overhaul the national education system. In the process, ethnic educators say they fear a “quiet infiltration” into their territory—with government schools arriving first, followed by the necessary administration, such as government-approved village heads and police officers.

“That’s the ticket in. To send the others, they start with education,” says KED secretary Saw Law Eh Moo. “In the military, there’s a demarcation line. If they cross it, they have to let us know ahead of time. But for education, that demarcation line doesn’t exist.”

‘They Call Us Rebels’

While government schools tend to ignore the country’s legacy of ethnic warfare, Karen schools emphasize it, focusing on the armed conflict in Karen State that began in 1949. And there’s no sugar-coating: On the cover of a textbook about the Karen revolution is the image of a soldier’s silhouette and a large spattering of blood.

In fact, despite the de-escalation of hostilities since peace talks began, the KED secretary says he muses sometimes about requiring students to undergo mandatory military training, though he admits the idea would not be feasible: The KED school system is focused on education, and even proposing mandatory military training would likely upset the international donors that currently provide the KED with millions of dollars every year.

Still, even if armed clashes in Karen State are rare these days, Karen educators are not forgiving and forgetting easily. “The facts that we mention in our textbooks are very different from what has been mentioned in the government system,” Law Eh Moo says. “For example, they call us rebels or terrorists, and we also call them the same.”

Like other ethnic rebel groups, the KNU has a health department and an education department, which it developed about half a century ago. In the beginning, the KED used lesson plans written by Christian missionaries, but in the mid-1990s it began developing its own curriculum with help from international organizations on the Burma-Thailand border, where many Karen refugees fled during the war. The new curriculum covered not only Karen history, language and culture, but also more universal subjects like math, science and geography.

Today the Karen school system is known to be more progressive than the government’s system. Long before the Ministry of Education began instructing teachers to incorporate a “child-centered” approach, rather than all rote learning, Karen teachers were encouraging their students to join class discussions, while using local examples to illustrate complicated topics. In tenth-grade geography class, for example, students observe rivers in their village while learning about the water cycle and dams; compose rap songs about the weather and climate; germinate seeds in plastic trays to better understand forest ecosystems; and collect traditional Karen tools, dress and craftwork to learn about their culture.

As of last year, the KED supported 1,295 schools with more than 141,000 students—not only in Karen State, but also in predominately Karen areas of Pegu Division, Tenasserim Division and Mon State, which are considered by the KNU to be part of “the true” Karen State. “There’s the government map, and then there’s the reality,” says Ko Lo Htoo, director of the Karen State Education Assistance Group, which works closely with the KED.

Before the ceasefire, teachers at these schools were often forced to cancel classes during raids by government troops, while students and their families fled to the jungle for shelter.

“They had a policy to shoot on sight—anything that moved,” says the KED secretary, adding that they did not distinguish between Karen soldiers and civilians. “Even little kids—they said, ‘You will grow up and join the revolution, so why don’t we start with you now?’”

He adds that school buildings were often destroyed. “They burned, we built. They came back to destroy, we rebuilt. … We kept them busy.”

A Quiet Infiltration?

In a valley near the Moei River, which separates Karen State from Thailand, you’ll find Htee Kaw Htaw, a farming village of about 650 people. This territory is controlled by a pro-government militia, whose members formerly served the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), a rebel group that broke away from the KNU. Residents say they also see government soldiers sometimes at a local Buddhist monastery, while KNU soldiers come through nearly every day.

In 2010, the government replaced a small DKBA-funded school here with a new, much larger school. Today it is attended by 200 students, mostly Karen but also ethnic Burman, Pa-O and Mon. The school is clean and safe but bare and understaffed compared with schools in Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city. “I need a teaching aide and more space. We need a headmaster, more teachers, and more supplies,” says Saw Htoo Myat, 22, one of three teachers at the school who were hired by the government.

During most classes, he stands in front of a chalkboard and dictates lessons, but he’s trying to solicit participation more often. “I do it 35 minutes per day, asking questions to the students and writing their responses on the blackboard,” he says of the child-centered approach. “It’s difficult, but it makes the students happy.”

He follows the government-approved curriculum and teaches in Burmese language, even though most of his students speak Karen at home. This year, for the first time, he says he can offer a class on Karen language to help his students learn to read and write in their mother tongue.

Saw Myint Aung, 13, is the school’s top student for English language, but his friends tease him sometimes. “If you are Karen, why can’t you read or write Karen?” he says, recalling the taunts. He adds, “I want to learn to read and write Karen because I am Karen.”

