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9507News from Myanmar and Rohingya Muslims: Rohingya are an indigenous people of Burma: OIC Sec-Gen

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  • Zafar Khan
    Dec 15, 2013
      Rohingya are an indigenous people of Burma: OIC Sec-Gen
      By COLIN HINSHELWOOD 11 December 2013

      https://www.dvb.no/interview/rohingya-are-an-indigenous-people-of-the-land-oic-sec-gen-burma-myanmar/35165

      The secretary-general of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Prof. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, spoke with DVB about his recent trip to Burma where he pledged OIC assistance to all communities in Arakan state – Buddhist and Muslim alike. We asked him about Rohingya rights, Rule of Law, and the path to a peaceful future.

      Q: Several figures in Burma/ Myanmar have expressed opinions that the major reason for sectarian violence or anti-Muslim riots in the country is a fundamental lack of rule of law. To what extent do you believe law enforcement (or a lack thereof) is to blame? And, is this the major reason for the violence? If not, what is?

      A: From 13-17 November 2013, a seven-member OIC Ministerial Contact Group Delegation visited Myanmar at the invitation of the President to assess the situation on the ground and toured camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The Delegation held discussions with government officials, members of civil society organizations and political parties, which enabled the OIC to obtain a better appreciation of the local conditions and causes of the communal tensions on the ground.

      While Myanmar is making tremendous steps towards democracy there is still a need to strengthen institutions and maintain enforcement of the rule of law, particularly in Rakhine [Arakan] state. However, the inter-communal tensions that erupted stem largely from fundamental misunderstandings and misconceptions amongst different communities about each other. There is fear, suspicion and mistrust driven by false propaganda against Islam and Muslims on social media and by some extremists. The Government recognizes that this lack of trust that pervades the community makes reconciliation and harmonious living difficult and the OIC has made itself available to play a role, if requested, in this regard.
      ...
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      Struggle of the stateless: meeting Rohingya refugees
      India correspondent Stephanie March
      Updated Sat 14 Dec 2013, 4:58pm AEDT

      http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-13/an2013---stephanie-march/5148900

      The first time I met Yasmin was on the side of a road near a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Wearing a black chador, a robe which covered her from head to toe, she and her father, Zakir, bundled into my car and we drove to my hotel.

      As new arrivals from Myanmar they were too scared to be seen talking to a western journalist at the camp.

      In the hotel room Yasmin showed me her few possessions - her work papers, and two photographs of her family. Among her nine brothers and sisters, I struggled to find her in the grainy picture.

      The photo was of the kind taken annually by the Myanmar Government to keep track of the number of people in each Rohingya family. Yasmin's family are standing behind a blackboard which has written on it her father’s name, her village and the number of people in her family.

      I couldn’t identify Yasmin in the photo so I asked her to show me where she was. She pointed to a girl wearing a light yellow blouse, and with her long dark hair tied back in a pony tail.

      I realized it wasn’t just the quality of the photo that made her hard to identify – the girl before me looked like a completely different person. I asked her why in the photo she was not wearing more modest Muslim dress.

      “They wouldn’t let me”, was her answer, ‘they’ being the authorities in Myanmar.

      Yasmin fled Myanmar because some of her former UNHCR co-workers had been assaulted and raped by the army.

      Worried she too would be targeted, Zakir sold the family home for much less than it was worth to finance a journey into limbo – Bangladesh doesn’t grant Rohingya refugee status and Myanmar won’t take them back, leaving them stateless, without a home, or an identity.

      I’ve since been told that a few weeks after our meeting, Zakir managed to get his wife and nine other children across the treacherous Myanmar border into Bangladesh, and then into India.

      I understand they are now living in Jharkhand state, but that is where the story ends.

      The Indian phone number Zakir gave me is no longer working, and it’s not easy to find someone in a country of 1.2 billion who, officially, doesn’t exist.
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      Myanmar Must Stop Escalation of Violence Against Rohingya: Activist
      Sun, December 15 2013 18:44

      http://www.antaranews.com/en/news/91800/myanmar-must-stop-escalation-of-violence-against-rohingya-activist

      Singapore (Antara News)- The Myanmar government must stop the escalation of violence against the Rohingya minority because it is dangerous and could develop into genocide, Rafendi Djamin, a noted Indonesian human rights activist, said.

      "The human rights situation in Myanmar is regressing because the government and politicians let the escalation of violence continue against the Rohingya people," Djamin, Indonesias representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), said on the sidelines of a workshop entitled Reporting on Regional Integration and ASEAN, here on Saturday.

      Myanmar will be ASEAN Chair 2014 and automatically become chairman of the AICHR next year, he said, adding that this would be an appropriate opportunity for Myanmar to prove that it deserves the chairmanship of the human rights commission of ASEAN.

      The Myanmar government must ban the hatred demonstrated by radical Buddhists against Rohingya Muslims, since it has escalated into violence and could lead to genocide, he said.

      Laws must be enforced, those promoting hatred and who commit violence must be punished, Djamin added.

      "It is the responsibility of the Myanmar government to implement early warning systems in order to prevent genocide," he said.

      Djamin also urged Indonesia to play a leading role in solving the problem of Myanmars Rohingya minority by enforcing the Jakarta Declaration and Bali Process.

      The humanitarian situation, including the stateless status of the Rohingya, must be addressed, and their basic human rights must be protected. They must be able to have their medical needs met and have opportunities to work, he stated.

      Indonesia, as co-chair of the Bali Process, along with Australia, has the capability to help solve the Rohingya problem, Djamin said.

      Besides, being the most democratic nation and most economically advanced country, Indonesia has the responsibility to promote the protection of human rights in ASEAN, he said.

      Recently, in September and October, seven people were killed and scores of houses were burned to the ground when Buddhist mobs attacked ethnic Rohinyga Muslim villages in Thandwe Township, Arakan State, The Irrawaddy daily reported.

      Myanmar rejected a United Nations committee request to grant the Muslim minority group citizenship rights, saying the country does not recognize the existence of "a Rohingya minority."

      The UN General Assemblys human rights committee, on Nov. 19, unanimously passed a resolution calling for Burma to grant citizenship to the Muslim minority Rohingyas and also called on the Buddhist nation to contain violence against the Rohingyas and other Muslims.

