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Myanmar: Building a case for the importance of practice: UNESCO conducts assessment of pedagogy and practicum teaching in Myanmar’s Education Colleges

13 May 2015 - 2:08am
Source: UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Country: Myanmar

From 27-29 April 2015, UNESCO held in-depth focus group discussions at Pathein and Myaung Mya Education Colleges (ECs) to inform an ongoing assessment of practicum teaching experiences and pedagogical practices in Myanmar’s ECs.

The assessment report on pedagogical practices and opportunities for practice teaching in Myanmar’s ECs is one of a series of assessments that UNESCO, in partnership with the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), is conducting under the “Strengthening Pre-service Teacher Education in Myanmar” (STEM) project. The assessments are designed to strengthen the evidence base towards providing actionable recommendations for the reform of the pre-service teacher education system in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s 21 ECs, geographically spread across the country, are the principle providers of pre-service teacher training for the country’s primary and middle government school teachers, graduating approximately 8,000 teachers in the workforce yearly.

Facilitated by Teacher Education Specialist, Ms. Helen Drianan, with assistance from UNESCO Programme Officer, Ms. Sandar Kyaw, the discussions at Pathein and Myaung Mya ECs included a wide range of key informants – Teacher Educators, Principals, Head of Departments, Practicing School Principals, Practicing School Teachers, Township Education Officers, and student teachers – and explored, in-depth, the systems in place for providing practicum opportunities for student teachers as well as constraints that impact the quality of practice. Written surveys were also completed by staff and student teachers at an additional five ECs around the country.

Stakeholders will have an opportunity to discuss and take forward the recommendations of the assessment during a series of seminars, organized by UNESCO under the STEM project, in May and June 2015 on “Changing pedagogical practices: Exploring new strategies to inform pre-service teacher education reform.”

For more information on the STEM project, please contact Ms. Jamie Vinson, Assistant Programme Specialist – Education, at j.vinson@unesco.org

Thailand: Thai cops hunt 'kingpin' in migrant trafficking probe

13 May 2015 - 1:18am
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand | AFP | Wednesday 5/13/2015 - 05:00 GMT

A manhunt intensified Wednesday for the alleged kingpin of a Thai people smuggling network, police said, as detectives probe whether a private island near the Malaysia sea border was a key link in a trafficking chain spanning several countries.

Thai police believe Pajjuban Aungkachotephan, a one time senior provincial official known locally as Ko Tong, has fled the kingdom since a warrant for his arrest was issued on Saturday.

The probe is examining whether Ko Tong used the small island near the Malaysian sea border as a base to mastermind a trafficking network which has unravelled since May 1 when dozens of migrants' graves were found on the nearby Thai mainland.

A police crackdown following the grim discovery appears to have forced smuggling gangs to flee, abandoning hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh in a network of Thai jungle camps near the Malaysia border.

Around 2,000 more have been found on boats in Malaysian and Indonesian waters or have swum to shore in recent days, with fears that thousands of others remain at sea without food and water.

"Ko Tong is a mastermind of the trafficking gang in Satun province (bordering Malaysia), but I can't disclose all of the details," Major General Paveen Pongsirin, a deputy regional commander in the Thai south told AFP.

"He has a lot of assets -- tens of millions of baht in assets have been seized. He is a very prominent figure," he said.

Rights groups and observers have long accused Thai officials, including the police and military, of turning a blind eye to human trafficking -- and even being complicit in the grim trade.

Police have arrested 18 people over the scandal, including senior local officials, with warrants out for 32 more.

However no law enforcement or military figures have been arrested yet.

Instead more than 50 police officers, including senior officials, have been "transferred" from their posts for failing to act against the trade.

  • An 'influential person' -

Thailand's police chief on Tuesday said Ko Tong had fled to a "neighbouring country" --- while local media reports said he was believed to be on the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi.

The kingdom's top cop is meeting his Malaysian counterpart in Phuket later Wednesday.

Ko Tong -- Ko means 'Big Brother' -- owned a large chunk of land on Rat Yai, a small island just off the coast of Satun, which borders Malaysia, according to the province's governor.

"He used to be chairman of Satun Provincial Administration but recently lost elections," Dejrath Simsiri told AFP.

"He is an 'influential person'," he said, adding he is also known to have ties to local officials in nearby Padang Besar -- the district where the migrant graves were found in a remote hillside.

Locals in Satun told AFP the Rat Yai was renowned for being off limits.

"If any boats came near the island speedboats would come and tell them to leave," a local resident said, requesting anonymity.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have braved the dangerous sea crossing to southern Thailand from Myanmar in recent years, with many headed for Malaysia and beyond.

ask/apj/jta/eb

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Malaysia: Fears for migrants as S.E. Asia refuses safe haven

12 May 2015 - 10:17pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

Langkawi, Malaysia | AFP | Wednesday 5/13/2015 - 11:24 GMT

by M JEGATHESAN

Malaysia joined Indonesia on Wednesday in vowing to turn back vessels bearing a wave of migrants, drawing warnings that the hardline policy could be a death sentence for boatloads of people at risk of starvation and disease.

As the UN's refugee agency accused regional authorities of playing with lives, more grim accounts emerged from among hundreds of ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and impoverished Bangladeshi migrants who have endured weeks of torment at sea.

Mizanur Rahman, a 14-year-old Bangladeshi boy, said he and a friend spent two agonising months crammed aboard a boat with an estimated 600 other people.

They subsisted on a single plate of rice per day, but were given nothing to eat towards the end of the voyage, Rahman told AFP.

Others aboard that vessel said they saw at least six people die of sickness or hunger, only to have their bodies tossed overboard, and that some passengers were beaten by gun-toting smugglers.

