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9525News from Myanmar and Rohingya Muslims: UN raises alarm over Rohingya Muslim abuse

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  • Zafar Khan
    Apr 10, 2014
      UN raises alarm over Rohingya Muslim abuse
      Human rights envoy says the long history of persecution in Myanmar could amount to "crimes against humanity".
      Last updated: 08 Apr 2014 07:21


      A UN human rights envoy says severe shortages of food, water and medical care for Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar are part of a long history of persecution against the religious minority that could amount to "crimes against humanity".

      Tomás Ojea Quintana's statement follows the evacuation of hundreds of international humanitarian workers from Rakhine state, home to almost all the country's 1.3m Rohingya Muslims, tens of thousands of whom are living in crowded displacement camps.

      The aid workers left after Buddhist mobs attacked their offices and residences two weeks ago. Some have tried to return, but have been barred by the government.

      Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on Human Rights, said the developments in Rakhine were the latest in a "long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya Muslim community which could amount to crimes against humanity".

      More than 170 aid workers were pulled out of the state as a result of last month's unrest, the first time they have been forced to leave en masse, and there are fears that the entire relief infrastructure has been severely damaged.

      The exodus has deepened an already dire health situation for hundreds of thousands reliant on international medical relief, with some 140,000 in the camps, as well as more than 700,000 vulnerable people in isolated villages severely affected.

      'Systematic discrimination'

      Tensions have been heightened by Myanmar's recent census, the first in three decades, which has stoked anger among Buddhists that it might lead to official recognition for the Rohingya Muslims, a religious minority viewed by the authorities as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

      Quintana said the government's decision not to allow Rohingya Muslims to register their ethnicity in the March census meant that the population tally was not in accordance with international standards.

      The outspoken envoy, who is approaching the end of his six-year tenure, urged the government to address "systematic discrimination and marginalisation" of the Rohingya Muslims in his final report on the country.

      British Foreign Minister Hugo Swire tweeted Monday that he had summoned the Myanmar ambassador "to register our deep concern about humanitarian access and conduct of census in Rakhine".

      With ‘Rohingya’ not an option on census forms, Burma’s new democracy is facing an identity crisis
      Recently, discrimination has turned to violence, especially in Rakhine state
      Wednesday 2 April 2014


      When census workers arrived at his house in Rangoon earlier this week, Abu Tahay was able to say something straightforward yet hugely significant. When asked about his ethnicity, he replied that he was Rohingya. The officials completed the form and went on their way.
      The following day things changed. A new directive passed by the government of President Thein Sein meant census staff could no longer write “Rohingya”. Instead, they had to use the word “Bengali”.

      “Today they said the government had informed them not to fill in the form if someone says ‘Rohingya’,” said Mr Tahay, a community leader, speaking from Burma’s former colonial capital. “The Rohingya are not willing to complete the forms if they cannot say ‘Rohingya’. The government is not going to take the census from someone using the word ‘Rohingya’.”

      The stand-off is the latest problem to embroil the first census for more than 30 years, an operation funded by international donors to the tune of £45m. Britain has provided £10m.

      Those behind the project, which began on Sunday in liaison with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), say an accurate assessment of Burma’s diverse population is essential. The total is reckoned at around 60 million.

      But the problem is that the survey, due to be completed by 10 April, does not simply detail the age and gender of respondents. The most controversial issue among the 41 questions asked by workers relates to ethnicity.

      A law passed in 1982 by the military junta codified 135 ethnic groups it considered to be Burmese, and thus eligible for citizenship. The Rohingya were not among them, a fact used to discriminate against them ever since. The government insists this Muslim community are illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

      Recently, discrimination has turned to violence, especially in Rakhine state. More than 200 people have been died, mainly in attacks on Rohingya by Buddhist mobs, and 150,000 driven from their homes.

      In the run-up to the census, NGOs urged it be modified to avoid such sensitive questions. The Burma Campaign UK suggested it be postponed.

      Yet the census went ahead, with officials saying the Rohingya could write the word on their forms. Now they have backtracked. At the weekend, Thein Sein’s spokesman, Ye Htut, told reporters: “If we ask a family about their ethnicity and they say ‘Rohingya’, we will not accept it.”

      To the Rohingya, few things matter more than identity. In towns such as Sittwe, huge, wretched refugee camps have spread out, and people cling to the hope that the government will bow to international pressure and recognise the Rohingya as citizens.