      The resolution passed the committee by consensus. The body will consider it this year under General Assembly rules.

      Some 140,000 Muslim Rohingyas have been driven from their homes in the coastal Arakan state region following Buddhist-Muslim clashes over the past year, and more than 200 have been killed. The violence has spread to Muslim communities elsewhere in Myanmar. (*)
      (f001/INE/B003)
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      Thai PM vows to consider Rohingya report
      Big News Network.com Sunday 8th December, 2013

      http://www.bignewsnetwork.com/index.php/sid/218954798
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      Time for Soft Talk with Myanmar is Over
      By Habib Siddiqui
      Monday, 02 December 2013 00:00

      http://www.onislam.net/english/politics/asia/466491-time-for-soft-talk-with-myanmar-is-over.html

      An OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) delegation, which included foreign ministers and senior officials from its member states Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Djibouti, and Bangladesh recently visited Myanmar. It was led by the OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

      The OIC delegation pressed for unhindered access of humanitarian aid to all affected people and communities, including Rakhine (Arakan) State, without any discrimination. They also stressed the need for clarifying misconceptions and misunderstandings on both sides and for building mutual trust and interfaith community harmony.

      As has become the norm in this mostly Buddhist country that has come to signify the den of intolerance and hatred of our time, the OIC delegation was, however, met by angry demonstrators, especially in the Rakhine state, which has seen more than its share of ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minorities.

      Some 3,000 protesters, led by Buddhist monks, staged their demonstrations in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe (formerly called Akyab) as they toured camps housing mostly displaced Rohingya refugees as well as some ethnic Rakhines and met local officials.

      The delegation’s visit to Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon on Friday also saw nearly 1,000 people, carrying "No OIC" placards.

      Rohinya's Persecution Continues

      The protests of this kind — organized by the members of the central government and local administration, Buddhist politicians, and monks — are nothing new. These are a show of defiance against everything noble and humane.

      These dark, hideous, and savage forces of Theravada Buddhism want to hide their monumental crimes against humanity and want to starve to death the remnants of the Muslim minority who mostly now live in abject poverty as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in squalid camps.

      Last year, the Buddhist government similarly did not allow the fact finding missions from international agencies, including the OIC, to tour the ethnically cleansed territories. It also did not allow opening up an OIC office in the Rakhine state.

      In the midst of government-sponsored protest demonstrations, the OIC had to pack up and leave, which only emboldened the savage regime and its supporters within the apartheid state to repeat their crimes against the Rohingya — who, according to the UN, are the most persecuted people on earth — and other Muslim minorities.

      So the plight of the Rohingya and other Muslim minorities continues unabated inside apartheid Myanmar. In ethnic cleansing drives in this country, the victims are usually the Rohingyas and yet they end up in the prisons (and not the Buddhist marauders) overwhelmingly. A peaceful demonstration may cost them their lives in this Mogher Mulluk.

      The same security forces which did nothing to stop lynching of Muslim victims have no moral qualms in killing them unprovoked for staging a peaceful demonstration.

      As has been noted by the Associated Press on Nov. 24, 600 Rohingya Muslim men were recently thrown in jail in this remote corner of Myanmar during a ruthless security crackdown that followed sectarian violence, and among one in 10 who didn't make it out alive.

      An eyewitness described that when she visited the jail, the cells were crammed with men, hands chained behind their backs, several stripped naked. Many showed signs of torture. Her husband, Mohammad Yasim, was doubled over, vomiting blood, his hip bone shattered. "We all were crying so loudly, the walls of the prison could have collapsed," the 40-year-old widow said.

      "They killed him soon after that," she said of her husband. Her account was corroborated by her father, her 10-year-old son and a neighbor. "Other prisoners told us soldiers took his corpse and threw it in the forest." "We didn't even have a chance to see his body," she said.

      In early November, three Rohingyas were killed. One Rohingya man was murdered by Rakhine villagers when collecting firewood in the forest. Another two were killed and four wounded after riot police opened fire during clashes. In Pauktaw Township the situation remained tense with many of the remaining Rohingya villagers being forced into an IDP camp allegedly for their own security by army and police.

      Many are afraid because the camp, funded by an international aid group, is very close to a village with only Buddhist Rakhines.

      Government's Complicity

      Buddhist security forces have been allowed to operate with impunity. As a result of such brutality, unfathomed discrimination by state authorities and their obvious collusion with the Rakhine (Magh) extremists towards never-ending pogroms life has only gotten worse for Rohingya. They see no way out but to board rickety boats for Bangladesh, or make the perilous journey to Malaysia. Many have already drowned trying when their boats capsized.

      In spite of Myanmar’s Government’s zealous efforts to hide its complicity and crimes against humanity, truth has been leaking out.

      Consider, for instance, the testimony of Mr. Thomas H. Andrews, President and CEO of United to End Genocide on Sept.19, 2013 in front of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. In that, he provided his first-hand account of visits made in Burma. He traveled to Rakhine State in the west where he visited eight IDP camps and spoke with dozens of desperate IDPs.

      He also traveled to the central and northern area of Mandalay and the city of Meiktila where he visited neighborhoods and met with many people and families who continue to live in fear and desperation. He also came across Muslims in Rangoon whose fear and intimidation was on the rise in Myanmar. During his trip, Mr. Andrews was blocked by security forces at roadside checkpoints from visiting IDP camps.

      The reason was clear.

      They did not want him to hear what had happened to the Muslim community inside Myanmar. Nevertheless, the signs of destruction were everywhere and he was able to see burnt out buildings and destroyed Mosques, meet with those who had to literally run for their lives after watching their homes and everything that they had worked for destroyed.

      They were living in abject poverty in makeshift camps wanting desperately to return and rebuild their village but also utterly terrified by the Buddhist mobs, Myanmar security forces, and police even more.

      Throughout his travels, Mr. Andrews heard stories of systematic discrimination, isolation, and blanket oppression where every aspect of life of members of the Muslim minority was controlled. People described living in constant fear of violence within their communities and intimidation by authorities.

      The right to move from one village — or even one street — to another, the right to earn a living, to get married, to have more than two children, and even the right to live with one’s own family was often dependent on the permission of authorities and most often only after the payment of bribes.