They spoke in the northern Indonesian region of Aceh, where survivors from the ship washed up this week after traffickers told them to "swim to shore if we wanted to stay alive", according to Rahman.

"We wanted to go to Malaysia, dreaming of a better future for our families. After everything that happened to us, I would now prefer to die here rather than go back home," Rahman said.

Migrant-rights advocates are warning that thousands more men, women and children are believed stuck at sea and at risk of abandonment by smugglers since a Thai police crackdown disrupted people-smuggling routes.

Thai authorities said they were searching for a one-time senior provincial official in the south whom they called the "mastermind" of trafficking along the Thai-Malaysian border, a key link in the chain.

Police said they had seized millions of dollars in assets belonging to Pajjuban Aungkachotephan -- who is known colloquially at "Ko Tong", or "Big Brother Tong". He is believed to have fled abroad.

Thailand has called for a May 29 regional summit to address what it called an "unprecedented increase" in migrant arrivals.

A US embassy spokeswoman in Bangkok, voicing fears for the migrants' lives, called the crisis "a regional challenge that needs to be addressed regionally through a coordinated international effort".

  • 'Maritime ping-pong' -

But Malaysia -- where more than 1,100 migrants came ashore this week -- said it would turn away boats entering its waters unless they were about to sink.

"The policy has always been to escort them out of Malaysian waters after giving them the necessary provisions" including fuel, water and food, First Admiral Tan Kok Kwee of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency told AFP.

The Indonesian navy already has turned away at least one vessel packed with hundreds of abandoned migrants.

Vivian Tan, Bangkok-based spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the policy was "really worrying".

"We continue to appeal for countries in the region to share responsibility and avert a humanitarian crisis," she said.

"The first priority should be to save lives and provide humanitarian aid."

Rights advocacy group Fortify Rights, in a statement Wednesday, criticised the Thai policy of pushing away migrant ships after typically providing "minimal food and water to boats before directing them toward Malaysia".

"Thailand’s pushbacks and failure to provide protection have directly led to abuses, death, and mass graves," the group said.

Joe Lowry, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Bangkok, said regional authorities were playing "maritime ping-pong".

"What we want is for governments to allow people to disembark so they can be treated and policy can be worked out later," he said.

Otherwise, "people are going to die in the hundreds and thousands on the sea".

The UNHCR says about 25,000 people embarked from Bay of Bengal ports in January-March, double last year's rate.

Thousands of them are feared left in the lurch by the crackdown in Thailand, which began after the discovery of dozens of dead migrants in jungle graves along its southern border earlier this month.

Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group denied citizenship by Buddhist-majority Myanmar, flee by the thousands annually to escape discrimination and sectarian violence that has targeted them in recent years.

The IOM has called for search-and-rescue operations to find stricken migrant boats.

The inter-governmental group has also demanded a coordinated and sympathetic response by Europe as the continent grapples with its own migration crisis originating in North Africa.

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© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 6–12 May 2015

12 May 2015 - 11:02am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Philippines, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, Ukraine, Vanuatu, World, Yemen

Snapshot 6–12 May 2015

Iraq: Conflict has escalated in a number of locations. In Anbar, fighting has displaced more than 47,000 in Karmah district, and more than 133,000 around Ramadi. Clashes between Islamic State and government forces have intensified around Baiji oil refinery, in Salah al Din.

Nepal: A second earthquake of magnitude 7.3 struck on 12 May. As of 1800 local time, 37 people have been reported killed and 1,129 injured. The earthquake was followed by aftershocks with magnitudes up to 6.3. Major landslides have been reported, further hampering relief efforts.

Niger: 3,300 suspected cases of meningitis recorded as an epidemic is declared in eight districts. Vaccines are reported to be out of stock. 39,700 people have reportedly been displaced from islands on Lake Chad, due to planned military operations against Boko Haram.

South Sudan: Since the beginning of May, up to 100,000 people have been displaced by fighting south of Bentiu, Unity state. Bentiu’s Protection of Civilians (PoC) site, housing 52,900 IDPs, is so close to the fighting that the displaced are seeking safety elsewhere. Fighting in Upper Nile saw 1,500 IDPs arrive at the Malakal PoC site over 22–23 April.

Updated: 12/05/2015. Next update: 19/05/2015

Global Emergency Overview Web Interface

World: Annual Report 2014

12 May 2015 - 9:18am
Source: International Committee of the Red Cross Country: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, Ukraine, World

The 2014 Annual report of the ICRC is an account of field activities conducted worldwide. Activities are part of the organization's mandate to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war, and to promote respect for international humanitarian law.

Facts and figures

26.2 million people had access to water and sanitation improved.
Read more on water and shelter.

9.12 million people were provided with basic aid such as food.
Read more on aid distribution.

6.2 million people received health care.
Read more on health. 800,900 detainees were visited.
Read more on visiting detainees.

470,000 calls were made between detainees and families.
Read more on restoring family links.

Myanmar: Rohingya migrants plead for rescue on stricken vessel: activist

12 May 2015 - 6:22am
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand | 11:11 GMT

Hundreds of starving migrants have pleaded for urgent rescue after they were abandoned by smugglers on a boat in waters believed to be near both Thailand and Malaysia, an activist said Tuesday.

Their desperate appeal came as a distraught Rohingya man in the Malaysian capital told AFP he had spoken to his wife who is also onboard a broken migrant boat with three of their children.

The Arakan Project, which monitors migrant journeys across the Bay of Bengal, said it had spoken by telephone to Rohingya migrants on board an abandoned vessel on Tuesday afternoon.

The boat, which is believed to be carrying around 350 people including dozens of women and children, was thought to be cast adrift by a Thai smuggling gang who fled the vessel after disabling the ship's engine on Sunday.