      Local Buddhists have countered with protests and attacks on foreign NGOs. International aid has ground to a halt. Buddhist leaders claim the number of Rohingya is growing and demand they be forced to leave Burma. With elections next year, the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to speak out.

      It seems the government’s decision was a reaction to Buddhist groups in Rakhine threatening to boycott the census if the identification “Rohingya” was permitted. Britain is pressing Burma to stand firm on its original commitment.

      “We again urge the government to put in place the right conditions to allow everyone to participate in this census in a fair manner and free from intimidation,” said Britain’s International Development Minister, Alan Duncan.

      Abu Tahay said the Rohingya wanted to participate in the census. But they did not want to take part if they were not granted the basic right of identifying themselves as they wished. He said: “There are records of the Rohingya in Myanmar before the British time.”

      Burma vows to protect aid workers in Rakhine state
      10 April 2014


      The Burmese government has promised to protect and cooperate with international aid agencies, whose workers were forced to flee western Rakhine state following riots.

      Buddhist mobs last month attacked facilities belonging to several relief groups providing critical aid to the tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in displacement camps in Rakhine.

      The government was criticized for not doing enough to protect the workers, as well as refusing to allow many of them to return when the riots were over, cutting off supplies for the camps.

      Following a stern response from the U.N. and other foreign officials, the Burmese government said it will provide the aid groups with "full security services and will cooperate with them on all levels."

      In a statement, Burma, which is also kown as Myanmar, vowed to "expose the ringleaders" and others involved in the Rakhine attacks, which it acknowledged were worsened partly by what it called the "sluggish" response of authorities.

      The statement, posted on the Burmese president's website said 16 homes, 15 warehouses, 14 vehicles, 2 watercraft, 29 motorcycles, and office equipment were damaged in the attacks.

      It said an investigation found that instigators in the attack were angered by an aid worker who took down a Buddhist flag outside her home. Many local Buddhists had already complained that foreign aid groups have given preferential treatment to Rohingya.

      The U.N. views the Rohingya as one of the world's most persecuted minorities. Not only are they often the subject of anti-Muslim prejudice, they are also denied citizenship and many other basic rights by the government.

      In a statement earlier this week, U.N. envoy to Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana said the Rakhine developments are the latest in a "long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya community, which could amount to crimes against humanity."

      Buddhist-Muslim violence erupted in Rakhine state in 2012 and has since spread to other parts of the country. The fighting has killed at least 240 people and displaced 140,000 others, mainly Rohingya.

      Tensions rise as Myanmar holds census
      Buddhist nationalists threaten to boycott tally over fears it could lead to recognition for Rohingyas.
      Last updated: 30 Mar 2014 13:59


      Tens of thousands of census-takers have fanned out across Myanmar to gather data for a rare snapshot of the former junta-ruled nation that is already stoking sectarian tensions.

      Groups of school teachers and local officials began on Sunday the 12-day population survey -- the first since 1983 -- travelling from house to house in an ambitious drive aimed at counting everyone across the poverty-stricken nation.

      But the census was called into question before it even started in Rakhine state, the site of deadly religious conflict.

      A main point of contention is that Muslims will not be able to register as "Rohingya".

      Buddhist nationalists have threatened to boycott the tally over fears it could lead to official recognition for the Rohingya, viewed by the United Nations as among the world's most persecuted minorities.

      "Fill in the form that you are Rohingya," read a sign scrawled on a wall in one of the bleak displacement camps clustered on the outskirts of the Rakhine capital Sittwe.

      Muslims in the camps, made homeless in two major bouts of fighting two years ago, expressed determination to defy the government edict to register as "Bengali", a term used by the authorities, who view most Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

      "We do not want any problems. I was born here and my parents were also born here. I was born a Myanmar national.
      For me, I will not register as 'Bengali', I will register as 'Rohingya'," Hla Myint, 58, told the AFP news agency.

      Aid workers attacked

      Foreign aid workers fled Rakhine during the week after Buddhist mobs attacked their offices as tensions escalated in the run-up to the census.

      An 11-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet after police fired warning shots to disperse angry crowds in the state capital Sittwe.

      Humanitarian workers in the region have come under increasing pressure from Buddhist nationalists who accuse them of bias in favour of local Muslims.

      The state remained tense on Sunday as Buddhists sought confirmation that the Rohingya term would not be allowed.

      Myanmar's first census in three decades, which is backed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), is aimed at plugging an information deficit in the former military dictatorship.