Six teachers at the school were not hired by the government, including Cho Cho Lwin, 51, a community teacher who has taught in the village for more than a decade and is paid by the pro-governmental militia of former DKBA soldiers. “Government teachers make 116,000 kyats [US$116] per month. I make 2,500 baht [$80] per month. It’s not enough,” she says shyly. Asked whether she hopes for a higher salary or other reforms in the future, she adds, “I have no authority to suggest changes.”

The KED also pays community-hired teachers at other government schools, usually a stipend of 4,500 baht per year—which is often what government teachers make in a single month. With an annual budget of about $3 million, the KED says it chips in to support the government teachers’ transportation and housing costs, which otherwise would be covered by the students’ families.

The secretary says the pay discrepancy—coupled with the tendency for government teachers to be promoted as headmasters, even if they are less experienced—can lead to tensions in villages, with some government teachers even forced out by local residents.

Time to Negotiate

Burma’s Parliament is currently considering a National Education Bill that, if passed, will likely have far-reaching consequences for government schools around the country. But as the government moves closer to a nationwide ceasefire, it remains to be seen how these schools will ever merge with KED schools or other ethnic education systems in Kachin, Shan, Mon, Chin and Arakan states.

Ethnic educators say their input has largely been ignored by the Ministry of Education.

“As far as education in ethnic areas is concerned, we can definitely say that education reform is not inclusive,” says Sai Naw Kham, director of the Rural Development Foundation of Shan State. “They don’t know what is happening on the ground, and local scholars from ethnic communities have not been involved in the reform processes.

“We have seen that the future education policy will continue the Burmanization policy, which is the root of the racial and political conflicts in [Burma] since independence.”

In 2012, the Ministry of Education launched a massive study to identify strengths and weaknesses of its school system which could inform new education policies. Researchers studied schools around the country, but according to the KED secretary, they did not consider the diversity of education in Karen State. “The work that we’ve been doing over decades does not exist in their knowledge,” he says. “What they mean by ethnic education is the work of the government in ethnic areas.”

Eh Thwa Bor, director of the Community School Program, which runs 31 schools in the state, says the Ministry of Education needs to understand that non-government educators are also doing valuable work. “They should recognize the villagers’ schools. And they should treat the teachers the same because they are all working hard,” she says.

But she also wants the KED to cooperate more with the government. As a starting point, she says Karen schools should teach Burmese language. “Burma has so many ethnic groups, so we should learn Burmese. Otherwise, how can we communicate with each other?” she says.

The KED wants to see a decentralized school system—in keeping with the federal political system proposed by ethnic rebel groups—that would allow states some level of authority to administer their schools.

It says it is open to negotiating on certain issues to help merge with the government education system, and that it will begin teaching Burmese language to its students soon. Merging with the government system could be beneficial for Karen students who are currently barred from attending Burmese universities because they went to a KED high school.

But the KED secretary says certain issues are not open for discussion, including the inclusion of ethnic history in the curriculum, as well as mother-tongue teaching.

He sees two possible options. First, all ethnic groups in Burma could design a unified curriculum together, which would incorporate lessons about each of their histories and cultures, and which would be used in all schools across the country. “But we foresee that would be chaos,” he says, adding that the second option might be more simple: The government can design 60 percent of the curriculum, which would be followed by everybody, while 40 percent would be left open for ethnic groups to determine on their own, perhaps state by state.

In either case, education policy must not be developed by only one side, he says.

“We feel like they have their hand over us,” he says of the government, “and this will limit our ability to continue running our ethnic education.

“In the past they killed, they burned and they tortured, and every time we would regain our energy. But this time we need to be very careful. They may be trying to cut us off in a soft way, and we are concerned that the identity we have preserved over more than six decades will start to die out, gradually.”

Thailand: 1,252 Migrant workers have registered at the Surin One Stop Service

3 September 2014 - 2:18am
Source: Government of Thailand Country: Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Thailand

SURIN, 2 September 2014 (NNT) - 1,837 Migrant workers have registered at the Surin One Stop Service since it opened on August 4th up to September 1st 2014.

The Surin Employment Authority has stated that since the opening of the Surin One Stop Service for migrant workers, laborers from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia have been coming in droves. A total of 704 workers have applied for legal documents as hired migrant workers.

The center has almost finished the process of registering workers who have applied so far. The province expects to finish registering all migrant workers soon.