"They told us they have had no food and water for the last three days. They have called for urgent rescue," said Chris Lewa, the founder of the Arakan Project.

The migrants, she added, were unsure of their exact location and believed they were in waters close to Thailand's southern border with Malaysia.

"But they say they can see the coastline, so we know they are close to the shore," Lewa said.

The migrants were reached on a mobile phone with a Thai number and said there were 50 women and 84 children on board the vessel.

'Please help or we will die'

Speaking from his tiny flat in Kuala Lumpur, the husband of another Rohingya migrant currently at sea said he had managed to briefly speak to his wife by phone onboard a stricken vessel.

"She said there is no food or water. If the children or babies cry, they wet their lips with some sea water," Mohammed Hashim, who is in his early 40s, told AFP, frequently breaking down in tears.

"She told me: 'Please help or we will die'," he added.

It is not clear if the boat is the same one contacted by the Arakan Project.

But according to Hashim's account, it too was abandoned by people smugglers, had a broken engine and the migrants were reached on a Thai mobile.

The UN has led warnings that thousands of migrants are believed to be stranded at sea without food and water and could die unless Southeast Asian governments act urgently to rescue them.

The crisis comes as Thailand cracks down on the human-trafficking trade following the discovery of dozens of graves at remote jungle camps in the country's south bordering Malaysia.

That has forced smugglers to change their routes and abandon their victims, campaigners say.

Despite the escalating alarm, Indonesia's navy said it had turned away one boat carrying hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh to an uncertain fate.

Nearly 2,000 boatpeople from Myanmar and Bangladesh -- including many ethnic Rohingya -- have swum ashore, been rescued or intercepted off Malaysia and Indonesia in recent days, many of them thin, weak or in poor health after weeks at sea.

Thailand's national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told AFP on Tuesday aviation police were using helicopters to scour the Andaman Sea for migrant boats.

Marine police were also patrolling the shore, he said, adding: "We have to close off the tap. We have to block them."

He added that no new boats have been detected at the southern Thai entry points of Ranong and Satun, which are often used by traffickers, since the recent crackdown.

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Myanmar: Bay of Bengal exodus: where are the boats?

12 May 2015 - 6:19am
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand | Tuesday 5/12/2015

In recent days nearly 2,000 boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been rescued or swum to shore in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The wave of arrivals is believed to be caused by smugglers dumping their human cargo as Thailand moves to stem the trade after discovering dozens of migrant remains in secret jungle camps earlier this month.

The UN refugee agency believes an estimated 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis have taken to boats in the first three months of this year -- double the number over the same period in 2014.

The following is a regional summary of the current "boat people" crisis:

Malaysia

Malaysian police say people-smugglers have dumped at least 1,018 migrants in shallow waters off the coast of the resort island of Langkawi since Sunday.

"We know that there are more boats out there that want to come in," Langkawi police chief Haritth Kam Abdullah told AFP on Monday, citing police intelligence.

Some migrants swam to shore after harrowing month-long journeys at sea, packed in with hundreds of other people without adequate food or water.

Indonesia

On Sunday Indonesian authorities intercepted a boat off the coast of northwestern Aceh province rescuing more than 600 migrants, many of whom were desperately weak.

A second vessel carrying about 400 migrants was spotted the following day by Indonesian navy vessels. The boat was damaged but afloat and its captain had fled.

Unlike the earlier boat, these migrants did not land in Aceh. Indonesia's navy confirmed Tuesday it had provided the boat with fuel and then towed it out of their waters, declining to say if it was heading to Malaysia, its suspected destination.

Thailand

Thailand's national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told AFP Tuesday that aviation police were using helicopters to scour the Andaman Sea for migrant boats while marine police were patrolling the shore.

He added that no new migrant boats had been detected at the common entry points of Ranong and Satun coastal provinces since the recent police crackdown.

However Chris Lewa from The Arakan Project, a respected Rohingya rights group that monitors boat crossings, told AFP she believes there is "a boat in distress in Thai waters" near Langkawi, citing contacts in the trade.

"We think there are around 450 people on board," she said, adding there may be a further two boats carrying migrants under control of brokers near Langkawi.

Since May 1 some 250 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar have been found in the southern Thai province of Songkhla, bordering Malaysia, seemingly abandoned by traffickers who are on the run from police.

Bay of Bengal

Coastal towns along Bangladesh's Cox's Bazaar district and Myanmar's Rakhine State are the start point for most migrant journeys.

Small vessels carry migrants out to larger "cargo" boats moored in international waters, which head towards South East Asia when full.

Arakan Project's Chris Lewa said her contacts had told her that five cargo vessels left in early May headed east.

"These boats usually carry between 250-800 people. So there could be at least another 1,000 on their way," she said.

Two remain moored in the Bay of Bengal but are not thought to be taking on any more people at the moment, she added.

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Myanmar: Myanmar: Snapshot of Humanitarian Issues (as of 30 April 2015)

12 May 2015 - 1:06am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: China, Myanmar

Overview

There are more than 240,000 people in Myanmar who remain internally displaced as a result of conflict or violence occurring since 2011. Myanmar is one of the countries at highest risk of natural disasters in South East Asia and disaster preparedness is a major challenge with the upcoming monsoon season.

Myanmar: SE Asia urged to save thousands of migrants feared adrift at sea

11 May 2015 - 11:45pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

Langkawi, Malaysia | AFP | Tuesday 5/12/2015 - 06:55 GMT

by M JEGATHESAN

Thousands of migrants believed to be stranded at sea without food and water could die unless Southeast Asian governments act urgently to rescue them, migrant groups and the UN warned Tuesday.

The escalating alarm over the region's refugee crisis came as Indonesia's navy said it had turned away a boat carrying hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh to an uncertain fate.