      He found that hate speech — a precursor of genocide — was prevalent in Burma. Fueling it was a systematic, well organized and well funded campaign of hatred and bigotry known as “969”. It followed a well established pattern:

      1) Campaign organizers arrive in a village, distributing DVDs, pamphlets, and stickers that warn Buddhists that their religion and their country were in peril as Muslims seek to eliminate both and establish a Muslim caliphate;

      2) Villages are invited to a special community event to hear a message from venerable Buddhist monks about how they can protect their families, nation, and religion;

      3) Radical nationalist monks arrive at the designated time and deliver fiery hate-filled speeches warning that Muslims are plotting to destroy Buddhism and take control of the nation. Villages are encouraged to support the movement by signing petitions, and displaying “969” stickers on their homes and businesses. They are encouraged to only patronize those who displayed the stickers and boycott any Muslim owned or operated business.

      New UN Resolution

      As I have documented earlier, the hateful rhetoric of these radical Rakhine monks and the “969” campaign is ominously reminiscent of the hateful propaganda directed at the Tutsi population and their sympathizers in the lead up and during the Rwandan genocide, let alone the Nazi-led Holocaust more than half a century earlier.

      Demanding the expulsion of all Rohingya from Burma, these monks urge the local population to sever all relations with not only the Rohingya, but also with what are described as their “sympathizers”. Labeled as national traitors, those Buddhists who associate with Rohingya Muslims also face intimidation and the threat of violence.

      Gregory Stenton, President of Genocide Watch, documented eight stages of genocide – Classification, Symbolization, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Extermination, and Denial. Human rights watchers have long concluded that the Rohingyas are facing genocide in Myanmar, and this crime must be stopped.

      On Tuesday, Nov. 19, the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee passed a resolution urging Myanmar to give the stateless Rohingya minority equal access to citizenship and to crack down on Buddhist violence against them and other Muslims. In its response, an official of the Myanmar government said that it will not allow itself to be pressured by a UN resolution.

      Presidential spokesman Ye Htut insisted in a posting on his Facebook page that the government does not recognize that there is a group called Rohingya, referring to them instead as Bengalis.

      As I have noted above, such defiance by the rogue Myanmar regime is not new and unless checked vehemently it will continue to defy the world community. The elimination of Muslims there has become a national project enjoying widespread support from Nobel disgrace Suu Kyi to President Thein Sein. Thus, the UN has to go beyond passing soft resolutions that don’t bite the rogue regime.

      A reading of history shows that genocide succeeds when state sovereignty blocks international responsibility to protect its persecuted group. It continues due to lack of authoritative international institutions to predict it and call it as such. It happens due to lack of ready rapid response forces to stop it and lack of political will to peacefully prevent it and to forcefully intervene to stop it.

      Since founding of the UN, at least 45 genocides and policies have taken place in our world resulting in deaths of some 70 million people. It is a shameful record that needs to be improved.

      The time for soft talk with Myanmar is over. It is high time for the UN Security Council to authorize armed intervention in Myanmar by a UN force under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter. The Mandate must include protection of Rohingya civilians and humanitarian workers and a No Fly Zone over the Rakhine state. The Rules of Engagement must be robust and include aggressive prevention of killing.

      The major military powers (e.g., the USA, Russia, and the UK) must provide leadership, logistics, airlift, communications, and financing.

      If Myanmar will not permit entry, its UN membership should be suspended. Myanmar’s leaders should be tried in an international criminal court for committing and aiding crimes against humanity. Nothing short of these will be able to stop these savage criminals. Sooner the better!
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      UN envoy slams Myanmar's anti-Muslim violence
      Human rights envoy says violence feeds wider anti-Muslim narrative that threatens country's reform process.
      Last Modified: 25 Oct 2013 04:05

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2013/10/un-envoy-slams-myanmar-anti-muslim-violence-201310250350636671.html
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      No place for Islam? Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar
      The continued violence against the broader Muslim community stains any democratic reforms in a country, writes author.
      Last Modified: 18 Oct 2013 11:02

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/10/no-place-islam-buddhist-nationalism-myanmar-2013101710411233906.html

      In Rakhine State in western Myanmar, during President Thein Sein's visit to the region earlier this month, a mob of hundreds of Buddhists descended on a Muslim village - more than 70 homes were burnt to the ground and a 94-year-old Muslim woman lay dead from stab wounds. This attack is just the latest in a series of clashes between the Buddhist and Muslim populations around the country.

      Despite the democratic and economic reforms in Myanmar over the past year and a thaw in this once isolated authoritarian state's relations with the West, the growing violence against the Muslim population is a tragic reminder that Myanmar is still far from fully relinquishing the problems stemming from decades of military rule. For many Muslims, particularly the Rohingya people of Rakhine State, the hopeful talk of democracy and freedom as the dark shadows of the junta recede, is but empty rhetoric as the oppression and prejudice of the past half-century at the hands of the Burmese- and Buddhist-dominated military government continues unabated.

      History of persecution

      While many minority groups in Myanmar suffered at the hands of the government, the Rohingya, numbering roughly 2 million, face the denial of their identity and a threat to their mere existence. The BBC has referred to the stateless Rohingya as "one of the world's most persecuted minority groups”.

      The Rohingya, the historical inhabitants of what was then Arakan State (which was renamed Rakhine State in 1989 at the same time Burma was renamed Myanmar), remained a part of Myanmar after independence from British rule in 1948, despite early discussions of joining the bordering East Pakistan. After the military junta under General Ne Win rose to power in 1962, the government started a process of establishing a nationalist identity based on the dominant ethnicity and religion - Burmese and Buddhist. This was a shift from the more inclusive vision of Myanmar's Founding Father, Aung San, who included representatives from minority ethnic and religious communities on the short-lived Executive Committee of his interim government, before he was assassinated in 1947.

      The Muslim Rohingya, as both non-Burmese and non-Buddhist, were labeled foreigners and incorrectly called "illegal Bengali immigrants” who came to Myanmar under British rule. Beginning in the 1970s, the Burmese military embarked on campaigns to ethnically cleanse the nation of the Rohingya.