World: CrisisWatch N°133 - 1 September 2014

2 September 2014 - 12:44pm
Source: International Crisis Group Country: Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Cyprus, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Serbia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Western Sahara, World, Yemen, South Sudan

The fight for control of Libya between the Misrata-led Islamist-leaning coalition and the Zintan-led forces is escalating by the day. Hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced in over six weeks of clashes and heavy artillery fire. The Misrata side emerged victorious in the battle over Tripoli’s international airport, taking control of the capital, and made advances around Benghazi, but the larger political divide remains unresolved. A newly formed parliament convened in Tobruk and has the backing of the Zintan-led anti-Islamists and the international community; but the previous legislature in Tripoli challenges its authority. Without a minimum of consensus, Libya is likely to have two ineffectual governments with militias exerting real control on the ground.

Yemen’s Huthis continued to challenge the government’s authority, potentially undermining the already-fragile transition. Throughout the month Huthis organised mass anti-government protests in the capital Sanaa while armed supporters gathered around the city. In late August, their leaders rejected a government offer to resign; ongoing negotiations are hung on the complicated issue of fuel subsidies. Counter rallies largely attended by rivals from the Sunni Islamist Islah party and supported by President Hadi only served to escalate tensions. (See our latest report on the Huthis.)

For the first time since 2011, the U.S. intervened militarily in Iraq in August. Although the operation was initially explained by the need to avert a potential “genocide” of the northern Yazidi community and protect U.S. personnel and assets from the jihadi Islamic State (IS; formerly ISIL), its objectives were later expanded to include the protection of critical infrastructure such as Mosul dam. Meanwhile in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki finally agreed to step down after most of his domestic and international backers joined in supporting his nominated replacement, fellow Dawa party member Haider al-Abadi. (See our recent commentary on IS.)

Syria’s northern armed opposition faced an increasingly dire situation as regime forces continued advancing in Aleppo and jihadis from IS gained territory north of the city. IS also continued its push to extend and consolidate control in the east, where it executed hundreds of tribal members in response to a local uprising against its rule in Deir al-Zour province and captured the regime’s last remaining stronghold in Raqqah province.

In one of the most serious spillovers of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, the border town of Arsal witnessed heavy clashes between Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Syrian rebels that left as many as 100 dead. Militants attacked checkpoints and seized official buildings before a counteroffensive by the Lebanese army, aided by Syrian Air Force raids, reclaimed the city after a 5-day battle.

The death toll from Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the Gaza Strip continued to mount: by the time a ceasefire agreement was reached on 26 August, more than 2100 mostly civilian Palestinians, at least 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians inside Israel had been killed since the start of hostilities in July. Initial reports on the details of the ceasefire agreement suggested terms were vague and discussions of core issues had been deferred to later talks. (See our latest briefing and commentary)

Mass anti-government protests in Pakistan are threatening to undermine the country’s fragile democratic transition and have raised fears of an impending military intervention (see our recent Conflict Alert). For weeks, protests leaders have called for Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff’s resignation, the dissolution of parliament and new elections. In mid-August they led supporters into Islamabad’s “Red Zone”, home to several key government buildings. The military later came directly into the fray, with army chief General Raheel Sharif reportedly intending to mediate and then act as guarantor of a negotiated settlement between government and protesters.

India-Pakistan relations deteriorated sharply as the two states again clashed over Kashmir. Deadly exchanges-of-fire along the Line of Control resumed, with each side claiming civilian casualties. India cancelled foreign secretary-level talks aimed at setting an agenda for resuming the countries’ dialogue process after Pakistan’s High Commissioner met Kashmiri separatist leaders in New Delhi.

Fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine escalated sharply. While the army attempted to encircle major cities Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia stepped up support for the rebels and reportedly deployed troops inside Ukraine. According to UN estimates, the total number of casualties more than doubled in the past month.

July’s ceasefire agreement between armed groups in the Central African Republic failed to translate into a truce on the ground. Scores, many civilians, were killed in deadly fighting fueled by internal divisions among Seleka, attacks on the Muslim community in Boda by anti-balaka militias, and ongoing attempts to consolidate territorial control. Violence between Seleka and international troops also rose, with over 60 Seleka and two peacekeepers killed in early August clashes.

Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram intensified attacks in Cameroon’s Far North, after high-profile political kidnappings in Kolofata in late July. Heavy clashes between militants and Cameroonian forces were reported in late August, days after Nigerian soldiers were seen crossing the border for safety.

Clashes between Degodia and Garre clans intensified in Kenya’s northeast, killing over 77 in late August according to reports from the Kenyan Red Cross. Meanwhile, recent Al-Shabaab attacks fuelled revenge ethnic killings and kidnappings in coastal Lamu County, prompting authorities to extend the curfew in the region.