Nearly 2,000 boatpeople from Myanmar and Bangladesh have swum ashore, been rescued or intercepted off Malaysia and Indonesia in recent days, many of them thin, weak or in poor health after weeks at sea.

People smugglers are believed to be dumping their human cargoes after being diverted from Thailand -- a key stop on human-smuggling routes -- where authorities have launched a crackdown on the trade.

The Arakan Project, a group advocating for the rights of Rohingya -- a Muslim minority that is unwanted by Myanmar's government -- has said as many as 8,000 people may be adrift.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said search and rescue operations were urgently needed.

"It needs a regional effort... we don’t have the capacity to search for them, but governments do. They have boats and satellites," said Joe Lowry, a Bangkok-based spokesman for the IOM, a 157-member-state intergovernmental organisation.

He told AFP those still at sea may be in a "very bad condition or even dead" if not found soon.

Thousands of poor Rohingya and Bangladeshis risk the perilous sea and land trafficking route from the Bay of Bengal region through Thailand and into Malaysia each year.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said 25,000 people are believed to have embarked from January to March, double the previous year's pace, and that an estimated 300 had died.

- Abandoned at sea -

"It appears people are holding people captive on the sea because they are afraid to disembark," said Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Bangkok.

She said some vessels, and their passengers, may have been abandoned by smugglers, adding that regional cooperation was needed to address the crisis and that the UNHCR was willing to help.

"There's definitely a need for countries in the region to come together to see how best to do this," she said.

Human smuggling has thrived for years in Southeast Asia in the absence of major coordinated efforts by regional authorities to stamp it out or address its root causes.

Indonesia's navy has turned away a vessel that arrived on the coast of its northwestern Aceh region on Monday carrying an estimated 400 migrants, naval spokesman Manahan Simorangkir told AFP Tuesday.

"We gave them fuel and asked them to proceed," he said of the ship, which has been towed to international waters.

"We are not forcing them to go to Malaysia or Australia. That is not our business. Our business is they don't enter Indonesia because Indonesia is not the destination."

On Sunday, 582 men, women and children had straggled ashore in Aceh from a different boat, with officials saying many were in poor health. They are currently being supplied food and shelter.

Thailand launched its crackdown after discovering dozens of migrant remains in secret jungle camps earlier this month.

It has called for a meeting with Malaysia and Myanmar on trafficking, but the response is not yet known.

- 'Needle in a stack of needles' -

The IOM's deputy chief of mission in Indonesia, Steven Hamilton, said any regional effort to find stricken vessels would be daunting.

"It’s like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles, not a needle in a haystack," he said.

"Those waters are dense with other boats. You’re really not sure what you’re looking for."

Complicating the picture, he said recent arrivals in Aceh interviewed by IOM staff described an elaborate supply chain at sea with many migrants shifted from one vessel to the next.

Rohingya survivors of the route have previously told AFP of harrowing sea passages in which passengers died of hunger or sickness or were beaten to death by smugglers, their bodies tossed overboard.

Ali Hussein, a 31-year-old ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, is among more than 1,000 people -- many of them gaunt and exhausted -- who swam ashore in Malaysia from their smuggling ships Sunday and Monday.

Like thousands of his people, he fled sectarian violence targeting Rohingya in recent years.

"I was running for my life," he said.

He and about 800 other people endured 43 days on an overcrowded vessel as already-scarce food and water supplies dwindled.

Their Thailand-bound ship diverted to the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi where the hungry passengers leapt into the sea in a desperate swim to safety.

"There was no more food or water so we just jumped out of the boat," he said.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar views its population of Muslim Rohingya, estimated at more than 1.3 million, as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

The UN calls them one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

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Myanmar: IOM calls on SEAsia to rescue thousands of migrants stranded at sea

11 May 2015 - 11:45pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, World

Bangkok, Thailand | AFP | Tuesday 5/12/2015 - 03:04 GMT

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) called on Southeast Asian governments Tuesday to find and rescue thousands of migrants who are believed to be stranded at sea and at risk of death.

Campaigners fear as many as 8,000 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar -- among them many from the Rohingya minority -- are being held at sea with dwindling supplies after a Thai crackdown on trafficking curbed smuggling routes.

Nearly 2,000 migrants have been rescued or have swum to shore in Malaysia and Indonesia over the last few days.

"It needs a regional effort... we don't have the capacity to search for them, but governments do, they have boats and satellites," IOM spokesman Joe Lowry told AFP, adding they may be in a "very bad condition or even dead" if not found soon.

"The journeys are long and a long time at sea isn’t good for humans they need to be found," he said.

It is unclear what efforts, if any, are currently being made to locate migrants still at sea.

A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Bangkok echoed the deepening concerns over the condition of those still on the boats, as traffickers abandon vessels or hold onto their human cargo fearing arrest by authorities.

"From survivors we hear there is very little food and water to begin with. And if they have been there for weeks or months there is a concern that people come in severely sick," Vivian Tan told AFP, adding that there is a "fear" people may be dying at sea.

Thousands of impoverished Muslim Rohingya -- a minority unwanted by Myanmar's government -- and Bangladeshis embark on a perilous sea and land trafficking route through Thailand and into Malaysia, Indonesia and beyond every year.

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© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: Ceasefire can go ahead despite Kokang conflict, says Aung Min

11 May 2015 - 11:00pm
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

By SHWE AUNG

Aung Min, President’s Office minister and the government’s chief negotiator at peace talks, has said that the signing of a ceasefire deal will not include all ethnic groups, and that only those ethnic armies approved by Naypyidaw will be invited to join the peace process.

The minister on Saturday said the Thein Sein administration is prioritising a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the ethnic armed groups who have been involved in negotiations from the beginning.