      The first of these, Operation Naga Min or King Dragon, was initiated in 1978 for the purpose of identifying "illegal immigrants” in the country and expelling them. The symbol of the King Dragon is an important aspect of Buddhist mythology. Naga, a mythological dragon, is originally an Indian motif and figures prominently in the legends of the Buddha. A Nagayon, or "sheltered by dragon", temple in Myanmar is closely tied with the idea of the dragon as protector. The temples carry a carving of this dragon, resembling a hooded cobra, protecting a Buddha image with its hood. Identification became the first step in this large scale ethnic cleansing operation of the military "protecting” the sanctity of Buddhism from the "foreigners” who posed a "threat”.

      During this operation, the Rohingya were subjected to widespread rape, arbitrary arrests, destruction of mosques and villages, and seizure of their lands. Rubble from mosques was often used to pave roads between military bases in the region. A mass exodus of nearly a quarter-of-a-million Rohingya refugees fled across the Naaf River for neighbouring Bangladesh in a period of only three months. Many of these refugees were repatriated to Myanmar the following year.

      In 1991, a second military operation, Operation Pyi Thaya or Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation, was launched for the same purpose of expelling the Rohingya population. Two-hundred-thousand Rohingya refugees fled again into Bangladesh. Nearly 300,000 refugees remain there today in makeshift refugee camps, many without food or medical assistance, with only 28,000 in officially recognised United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) camps. Bangladesh has rejected any proposal for local integration of the Rohingya, citing that the Rohingya are "environmental and economic burdens, social hazards in the village, and breeders of Islamic militancy.”

      Bangladesh has impeded or rejected efforts to improve the camps and offer humanitarian aid as they fear this will serve as an incentive for refugees to remain in the country and for further Rohingya to cross the border from Myanmar. In 2011, they rejected a $33m aid package from the United Nations to be used for the Rohingya refugees.

      They are treated with equal contempt by other countries in the region. There have been many media reports of the Rohingya "boat people”, fleeing by sea, being shot at by the Thai navy, being captured and sold by Thai officials to human traffickers, or being held indefinitely in immigration centres in Australia and resorting to suicide rather than continuing to face a hopeless situation.

      Genocidal actions?

      Within Myanmar, the Rohingya have consistently been denied their identity. Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, they were officially stripped of their citizenship which was reserved for the 135 officially recognised ethnic groups. As non-citizens, the Rohingya were required to have government permission to travel outside their villages, repair their mosques, get married, or even have children, all arrestable offenses if done without a permit. Government permission, however, is procured through bribes which few can afford.

      Since 1994, a local policy was implemented for those Rohingya who do gain permission to marry to limit them to only two children, a policy which was given full government support in May 2013. If a woman becomes illegally pregnant, she is forced to either flee the country as a refugee or get a back-alley abortion under extremely unsanitary conditions. Many who choose to have an abortion die due to their inability to receive proper medical care as a result of the travel restrictions.

      Many Rohingya have also been forced to labour on various construction projects as modern-day slaves, including building "model villages” intended to house the Burmese settlers encouraged to come to the region to displace the Rohingya. There have been reports of forced prostitution of Rohingya women by the local Burmese security forces.

      It is well to remember Article 2 of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which states: "Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

      It was this tumultuous history which fed the June 2012 violence against the Rohingya at the hands of the neighbouring Buddhist Rakhine. While the official death toll was 192, Rohingya human rights groups claim that there were over 1,000 killed. Mobs of Rakhine burned entire villages to the ground with over 125,000 Rohingya forcibly displaced without any aid or assistance. A Human Rights Watch report called the incident state-supported "ethnic cleansing”, writing that the government security forces "assisted the killings by disarming the Rohingya of their sticks and other rudimentary weapons they carried to defend themselves”. Many media reports referred to this violence as "sectarian” implying that each party played an equal role in the violence.

      President Thein Sein reiterated the following month that, in the eyes of the government, the Rohingya were not citizens of Myanmar and that he wished to hand over the entire ethnic group to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in order to settle them in a different country. Buddhist monks in Mandalay held protests against the Rohingya in which they supported the proposal of the President.

      969 movement

      In the past year, while the government has opened up to reform and relations with the West, there has been an expansion of the violence against other Muslim communities. The March riots in Meiktila in central Myanmar which burnt more than 1300 homes in Muslim neighbourhoods and killed 43 people were instigated by Buddhist monks who were part of the 969 movement. The movement, whose spiritual leader is a Buddhist monk named U Wirathu, encourages local people to boycott trade with Muslims and shop only at Buddhist-owned stores which display the number 969, a number which symbolises Buddha's teachings and Buddhist practices. They view Muslims as a threat to the nation. A demonstration in support of U Wirathu saw Buddhist monks carrying banners which read, "Not The Terrorist, But The Protector of Race, Language and The Religion.” The latest violence, in September, has implicated the Kaman Muslims in the Rakhine State, who are recognised as one of the
      official ethnic groups of Myanmar and granted full citizenship.

      Aung San Suu Kyi, the heroine of democracy and human rights, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and daughter of Aung San, has condemned the recent violence against the Muslim community but has remained curiously silent on the suffering of the Rohingya. During a November 2012 BBC interview, when questioned about the Rohingya, Suu Kyi answered, "I am urging tolerance but I do not think one should use one's moral leadership, if you want to call it that, to promote a particular cause without really looking at the sources of the problems." She continues to refer to the Rohingya as "Bengalis”. This is in contrast to remarks by US President Barack Obama at Yangon University during his official visit to Myanmar last November, where he acknowledged the "dignity" and suffering of the "innocent" Rohingya people, a position few inside of Myanmar have been willing to take.

      The continued plight of the Rohingya, both in Myanmar and as refugees abroad, as well as the continued violence against the broader Muslim community stains any democratic reforms in a country which has known little but violence and civil war for the past half-century. The situation is desperate as the violence is only getting worse and expanding to new groups.

      Myanmar needs to take a firm stand on the side of human rights, pluralism, and security for all of its citizens, promote the rule of law, and, at a more basic level, recognise the existence and the suffering of the Rohingya. Only then can a democratic Myanmar be recognised as legitimate in the eyes of the international community and its own people.
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      Fear Grips Burma Muslims
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Wednesday, 02 October 2013 17:53

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/asia-pacific/464753-fear-grips-burma-muslims.html

      YANGON – Terrified Muslim families on the hide in Burma forests a day after fleeing new sectarian violence that erupted in the divided region.