Myanmar: Myanmar: Peace Monitoring Dashboard: Aug 2014

2 September 2014 - 9:40am
Source: Myanmar Peace Monitor Country: Myanmar preview

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 27 August–2 September

2 September 2014 - 9:10am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, 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

Syria: Syrian refugee numbers have grown by a million in a year, and now exceed three million, while the journey out of Syria is getting tougher. 42 children were reported killed by government strikes over 29-31 August, while in IS-held areas there are reports of routine executions and amputations.

Sierra Leone: One million people are in need of aid as a consequence of the Ebola outbreak; between 20 and 26 August, 116 new cases and 30 deaths were reported, bringing the total to 1,602 cases, including 422 deaths, since the outbreak began. Staff at a treatment centre have called a strike over pay and conditions, and the Health Minister has been replaced.

Ukraine: IDP figures have grown by more than 80,000 in two weeks, to reach 230,000. 3.9 million people live in areas directly affected by violence, but access to humanitarian aid is near-impossible in conflict areas. Older people are particularly vulnerable.

Updated: 02/09/2014. Next update: 09/09/2014

Global Emergency Overview Web Interface

Thailand: Two Years with No Moon: Immigration Detention of Children in Thailand

1 September 2014 - 11:53pm
Source: Human Rights Watch Country: Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand preview

Thailand: Migrant Children Locked Up

Thousands Held in Immigration Detention

(Bangkok, September 2, 2014) –Thailand holds thousands of migrant children in detention each year, causing them physical and emotional harm, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Child migrants and asylum seekers are unnecessarily held in squalid immigration facilities and police lock-ups due to their immigration status or that of their parents.

The 67-page report, “‘Two Years with No Moon’: Immigration Detention of Children in Thailand,” details how Thailand’s use of immigration detention violates children’s rights, risks their health and wellbeing, and imperils their development. The Thai government should stop detaining children on immigration grounds, Human Rights Watch said.

“Migrant children detained in Thailand are suffering needlessly in filthy, overcrowded cells without adequate nutrition, education, or exercise space,” said Alice Farmer, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Detention lockup is no place for migrant children.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 41 migrant children and 64 adults who had been detained, arrested, or otherwise affected by interactions with police and immigration officials. In addition, Human Rights Watch interviewed representatives of international and nongovernmental organizations, migrant community leaders, and lawyers.

Immigration detention practices in Thailand violate the rights of both adults and children, Human Rights Watch said. Migrants are often detained indefinitely, and they lack reliable mechanisms to appeal their deprivation of liberty. Indefinite detention without recourse to judicial review amounts to arbitrary detention, which is prohibited under international law.

Prolonged detention deprives children of the capacity to grow and thrive mentally and physically. Yanaal L., a migrant detained with his family in Bangkok’s immigration detention center for six months, told Human Rights Watch: “My [five-year-old] nephew asked, ‘How long will I stay?’ He asked, ‘Will I live the rest of my life here?’ I didn’t know what to say.”

The International Organization for Migration reports that there are approximately 375,000 migrant children in Thailand, including children of migrant workers from neighboring countries, and children who are refugees and seeking asylum. The largest group of child refugees living in Thailand are from Burma, many of whom fled with their families from Burmese army attacks in ethnic minority areas, and from sectarian violence against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State. Other refugees are from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Syria and elsewhere.

Migrants from the neighboring countries of Burma, Cambodia, and Laos tend to spend a few days or weeks in detention after they are arrested and then are taken to the border to be formally deported or otherwise released. However, refugee families from non-contiguous countries face the choice of remaining locked up indefinitely with their children, waiting for months or years for the slim chance of resettlement in a third country, or paying for their return to their own country, where they fear persecution. They are left to languish indefinitely in what effectively amounts to debtors’ prison.

Immigration detention conditions in Thailand imperil children’s physical health, Human Rights Watch found. The children rarely get the nutrition or exercise they need. Parents described having to pay exorbitant prices for supplemental food smuggled from the outside to try to provide for their children’s nutritional needs. Immigration detention also harms children’s mental health by exacerbating previous traumas and contributing to lasting depression and anxiety. By failing to provide adequate nutrition and opportunities for exercise and play, Thai immigration authorities are violating fundamental rights enumerated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Thailand has ratified.

Children in immigration detention in Thailand are routinely held with unrelated adults in violation of international law. They are regularly exposed to violence, and can get caught up in fights between detainees, use of force by guards, and sometime get physically hurt.