Aung Min made the comments to an audience of government ministers, representatives from seven ethnic armies and members of 64 political parties at the Inya Lake Hotel in Rangoon following a workshop on peace and reconciliation.

The government will reach out to Kokang, Palaung and Arakanese militias that are currently still engaged in hostilities against the Burmese army as a secondary step, Aung Min said.

“Any NCA would be delayed if we waited for these three groups,” he said, noting that the groups have not been involved in the rounds of official negotiations that have taken place over the past year.

He called on the Kokang’s Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Palaung’s Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Kachin-based Arakan Army (AA) to stop fighting.

An alliance of more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, represented by the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, or NCCT, met last week at the Wa army headquarters in Panghsang, after which the bloc released a statement calling on Naypyidaw to include all ethnic militias in the ceasefire talks.

Responding to Aung Min’s comments, the NCCT’s Hkun Okker reaffirmed the bloc’s stance, noting that the terms of the NCA explicitly state that all groups within the NCCT – which includes the MNDAA, TNLA and AA – must be party to the deal for it to be effected.

Hkun Okker insisted that the terms of the draft NCA, signed on 31 March, specifically note that it should be signed “altogether” by the ethnic armed groups.

“The text in the proposed NCA says that the agreement is to be signed ‘altogether’ by the armed groups,” he said. “However, it does not say ‘concurrently’, which means that each and every group must be included in the NCA, but that they do not necessarily have to sign it at the same time.”

The NCCT is scheduled to sit for another round of talks at the end of May, proposed to be held at Law Khee La, the headquarters of the Karen National Union, where they will deliberate the most recent developments.

Thailand: 74 Burmese migrants found lost, starving in Thai forest

11 May 2015 - 10:54pm
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar, Thailand

By KHUN BA THAR

More than 70 Burmese nationals, apparently smuggled into Thailand by human traffickers, have been found starving in the forest in the country’s central Chumphon province.

Thai officials who rescued the migrants said they were lost and had not eaten for three days.

A resident in the village of Nai Ngon in Chumphon District, some 475 kilometres south of Bangkok and situated close to the Burmese port town of Ranong, said 28 migrants were found in the woods next to the village on the morning on 8 May and 46 more were found on 9 May.

“On Friday morning, six of them came to the village and indicated that they were starving so we collected some food and gave it to them,” she said.

According to the villager, the migrants told them they were smuggled into Thailand overland by four traffickers carrying automatic rifles. They said they each paid 7,000 baht (over US$200) to be smuggled from Ranong to Malaysia, but had travelled for three days by foot before they were left behind in the woods with no food.

Some 50 local Thai police officers have since been deployed to search for the migrant’s hideout.

The 74 migrants are reported to be between the ages of 12 and 44, and include six women. Thai officials said four of the women say they were raped by the traffickers, and that a 32-year-old women and her child had been abducted by the gang.

Myanmar: ‘Killings, beheadings, disappearances’ instill fear of return among Kokang refugees

11 May 2015 - 10:35pm
Source: Mizzima News Country: China, Myanmar

According to recent interviews by Shan Human Rights Foundation, Kokang refugees sheltering in China remain fearful of return, due to alleged “killings, beheadings and disappearance” of villagers caught returning home.

There are still tens of thousands of refugees sheltering along the length of the China-Kokang border, in formal camps set up by the Chinese authorities, as well as in unofficial makeshift camps. Refugees interviewed by SHRF were among about 15,000 refugees staying along a 10-km section of the border directly north of Laogai. They have fled from dozens of mountain villages where fighting continues between the Myanmar Army and the Kokang resistance army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), according to a foundation press release on May 11.

Thousands of these refugees had since mid-February been staying in a large camp straddling the border at Maitihe, but on April 15, government authorities from Laogai arrived at the camp and told the IDPs on the Kokang side of the border that they were not allowed to stay there. They were ordered to return to IDP shelters set up in schools in Laogai and Konkyan, and were threatened that if they did not return within three days, they would be assumed to be MNDAA supporters, and would be killed. However, the IDPs were too afraid to return, and most moved to other nearby refugee settlements in China.

Only a few days after the order for the IDPs to return, the Myanmar Army launched a large-scale offensive against the MNDAA at Nan Tien Men mountain, using heavy artillery. Shells landing on the Chinese side of the border caused over 700 refugees sheltering at Chin Cai Go (the border crossing directly north of Nan Tien Men) to evacuate deeper into China.

Ongoing shelling in the Nan Tien Men area since early May is continuing to instill fear in the refugees. Most are too afraid to even cross back and make brief visits to their homes, due to cases of killing and disappearance of villagers returning across the border. Refugees said that most villages in their area are now completely deserted, according to the foundation.

Thailand: Burma to Open Consulate in Chiang Mai

11 May 2015 - 1:16pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar, Thailand

By THE IRRAWADDY| Friday, May 8, 2015

Burma will soon open a consulate in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, according to a source close to the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok.

Hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrant workers live and work in the northern Thai city and since the political opening in Burma, air routes between Chiang Mai and Rangoon and Mandalay have expanded.

Several Burmese activist groups, media and NGOs working on Burma-related issues are also based in the city of around 170,000 people.

Burma’s Embassy in Bangkok has been struggling to address the various issues Burmese migrant workers face in Thailand, including their nationality registration and work status.

Myanmar: Authorities to Evict Cyclone Victims at Camp as Nargis 7th Anniversary Passes

11 May 2015 - 1:14pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By SALAI THANT ZIN / THE IRRAWADDY| Thursday, May 7, 2015

LABUTTA TOWNSHIP, Irrawaddy Delta — Some 300 poor villagers in Irrawaddy Division’s Labutta Township who have lived at a resettlement site after their homes were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis almost exactly seven years ago say authorities are forcibly evicting them from the site.