      “We are living in fear,” Myint Aung, a local Muslim official, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Wednesday, September 2.

      “Many people, including women and children, are hiding in the forest nearby.

      "We are disappointed that we have a government that is unable to provide security for us,” he added.

      Terrified Muslims are hiding in fear of their lives after around 800 Buddhist rioters torched homes and attacked local Muslims in a village in the area of Thandwe on Tuesday.

      At least five Muslims were killed by Buddhist mobs in the Burmese state of Rakhine on Tuesday, police say.

      A 94-year-old Muslim woman, who suffered stab wounds, was among the dead.

      "The death toll rose to five - four men and a woman," a Rakhine police official who did not want to be named told AFP on Wednesday, adding that the victims were all killed during Tuesday's violence.

      Four Rakhine Buddhists were injured in clashes and a fifth was missing, while 59 houses and a mosque have been torched since tensions flared on Saturday, police said.

      Initial police reports confirmed that at least 100 Muslims houses and a mosque were torched and 50 were injured during the rampage which started earlier on Saturday.

      Around 250 people have been killed and more than 140,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of inter-religious violence around the country since June 2012, mostly in Rakhine.

      Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been forced to flee their homes in western Burma since June after attacks from Buddhist mobs on their areas.

      The anti-Muslim violence spread to central Burma earlier this year, leaving scores of people dead.

      The violence has displaced nearly 29,000 people, more than 97 percent of whom are Rohingya Muslims, according to the United Nations.

      Many now live in camps, adding to 75,000 mostly Rohingya displaced in June 2012, after a previous explosion of sectarian violence.

      ‘Minor’ Crimes

      Appalled by the sectarian Buddhist rampage, Burma's Muslims organizations have called on the government to secure their protection.

      "The concerns of minority Muslims around the country have reached peak levels. They feel they have no security,” four major Burmese Muslim organizations said in a letter sent to President Thein Sein on Tuesday which was cited by AAP.

      The Muslim organizations urged the government to implement an urgent 'law-enforcement action', to protect the prosecuted Muslims minority.

      "We demand that the government ensures the rule of law in order to protect us," the statement said.

      "The Muslim minority is feeling great sorrow after being attacked and we are now living in a high state of fear,” it added.

      Thein Sein held meetings with members of Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities during his two-day tour.

      In a message to a multi-faith conference, which was carried in state media on Wednesday, Thein Sein lamented “instigations fuelling minor crimes into conflicts between the two communities and two religions.”

      “Such instability based on religion and race harms and delays the state reforms and tarnishes the national image internationally,” he warned.

      Burma’s Muslims -- largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent -- account for an estimated four percent of the roughly 60 million population.

      Muslims entered Burma en masse for the first time as indentured laborers from the Indian subcontinent during British colonial rule, which ended in 1948.

      But despite their long history, they have never fully been integrated into the country, widely considered as foreigners.

      Last year, scores of Muslims were killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes after sectarian clashes with the Buddhist majority in the western state of Rakhine.

      Most of the victims were Muslim Rohingya and many remain in camps they are not allowed to leave.

      Rights groups have accused the Burmese security forces of killing, raping and arresting Rohingyas following the violence.

      In April, more than 40 people were killed and several mosques were burnt in central Burma after a dispute between Muslims and Buddhists in Meikhtila.
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      Rohingya Muslims face abuse in transit
      Refugees pay thousands of dollars to escape discrimination in Myanmar, but often face exploitation in Thailand.
      Last Modified: 12 Sep 2013 18:00

      http://www.aljazeera.com/video/asia-pacific/2013/09/2013912154358802386.html
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      Dalai Lama Urges Burma Muslims Protection
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Wednesday, 18 September 2013 16:17

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/asia-pacific/464528-dalai-lama-urges-burma-muslims-protection.html

      PRAGUE - Saddened by increasing sectarian violence in Burma, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has sent a new outcry to Buddhist monks to stop prosecuting Burma Muslims, urging them to adhere to ‘Buddhist principles’.

      "Those Burmese monks, please, when they develop some kind of anger towards Muslim brothers and sisters, please, remember the Buddhist faith," the Dalai Lama said at the annual human rights conference in the Czech capital on Tuesday, September 17, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.

      “I am sure ... that would protect those Muslim brothers and sisters who are becoming victims.”

      Muslims in Burma and Sri Lanka have been facing repeated attacks by Buddhists in recent months.

      Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been forced to flee their homes in western Burma since June after attacks from Buddhist mobs on their areas.

      The anti-Muslim violence spread to central Burma earlier this year, leaving scores of people dead.

      The violence has displaced nearly 29,000 people, more than 97 percent of whom are Rohingya Muslims, according to the United Nations.

      Many now live in camps, adding to 75,000 mostly Rohingya displaced in June 2012, after a previous explosion of sectarian violence.

      A Reuters investigation found that radical Buddhist monks had been actively involved in the violence and in spreading anti-Muslim material around the country.

      Last year, a number of Buddhist monks disrupted Muslim prayer services in the village of Dambulla, claiming that the mosque, built in 1962, was illegal.

      Weeks later, monks drafted a threatening letter aimed at Muslims in the nearby town of Kurunegala, demanding Islamic prayer services there be halted.

      The 78-year-old exiled spiritual leader, noted that there was "too much emphasis on 'we' and 'they'" in the world, and that "this century should be a century of dialogue, not wars".

      Solution!

      On the sidelines of Prague conference, the Burmese democracy icon and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has met the Dalai Lama, calling for ‘Constitutional changes’ to end sectarian violence in Burma.

      "The ethnic problem will not be solved by this present constitution which does not meet the aspirations of the ethnic nationalities," Suu Kyi said on Tuesday, AFP reported.

      “We need to amend the present constitution that we may truly become a democratic country. This constitution is anti-democratic.

      "We've got to give our people a sense of security first, they must feel they have equal access to justice.

      "If somebody is afraid of being attacked by people from another community, you can't expect them to sit down and talk to one another,” she added.