Severe overcrowding is a chronic problem in many of Thailand’s immigration detention centers. Children are crammed into packed cells, with poor ventilation and limited or no access to space for recreation. Human Rights Watch interviewed several children who described being confined in cells so crowded they had to sleep sitting up. Even where children have room to lie down, they routinely reported sleeping on tile or wood floors, without mattresses or blankets, surrounded by strange adults.

“The worst part was that you were trapped and stuck,” said Cindy Y., a migrant child held from ages 9 to 12. “I would look outside and see people walking around the neighborhood, and I would hope that would be me.”

None of the children Human Rights Watch interviewed received formal education while in detention, even those held for many months. By denying migrant or asylum-seeking children adequate education, Thai immigration authorities are depriving children of social and intellectual development. The Convention on the Rights of the Child says that all children have the right to education without discrimination on the basis of nationality or migrant status.

Under Thai law, all migrants with irregular immigration status, even children, can be arrested and detained. In 2013, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body of independent experts charged with interpreting the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has directed governments to “expeditiously and completely cease the detention of children on the basis of their immigration status,” asserting that such detention is never in the child’s best interest.

“Amid the current human rights crisis in Thailand, it is easy to ignore the plight of migrant children,” Farmer said. “But Thai authorities need to address this problem because it won’t just disappear on its own.”

Besides ending the detention of migrant children, Thailand should immediately adopt alternatives to detention that are being used effectively in other countries, such as open reception centers and conditional release programs. Such programs are cheaper than detention, respect children’s rights, and protect their future, Human Rights Watch said.

In an August 14, 2014 response to a letter from Human Rights Watch sending out findings and recommendations, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that the detention of migrants was carried out in an arbitrary manner, and stated: “Detention of some small number of migrant children in Thailand is not a result of the Government’s policies but rather the preference of their migrant parents themselves (family unity) and the logistical difficulties.” The government’s seven-page response is included in the report’s annex.

Thailand faces numerous migration challenges posed by its location and relative prosperity, and is entitled to control its borders, Human Rights Watch said. But it should do so in a way that upholds basic human rights, including the right to freedom from arbitrary detention, the right to family unity, and international minimum standards for conditions of detention.

“Thailand’s immigration detention policies make a mockery of government claims to protect children precisely because they put children at unnecessary risk,” Farmer said. “The sad thing is it’s been known for years that these poor detention conditions fall far short of international standards but the Thai government has done little or nothing to address them.”

Myanmar: Flooding Damages Paddy Fields and Homes in Sagaing

1 September 2014 - 11:09pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By ZARNI MANN / THE IRRAWADDY

MANDALAY — Heavy rains over the past week in Sagaing Division have flooded more than 600 acres of paddy fields and some 1,500 homes, according to township administrators and residents.

The annual monsoon rains came late this year to this mountainous region of upper Burma, and for some months farmers have been longing for a change in the dry weather. But the unexpectedly heavy rains over the past week ruined their crops and left many people worried about the possibility of even greater storms on the horizon.

In Depaeyin Township, about 400 acres of paddy fields were flooded, as were 250 acres of paddy fields in Kantbalu Township. Hundreds of homes were inundated.

“If the rain continues for the next two days, our paddy fields will not recover and all the young plants will die,” said Thein Maung, a farmer from Zee Gone village in Kantbalu. Water flooded more than 150 homes in Zee Gone village alone.

“Before we were hoping for rain, but now we worry that rain will keep falling. The weather change has been getting worse in recent years and we are now afraid for our livelihoods,” he added.

In Shwebo Township, heavy rains damaged the Sin Kut reservoir, located near the town, and water overflowed into Sin Kut village, Min Kyaung village and the Shwebo University compound. Some bridges connecting the villages were also damaged.

“The water is receding today, but more than 300 homes were filled with mud and some belongings were destroyed,” said Ma Swe, a resident in Shwebo. “Authorities from the township administration office are repairing the bridges and cleaning the drains.”

The northern part of Sagaing Division was also affected by the rains, with landslides destroying a mountain road connecting Khandi and Lahae townships. Homes were also flooded in both townships.

“The road was newly repaired three months ago. But now, even a motorbike cannot go on it because of the landslide and heavy rain,” said Aung San Myint, who lives in Khandi. “There are no authorities yet to take care of that road so travelers are facing difficulties.”

Last month, flooding in Pegu Division had displaced more than 15,000 people from their homes as of Aug. 8, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)