Villagers interviewed at a settlement called 3 Mile, located near Labutta, one of the Delta’s major towns, said that on Wednesday the township general administration department issued a notice ordering the families to vacate the land “as soon as possible.”

“Squatting like this can lead to undesirable problems that may harm regional peace and stability and the rule of law,” the notice signed by Toe Toe Tun township administrator said. “Houses are not to be built without any permission on the land under government control, and legal actions shall be taken in line with existing laws [against those who build houses].”

One of the Nargis victims, Hsan Oo, told The Irrawaddy, “Kyauk Hmaw Village Administrator U Nay Linn and some police gave the notice on [Wednesday] evening. They also put up notices on our houses.”

The families said they would refuse the order as authorities had failed to offer them a suitable alternative site to live. “We won’t move and we have no place to move to,” said Khin Htay.

Ninety three families comprising some 300 people have lived in makeshift huts at the site after their homes and crops were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis on May 2, 2008.

The cyclone was Burma’s worst-ever natural disaster and hit the Delta—the country’s rice bowl and a densely populated, low-lying area—extremely hard: Some 138,000 people were killed in 10 townships when a storm surge flooded up to 40 kilometers inland.

The then-military government failed to provide a weather warning or an adequate emergency response. Some 800,000 people were left homeless and had their farming livelihoods destroyed.

The families at 3 Mile were among several thousand displaced people who were resettled by military authorities at 13 villages in Labutta Township in the wake of the cyclone. Authorities hired the land from local landowners and with the help of the Norwegian Refugee Council temporary camp sites were set up.

Most displaced returned to their home villages in the years after the cyclone, except for some 1,000 people from 407 households at 3 Mile, whose villages were so utterly destroyed that they had nowhere else to go. In recent years, 293 families have asked authorities to grant them the right to stay at the site and build homes there.

Labutta constituency lawmaker Zaw Win asked Irrawaddy Division parliament in August 2013 whether their request would be met and Irrawaddy Division Minister San Maung replied that the Nargis victims would be granted lands a 3 Mile.

However, authorities have since reneged on the promise after the original landowners demanded their land back, 3 Mile residents said, adding that instead they were offered 30×30-meter plots at a site further away from Labutta town.

“Now, land owners are asking us to move. So, we have no place to live. It has been over two years that we asked the government to grant us lands in 3-Mile, but they did not give it to us,” said Daw Hmay.

“The new place, which they call 5 Mile New Village, has no drinking water, no electricity and no school. It is also far from schools and Labutta. We can’t get a livelihood there. That’s why we refused to live there,” said Tin Tin Nyo, another resident.

“It is not convenient to live in the [new] village. Our 3-Mile is close to Labutta and schools. That’s why we ask [authorities] to grant us land at this place,” said Khin Htay.

Myanmar: Myanmar says boat people belong to Bangladesh, not its shores

11 May 2015 - 9:07am
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar | AFP | Monday 5/11/2015 - 12:55 GMT

Myanmar authorities on Monday described Bangladesh as "the root" of the migrant crisis facing the region, after hundreds of people -- many from the Muslim Rohingya minority -- were found adrift at sea.

Nearly 2,000 people from Myanmar and Bangladesh had been rescued or swum to shore in Malaysia and Indonesia by late Monday, after people smugglers apparently abandoned them in boats.

As the trafficking trail snaking south from Bangladesh and Myanmar, via Thailand and onto Malaysia, slowly gives up some of its secrets, attention has turned on the departure points for desperate migrants who risk death by taking rickety boats in heavy seas.

More than 1.3 million Rohingya, a stateless Muslim ethnic group viewed by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, live in Myanmar's western Rakhine State.

But authorities deny them citizenship, refusing to recognise them as one of the nation's minority groups and labelling them "Bengalis" -- short hand for foreigners on their soil.

"From a humanitarian perspective, the help given by the Malaysians and Indonesians is very good... but the issue is whether these people -- who say they are from Myanmar -- really come from Myanmar," Zaw Htay, the director of the Myanmar's president office told AFP.

"The root of this problem is Bangladesh. Bangladesh carries the major responsibility for this," he said, disputing the existence of a "Rohingya" minority in Myanmar.

"We do not acccept that term," he added.

Deadly communal violence between local Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya in impoverished Rakhine in 2012 left some 200 dead and tens of thousands -- mainly Rohingya -- trapped in squalid camps, catalysing the latest exodus by sea.

The Rohingya say they can trace their ancestry in Myanmar back generations yet they remain expunged from the nation's official narrative.

Many tens of thousands languish in fetid camps for the displaced, unable to work, attend school or access healthcare.

Their status in Myanmar is an incendiary issue for Buddhist hardliners, moreso ahead of elections this year, which observers fear could be derailed if major communal violence was to re-ignite.

Hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Rohingya, have been told to hand over their temporary identity cards over the last two months after Myanmar's president voided the documents.

"At the moment Rakhine State is stable. But the whole state is still in an emergency situation. People need to understand that," Zaw Htay warned.

Some 300,000 Rohingya also live in coastal Bangladesh bordering Myanmar following decades of discrimination. But only a tiny fraction are recognised as refugees there.

The United Nations refugee agency estimates 25,000 people from Myanmar and Bangladesh have taken to boats headed south in the first three months of this year alone.

nan/apj/psr

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Nepal: Asia and the Pacific: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot (5 - 11 May 2015)

11 May 2015 - 7:00am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Micronesia (Federated States of), Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand, Vanuatu

NEPAL

Emergency shelter remains the top response priority, especially with the imminent monsoon rains. Other priority needs include sanitation and hygiene support, household items, medical kits and supplies, food and protection.
To date, 70,000 tarpaulins and nearly 6,000 tents were distributed; nearly 370,000 people received food; more than 345,000 people were provided with safe drinking water and more than 250,000 people with hygiene support.