      The Burmese icon added that draft of recommended constitutional amendments will be raised by a committee of parliamentarians by end of the year, to topple the decade-old constitution.

      Last year, the Nobel laureate has declined to show support for Bengali-ethnic Muslims, Rohingyas, saying she will not use "moral leadership" to back any sides in the deadly sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the Asian country.

      Equating both sides of the conflict, the Burmese icon blamed Muslims and Buddhists on inciting sectarian violence.

      Sui Kyi has been under fire over being silent on the persecution on the sizable Muslim minority.

      In September 2012, she came under fierce criticism after saying that she does not know whether Muslim Rohingyas are citizens of Burma or no.

      Rohingya Muslims have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.

      The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".

      Burma is about 90 percent Buddhist and the majority are ethnically Burman, but the remaining people are a diverse group of over 100 ethnic and religious minorities.
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      Burmese Buddhists riot after rumours of sexual assault by Muslim man
      Dozens of homes and shops set on fire as hundreds rampage through village in latest outbreak of sectarian violence
      AP in Htan Gone
      The Guardian, Sunday 25 August 2013 15.21 BST

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/25/burmese-buddhists-riot-muslim

      Hundreds of Buddhists carrying sticks and swords went on a rampage in a village in north-western Burma, setting fire to dozens of homes and shops after rumours that a young woman had been sexually assaulted by a Muslim man.

      There were no reports of injuries in the latest round of sectarian violence to sweep the country.

      The hours-long riot in Htan Gone, located 16 kilometres (10 miles) south of the town of Kantbalu in the Sagaing region of Burma, began late on Saturday after a crowd surrounded a police station, demanding that the assault suspect be handed over, a police officer told the Associated Press. The officer requested anonymity because he did not have the authority to speak to reporters.

      State television reported that about 42 houses and 15 shops – most belonging to Muslims – were burned and destroyed before security forces shot in the air to disperse the mob early on Sunday.

      The predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million has been grappling with sectarian violence since the military rulers handed over power to a nominally civilian government in 2011.

      The unrest, which has killed more than 250 people and left 140,000 others displaced, began last year in the western state of Rakhine, where Buddhists accuse the Rohingya Muslim community of illegally entering the country and encroaching on their land.

      The violence, on a smaller scale but still deadly, spread to other parts of the country this year, fuelling deep-seated prejudices against the Muslim minority and threatening Burma's transition to democracy.

      Almost all of the victims have been Muslims, often attacked as security forces stood by.

      Aung San, a 48-year-old Muslim man whose house was burned in the violence in Htan Gone, said: "People descended on our village with swords and spears, and sang the national anthem and began destroying shops and burned houses.

      "Police shouted at the mob to disperse, but did not take any serious action."

      Aung San, who lives with his parents, who are in their 70s, said his family had to flee.

      "We hid my parents and two sisters in a cemetery before the mob burned our house, and we fled later," he said. He and his family were taking refuge at a Muslim school on Sunday.

      Myint Naing, an opposition politician who represents constituents in Kantbalu, was outraged by the latest violence.

      He said Muslims and Buddhists have lived side by side in the area for many years.

      "There is a mosque in almost every village in our township and we live a peaceful co-existence," he said as he headed to the scene, adding that at least one mosque had been burned down in the violence.

      "I cannot understand why the authorities were unable to control the crowd when it originally started," he said.
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      Rohingya asylum seekers escape from Thai immigration centre
      Police search for 87 escapees who broke out having been held since January for illegally entering Thailand from Burma
      Kate Hodal in Bangkok and agencies
      theguardian.com, Tuesday 20 August 2013 16.40 BST

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/20/rohingya-asylum-seekers-escape-thai-immigration-centre

      Nearly 90 Rohingya asylum seekers have escaped from a crowded Thai immigration centre, after spending eight months in prison for illegally entering the country from neighbouring Burma.

      The 87 escapees used knives to file through iron bars and climbed ropes made from tied-together clothes to flee to surrounding woods in the Songkhla province of southern Thailand, where police were still looking for the men.

      "The men were detained for many months and tensions were high," Songkhla's police commander Suwit Chernsiri told Reuters.

      The group was among some 1,800 Rohingya asylum seekers who have been detained since January across Thailand after fleeing sectarian violence in Burma, where tens of thousands have been displaced since fighting broke out between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine last year.

      The escape is the second this month after 30 Rohingya broke out of a Songkhla police cell in early August.

      The Rohingya are a stateless group who are denied citizenship in Burma, where authorities consider them Bengali migrants. Bangladesh also refuses to acknowledge them.

      Rights groups estimate that as many as 35,000 Rohingya fled Burma and neighbouring Bangladesh by boat from June 2012 to May this year, most of them hoping to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia.

      Those who have reached Thailand have been allowed to stay temporarily until a third country is willing to accept them, although thousands more are estimated to have been caught by Thai authorities and pushed back out to sea.

      Rights groups claim Rohingya are kept in overcrowded, "inhumane and unsafe" detention centres in Thailand, where men are kept separately from their families, with women and children at risk of being targeted by both Thai and Rohingya human traffickers, who sell them on to neighbouring countries such as Malaysia for considerable fees. Some men are trafficked to work on fishing boats and farms.

      Over 200 men, women and children have escaped from detention centres since July, and eight men have died so far while in detention, according to Human Rights Watch.

      The jail break comes the same day as a new report highlights a systemic failure by the Burmese government to protect the country's Muslim minority, which comprises roughly 5% of Burma's 60m population.

      Over 250,000 people — mostly Muslims — and over 10,000 homes have been destroyed over the past two years due to violent clashes between Burma's Muslims and Buddhists, the Physicians for Human Rights report (pdf) says, with the government not only failing to address major human rights violations but often being complicit in those violations.

      This has resulted in violence spreading beyond the Rohingya population and has affected Muslim communities throughout the country, the report adds.

      "The Burmese government has not only failed to protect vulnerable groups, but has created a dangerous culture of impunity that fuels human rights violations," said the report's co-author Dr Holly Atkinson.

      "These horrific attacks can only be stopped if there is a thorough investigation and prosecution of those responsible, and appropriate steps are taken to protect vulnerable and marginalised groups."