70,000 tarpaulins delivered

370,000 people received food

The topography challenge is being resolved by enhancing aid delivery methods. Teams of responders were dispatched to cover the affected areas on foot and relief goods are being dropped off at strategic locations.

THAILAND

Authorities and media reported that more than 30 bodies had been found in smugglers’ camps in the southern province of Songkhla, close to the border with Malaysia. The dead were said to be people originating from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Thai police are investigating.

MYANMAR AND BANGLADESH

A UNHCR periodic report released on 8 May estimates that some 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis boarded smugglers’ boats between January and March in 2015 – almost double the number over the same period in 2014.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

A 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck on 5 May off Kokopo, New Britain province. This caused the collapse of electricity distribution lines, cracks in some walls and the partial collapse of a bridge. A surge wave of less than one meter was observed. On 7 May, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake stuck 144 km off Paguna,
Bougainville. No damage or injuries were reported. Over 33 earthquakes were recorded in past weeks.

PHILIPPINES

Typhoon Noul made landfall on10 May at Santa Ana, Caguyan Province, Northern Luzon with wind speeds of 185 kph and gusts up to 220 kph according to the Philippines Atmospheric,
Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration. The Department of Social Welfare and Development reports over 1,850 people affected in Region II, with over 1,580 people inside 19 evacuation centres and the remainder with host communities. As of 11 May two casualties and minimal damage was reported. The typhoon is expected to leave the Philippines Area of Responsibility late on 11 May and head towards Taiwan and Japan.

1,850 people affected

INDONESIA

Heavy rainfall caused two landslides in West Java and East Java on 6 May. In West Java the landslide resulted in five deaths and eight injuries.
Four people are still missing and search and rescue operations are ongoing. Eight houses were damaged and a natural gas pipeline was damaged. The local disaster authorities, police and community volunteers are supporting recovery operations and searching for missing people. Local disaster management authorities are leading the response.

5 people killed

WEST PACIFIC

On 10 May, Tropical Storm Dolphin passed 230 km east of Pohnpei island, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), travelling at a speed of around 70 kmh. Initial reports indicate the storm caused some flooding and damage to crops. The FSM National Disaster Management Office commenced assessments on 11 May. Dolphin is forecast to move west-northwest towards Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands and is likely to intensify as it moves west.

Myanmar: Dala Safe House Offers Refuge for Children in Need

11 May 2015 - 4:41am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By STEVE TICKNER / THE IRRAWADDY

DALA, Rangoon Division — When Daw Ni Ni left her native Chin state in early 2009, she hoped to find work and a new life as a longyi weaver in Dala, just across the river from downtown Rangoon. The region had been devastated by Cyclone Nargis only months before, but that did little to deter her dreams.

Soon after her arrival, Daw Ni Ni’s course took a sharp turn. A friend of her husband arrived at her home with an abandoned baby girl, asking her to care for the child. Despite her hesitation and a complete lack of food and resources at the time, she took the child in. The local community in Dala soon rallied around with support in the form of rice and vegetables.

In a country where the United Nations children’s agency, Unicef, estimates that one in three children are malnourished and 50 percent of under-five infant deaths are preventable, much of the nation’s child welfare responsibilities fall to private citizens with generous hearts.

Without such help, many of these children could become victims of child sexual assault, be left to beg on the streets, given grossly underpaid, physically punishing work for long hours in teashops and factories, or even find themselves recruited and exploited by unscrupulous armed forces.

For Daw Ni Ni, that first young baby girl became the start of a steady flow of children arriving at her home—some orphaned, others simply abandoned or neglected by broken families, all in need of urgent help and protection.

None were turned away, regardless of their faith or ethnicity, and with growing support her home slowly transformed into a child refuge center. The modest residence is now home to more than 17 boys and seven young girls ranging in age from 5 to 17 years, diverse in ethnicity, many from Chin, Naga and Shan backgrounds.

Daw Ni Ni it seemed, had found her calling.

Her husband, Zaw Zwa, is now a river boatman, and together they provide a home and—Daw Ni Ni readily admits—a sometimes patchy education to their ever-growing family.

These days support comes from a variety of sources, although their mainstay is still the local community, supplemented by occasional help and interest from foreign visitors. Daw Ni Ni said that she does not meet the capacity threshold required to qualify for government assistance as an orphanage.

Some of the older boys in her care now work in local repair shops to supplement the household income. The older girls pitch in around the house by cooking and cleaning.

Each child is provided with a locker, and the boys sleep on mats on the ground floor, while the girls stay upstairs with Daw Ni Ni. When the Irrawaddy visited their home on Thursday, most of the children were happily engrossed in an animated movie on the television downstairs.

With an ever-growing population of children at risk on the streets of Burma’s cities, private children’s homes, such as Daw Ni Ni’s, provide an essential service in salvaging young lives and offering protection and hope for the future.

Thailand: Another 30 Graves of Migrants Found as Thais Expand Investigation

11 May 2015 - 2:50am
Source: Radio Free Asia Country: Myanmar, Thailand

Authorities in Thailand said they found 30 more graves of suspected illegal migrants in the south of the country on Thursday, amid a deepening human trafficking scandal that has seen a deputy mayor arrested and about 50 police officers transferred from their posts.

Forensics teams will dig up the graves in Hat Yai district in Songkhla province on Friday, police said.

So far, the authorities have found the bodies of 32 migrants. They were recovered from two sites in a jungle in the province’s Padang Besar sub-district near the border with Malaysia.