      Last week the Thai government discussed a plan to transfer over 1,800 Rohingya to refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border, a move that would further incarcerate a vulnerable group in need of jobs and shelter, rights groups said.

      "The Rohingya have fled horrific abuses in Burma that would put many at risk were they to return home," said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "Instead of sticking them in border camps or immigration lockups, the Thai government should consider allowing the Rohingya to remain, work and live under temporary protection."

      But many authorities have been less than sympathetic to their plight. Thailand's deputy interior minister Wisarn Techathirawat has described the Rohingya as demonstrating a "feigned pitifulness" who "cry and put on a performance designed to get sympathy" when the media are present.
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      Burma jails 25 Buddhists for mob killings of 36 Muslims in Meikhtila
      Jail terms, among first for Buddhists in recent sectarian violence, follows attack on school that killed 32 and torching of mosques
      Associated Press in Rangoon
      theguardian.com, Thursday 11 July 2013 19.26 BST

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/11/burma-buddhists-jailed-mob-attacks

      A Burmese court has sentenced 25 Buddhists to up to 15 years in prison for murder and other crimes during a night of rioting, burning and killing in central Burma, after weeks in which it seemed only Muslims were being punished for sectarian violence aimed largely at them.

      But the sentences handed down on Wednesday and Thursday did not erase a sense of unequal justice: a day earlier, a Muslim received a life sentence for murdering one of 43 people killed in March in the central Burmese town of Meikhtila.

      A wave of violence in the past year in the largely Buddhist country has left more than 250 people dead and 140,000 others fleeing their homes, most of them Muslim. The attacks, and the government's inability to stop them, have marred the south-east Asian country's image abroad as it moves toward democracy and greater freedom after nearly five decades of military rule.

      Many of the sentences were handed down on Wednesday, and the toughest stemmed from the deadliest incident of the Meikhtila riots: a brutal mob attack on an Islamic school, its students and teachers that killed 36 people.

      Buddhist mobs torched Mingalar Zayone Islamic boarding school, Muslim firms and all but one of the city's 13 mosques after a row between a Muslim and a Buddhist at a gold shop and the burning to death of a Buddhist monk by four Muslim men.

      While security forces stood by, a mob armed with machetes, metal pipes, chains and stones killed 32 teenage students and four teachers. Video clips online showed mobs clubbing students to death and cheering as flames leapt from corpses.

      The state-run Keymon daily said eight people – seven Buddhists and one Muslim – were convicted in Meikhtila district court for crimes connected to the school massacre.

      Tin Hlaing, a local reporter present during the hearings, told Associated Press that four of the eight were found guilty of murder and causing other injuries, receiving sentences of between 10 and 15 years in jail.

      He did not provide details about their roles in the slaughter but said the other four convicted were involved in lesser offences. The Keymon daily said the seven Buddhists received sentences of three to 15 years, but offered no details about the Muslim's case.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Ban Buddhist-Muslim Marriage: Burma Monks
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Friday, 14 June 2013 00:00

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/asia-pacific/463127-ban-buddhist-muslim-marriage-burma-monks.html

      RANGOON — Adding to religious tensions in Burma, about 200 senior Buddhist monks have presented a draft law seeking restrictions on marriages between Buddhist women and Muslim men, a move widely criticized by the country’s Muslim minority.

      “In terms of human rights, this type of restriction would be an abuse,” Kyaw Khin, secretary of the All Myanmar Muslim Federation, told the Irrawaddy news site on Thursday, June 13.

      Myint, a senior lawyer and member of the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network, warned against passing a prohibitive religious rule into law, adding that the proposed law would violate basic human rights.

      He cited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 16 which states that “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.”

      The draft law first came to light during a Thursday convention in Rangoon attended by about 200 senior Buddhist monks.

      The meeting, held ahead a two-day conference, discussed a new draft law preventing interfaith marriage between Buddhist women and Muslim men.

      According to the monks, highly revered in Burma, the law would resolve ongoing tensions between Buddhists and the country’s Muslim minority.

      “We hold this meeting with the intention of protecting our Buddhist race and our religion, and also to have peace and harmony in our community,” said U Dhammapiya, a senior monk and a spokesman for the convention.

      U Wirathu, an extremist nationalist monk who has led numerous vocal campaigns against Burmese Muslims, said he was delighted with the plans.

      “I have dreamed of this law for a long time. It is important to have this law to protect our Buddhist women’s freedom,” he said during a press conference.

      Wirathu leads the controversial 969 campaign that is being implemented all over Burma that encourages Buddhists not to do business with Muslims and only support fellow Buddhists’ shops. Burma’s Muslims -- largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent -- account for an estimated four percent of the roughly 60 million population.

      Muslims entered Burma en masse for the first time as indentured laborers from the Indian subcontinent during British colonial rule, which ended in 1948.

      But despite their long history, they have never fully been integrated into the country.

      Violating Rights

      Citing examples in Singapore and Malaysia, the monks said they would collect signatures to pressure Burma’s Parliament to adopt the law.

      “We found that there was peace and harmony in Singapore after they ratify this law in their country,” U Dhammapiya told reporters.

      “This is why we should not have a problem [passing a similar law] in our country.”

      The monks added that they would send letters to President Thein Sein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all other lawmakers.

      Yet, Muslims confirmed that the law would find little support in the parliaments, denouncing it as violating basic human rights.

      “There would be a long way to go, if it is to be passed in Parliament,” Myint, a senior lawyer and member of the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network, said.

      “I believe it won’t happen.”

      Burma’s government, he said, “should be careful not to pass a law just to protect one particular religion,” he added at a monastery in Rangoon’s Hmawbi Township.

      The new law comes at a time of growing sectarian tensions between Burma’s Buddhists and Muslims.

      More than 200 people were killed last year in sectarian violence between Buddhist mobs and Bengali-ethnic Muslims, known as Rohingya in western Burma.

      The violence has forced thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee their homes and stay in refugee camps.

      Human rights groups have accused Burmese police and troops of disproportionate use of force and arrests of Rohingya Muslims.