Thai border patrolmen stumbled on the new graves at a burial ground in the village of Baan Chalung, while they combed Khao Kaew mountain as part of a governmental crackdown on human trafficking.

Villagers said the graves were in what they believed to be a former camp for trafficking stateless Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar. Members of this minority undertake perilous journeys by sea and land to escape religious and ethnic persecution as well as search for jobs.

“Previously in this vicinity, there used to be one of the big trafficking camps for Rohingya in Songkhla province,” a resident of Baan Chalung told RFA.

Thailand’s far southern region is known as a major transit point for the trafficking into Malaysia of Rohingyas.

Abdul Mabud, a member of the Burmese Rohingya Association of Thailand, told RFA he had reason to believe that several hundred Rohingya were now traveling by sea toward Thai shores.

He expressed fear that the passengers on the vessels in the Andaman Sea could be blocked from coming ashore and that the lives of his fellow Rohingya could be in danger.

“There are some people afloat on boats in the sea. They cannot dock at Phang-nga or Satun and they might be killed and thrown into the water,” Mabud said, referring to two other provinces in southern Thailand.

Officials implicated, cops disciplined

At least five people, including a Burmese national and four local officials from Padang Besar, have been arrested since Monday on suspicion of involvement in human trafficking.

Among them is Padang Besar Deputy Mayor Prasit Laemleh, who turned himself in following a warrant of arrest issued on him.

Deputy National Police Chief Gen. Ek Angsananond told a news conference in Hat Yai on Thursday that Prasit had denied charges of being involved in human trafficking, illegal detention and holding people for ransom.

Altogether there are 18 suspects in the Padang Besar case, 13 of whom are at-large and have warrants out for their arrests, Maj. Gen. Puthachart

Ekachan, deputy superintendent of the police bureau 9 command, told reporters.

Some 50 police officers serving in the south have also been transferred out over alleged links to human trafficking.

Among them were 30 cops from Ranong, Satun and Songkhla provinces, National Police Chief Gen. Somyos Poompanmuang said Wednesday.

“I will not allow these kind of camps to exist in Thailand,” Agence France-Presse quoted Somyos as saying.

Rohingya arrested

Following the discovery of the 30 graves on Thursday, Border Patrol Police found an abandoned human trafficking camp in a rubber plantation in Rattapum district in Songkhla and arrested 15 undocumented Rohingya migrants trekking through the jungle.

According to the Bangkok Post, 17 other undocumented Rohingya were arrested in the area a day earlier.

The operations carried out by the border patrol were part of an effort by Thai authorities to cut off routes used by traffickers to smuggle in people, Gen. Ek told reporters.

“The seal-off operation covers the [point of] origin in Satun province, both seashores and inland trails, where Rohingya dock on the beaches and then trek through the natural trails to Songkhla province. Police, military and civilian officials are patrolling around,” he said.

Reported by RFA.

Myanmar: Meals on wheels in Henzada

11 May 2015 - 1:40am
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

By AYE NAI

When a doctor of 16 years was posted as chief of the Health Department in the town of Ingapu, in Irrawaddy Division’s Henzada [Hinthada] District, he saw it as an opportunity to put into action a long-held plan.

“I always dreamt about a project to provide food to families at an affordable price, for no profit,” Dr Nanda Win told DVB.

Despite the national economic boom Burma has seen in the past few years, millions of the country’s citizens still live in poverty.

The UN’s World Food Programme says that three million people are considered to be ‘food poor’. Thirty-five percent of children under five have stunted growth, a sign of malnutrition, according to the World Health Organisation. In 2025, if current trends continue, that figure will only have fallen to 27.9 percent.

Inadequate nutrition in children can cause developmental problems as a result of vitamin deficiencies. For adults as well, a poor diet can contribute to a ‘poverty trap’, where the ability to work is affected by a lack of nutritious food, causing a downward spiral for whole families.

“I have seen a lot of rural patients with hypertension. My usual advice to them has been to avoid salty food, but they often tell me that ngapi [fermented fish paste] is pretty much the only thing they can afford to eat,” Nanda Win said.

A poor diet increases a vulnerability to infectious diseases, and can exacerbate underlying health problems. The ‘Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension’ initiative from the American National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends minimising sodium intake and emphasises vegetable, fruits, whole grains, fish and vegetable oils – a wildly unattainable diet for those rural families Nanda Win had visited.

“One day, I went to a village unannounced to find out about the locals’ eating habits and saw that most of them, being poor families, had to prepare their daily meal with just a pot of ngapi chutney. I was very sad to see that. I wanted them to be able to eat more healthy and nutritious food, but knew they could not afford that with their income,” he told DVB.

“I told the hospital staff and their families about my plan – I would invest money and, while the hospital staff are at work, their families can cook the meals to sell to poor families at pretty much the cost price.”

“We sold rice and thesone kalahin [bean and mixed vegetable soup] for 200 kyat (US$0.20), rice with pork curry for 300 kyat, and rice with chicken curry for 500 kyat … The thesone kalahin has all six nutritional requirements for good health, and it is one of the favourite dishes of most Burmese. At first, we only prepared meals for 100 families each day and would always sell out within minutes,” he said.

A chef and two assistants prepare the dishes, before they are loaded on to rickshaws and transported to families around the town at around 4pm every day.

“Most of our customers are poor families from the outskirts of Ingapu. They are our dedicated customers. There are also some well-to-do customers, but we have explained that we have to prioritise the sales to the poor.”

Nanda Win’s scheme has proved so popular that they have already had to expand, and are looking to scale-up again in the near future.

“We have now expanded from one rickshaw to two. We are also looking to expand further more with up to three or four rickshaws,” he said.