      Human Rights Watch has accused Burmese security forces of targeting Rohingya with killing, rape and arrest following last year's unrest.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Muslim man accused of sparking Burma unrest jailed for 26 years
      Court verdict follows pattern of convictions for Muslims, who have been the main victims of Buddhist-led violence
      Associated Press
      theguardian.com, Thursday 13 June 2013 05.54 BST

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/13/burma-asia-pacific

      A Muslim man whose attack on a Buddhist woman set off sectarian rioting in north-east Burma last month has been sentenced to 26 years in prison, a local politician said.

      The court sentenced 48-year-old Ne Win on Tuesday after he was convicted of attempted murder, causing serious injury and possession and use of illegal drugs, said the National League for Democracy member Sai Myint Maung, who attended the trial.

      The rioting in Lashio in Shan state marked the extension of anti-Muslim violence from areas in western and central Burma.

      The unrest in Lashio began on May 28 after Ne Win splashed petrol on a woman and set her on fire. She was taken to hospital with serious burns.

      Buddhist mobs took revenge by burning several Muslim shops, one of the city's main mosques, an Islamic orphanage and a cinema. One person, a Muslim, died.

      While Muslims have overwhelmingly been the victims of the past year's violence, the justice system has been slow to punish the perpetrators, who come mostly from the overwhelmingly Buddhist majority.

      The sectarian violence began in western Rakhine state last year, when hundreds died in clashes between Buddhist and Muslims that drove about 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes. The violence had seemed confined to that region, but in late March riots swept the town of Meikthila in central Burma, killing at least 43 people.

      A court last month sentenced seven Muslims to prison, one of them to a life term, for the killing of a Buddhist monk during the unrest in Meikhtila. In April, a gold shop owner and two employees, all Muslims, were sentenced by the same court to 14 years in prison on charges of theft and causing grievous bodily harm. No Buddhist has been tried on any serious charge for the violence there.

      The failure of President Thein Sein's government to stop the religious strife has cast doubts on the progress of his ambitious political and economic reforms, begun when he took office in 2011 after almost five decades of repressive military rule. The violence has also tarnished the reputation of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has not unequivocally condemned discrimination against non-Buddhist minorities.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Rohingya violence effect: 900 Myanmar nationals detained in MalaysiaPress Trust Of India : Kuala Lumpur, Thu Jun 06 2013, 11:36 hrs

      http://www.indianexpress.com/news/rohingya-violence-effect-900-myanmar-nationals-detained-in-malaysia/1125855/
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Burma's Rohingya people: a story of segregation and desperation
      The international community must put pressure on Burma to protect Rohingya Muslims and end segregation in Rakhine state

      http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2013/jun/03/burma-rohingya-segregation

      How desperate and distrustful of your government do you have to be to refuse an offer of relocation when a cyclone is about to hit your home? That many of the displaced Rohingya people in Burma's Rakhine state took this decision demonstrates how difficult their lives have become.

      For months now, the Rohingya Muslim people have been targeted in a campaign that a Human Rights Watch report (pdf) has described as "ethnic cleansing". Rohingya Muslims in Burma have been forced into segregated settlements and camps, and – in many cases – cut off from lifesaving aid.

      I visited displacement camps in Rakhine in May with Refugees International and Burma Campaign UK, meeting with displaced people who – after suffering horrific attacks by members of the Rakhine Buddhist community in October –were forced to flee into remote areas of the countryside, areas completely unsuitable for displacement camps.

      Drinking water had to be brought in on boats by NGOs, and primary healthcare was provided one morning a week. If you needed medical help at other times, you had to hope an NGO would come by boat to get you.

      Residents of this squalid community fall ill frequently due to insanitary conditions. I travelled by boat for two hours to Pauktaw, where a UNHCR-supported camp is home to thousands of Rohingya people. The shores adjacent to the camps were covered in faeces, with dead rats floating in the water just metres from where children were bathing to keep cool in the heat.

      Since it was attacked, the Rohingya community has been totally cut off from markets and job opportunities; living in a segregated area, its people are barred by the authorities from travelling to the sites where they used to work and trade. Donor governments – including the UK – have helped provide some basic services, but it is nowhere near enough to give these people a safe and dignified existence.

      The Rohingyas I met were living in flimsy tents so close to the shore that there was no way they could survive the monsoon season, let alone a cyclone. Even the emergency evacuations now underway will not be enough to get them safely through the coming months. During my visit, I was told that it would take at least two months to build temporary shelters on higher ground, and the government has delayed allocating the necessary land, perhaps in an attempt to assuage local Rakhine extremists. All of this demonstrates the unwillingness of the government to prioritise the safety of the Rohingya community.

      Aid agencies have had real difficulties in getting help to people. Apart from the logistical problems created by the camps' isolation, the government has introduced bureaucratic obstacles, including serious delays in providing travel authorisations and visas for aid staff. Most troubling, some Rakhine Buddhist political and religious leaders have made threats against aid agencies because they object to assistance being offered to to the Rohingyas. Instead of taking action, the government refuses to let aid workers operate in areas where threats are made.

      Displaced people told me about family members they had lost in the October attacks, speaking of their grief. Most wanted to return home, but were too scared to do so without appropriate protection. And they were aware that rather than focusing on moving people to higher ground during April, the government was conducting a "verification exercise" in displacement camps, in which they tried to force Rohingyas to sign forms admitting that they were "Bengalis". This only added to their distrust of the authorities, which was already high after many of the security services either committed or condoned attacks on their community last year. People told me that they would never be allowed to return home because local authorities were trying to create Muslim-free zones.

      In a discussion with a group of Rohingya women, I listened to stories of family members being killed; some had lost seven, eight, nine loved ones. After hearing these testimonies, I wasn't surprised that some Rohingya people took the seemingly irrational decision to refuse relocation in the face of a cyclone. They are so desperate that they do not know who to trust or where they may be sent next. And, as a woman who lost her entire family said, "If, after having lost everything – including my whole family – because we are Rohingya Muslims, [the government] still don't recognise me as Rohingya in my own country, then I might as well be dead".

      The UK government, together with the rest of the international community, must keep the pressure on the Burmese government to facilitate full humanitarian access to the Rohingya, end segregation in Rakhine state, provide them with the protection they need to return home, and restore their Burmese citizenship.

      • A video documenting Rushanara Ali's trip to Burma can be found here