      Critics, who have called for the exercise to be postponed, accuse the organisers of focusing on the technical aspects of the survey and neglecting political concerns.

      They said the inclusion of ethnic and religious questions will further fan the flames of unrest and threaten fragile peace talks with minority rebel groups.

      Many locals, long subject to repressive policies under authoritarian rule, have also expressed suspicion of the move to collect a wide variety of household information, including questions on movement and economic activity.

      But the survey-taking was seen to be proceeding smoothly in some areas on Sunday, with teams visiting homes in Thaketa township on the outskirts of the commercial hub Yangon.

      "I have no problem. They are asking the right questions and I gave them a true answer. It's good because there will be exact information about who is who and where they live," Tin Shwe, 48, told AFP after completing the questionnaire.

      MSF deeply shocked at expulsion from Myanmar
      Government accuses aid group of misleading the world about an attack on Rohingya last month in northern part of Rakhine.
      Last updated: 01 Mar 2014 01:11


      Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has said it has been expelled from Myanmar and that tens of thousands of lives are at risk in the country.

      The decision came after the humanitarian group reported it recently treated nearly two dozen Rohingya Muslim victims of communal violence in Rakhine state, which the government has denied.

      The Nobel Prize-winning aid group said it was "deeply shocked" by Myanmar's decision to expel it after two decades of work in the country, the AP news agency reported.

      The US said it was very concerned and urged the government to continue to provide "unfettered" access for humanitarian agencies.

      "Today for the first time in MSF's history of operations in the country, HIV/AIDS clinics in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states, as well as Yangon division, were closed and patients were unable to receive the treatment they needed," MSF said in a statement, using the French acronym for its name.

      It said it had to close clinics serving 30,000 HIV/AIDS patients, and more than 3,000 people with tuberculosis would not be able to get vital medicine, the Reuters news agency reported.


      Myanmar's presidential spokesman Ye Htut had criticised MSF in the Myanmar Freedom newspaper for hiring "Bengalis," the term the government uses for the Rohingya minority, and lacked transparency in its work.

      He also accused the group of misleading the world about an attack last month in the remote northern part of Rakhine.

      The UN says more than 40 Rohingya may have been killed, but the government has vehemently denied allegations that a Buddhist mob rampaged through a village, killing women and children.

      It says one policeman was killed by Rohingya and no other violence occurred.

      MSF said it treated 22 injured and traumatised Rohingya.

      Repeated attempts to reach Ye Htut for comment were unsuccessful Friday, AP reported.

      Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, only recently began to emerge from a half-century of military rule.

      Since then, ethnic tensions have swept Rakhine state, raising concerns from the US and others that the bloodshed could undermine democratic reforms.

      Up to 280 people have been killed and tens of thousands more have fled their homes, most of them Rohingya.

      Since the violence erupted in June 2012, MSF has worked in 15 camps for the displaced people in Rakhine state.

      For many of the sickest patients, the organisation offers the best and sometimes only care, because travelling outside the camps for treatment in local Buddhist-run hospitals can be dangerous and expensive.

      The aid group has worked to help smooth the referral process for emergency transport from some camps.

      Due to increasing threats and intimidation from a group of Rakhine Buddhists who have been holding near daily protests against MSF, the organisation has said its activities have been severely hampered and that it has not received enough government support, AP reported.

      'Deeply troubling'

      "We urge the government to continue to work with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to communities in need and to unsure unfettered access for humanitarian agencies," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

      Democratic Representative Joe Crowley, one of the most prominent voices in the US Congress on Myanmar, also reacted to the reported expulsion.

      "It is the responsibility of the Burmese government to protect civilians. This is deeply troubling," he said in a tweet.

      "MSF's actions are guided by medical ethics and the principles of neutrality and impartiality," MSF said in its statement read.

      "MSF is in discussions with the Government of Myanmar to allow our staff to resume life-saving medical activities across the country and continuing addressing the unmet heath needs of its people."

      Documents 'show Myanmar Rohingya discrimination is policy'


      A rights group says it has evidence of Myanmar's government discriminating against Muslim Rohingya, restricting their movements and family size.

      Fortify Rights said that the government's orders, shown in leaked documents, amounted to "state policies of persecution" in Rakhine state.

      There was no immediate response to the report from the Burmese authorities.

      The government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, views the Rohingya as foreign migrants, not citizens.

      There is widespread public hostility towards the Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. The Rohingya, on the other hand, feel they are part of Myanmar and claim persecution by the state.

      The UN has described the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

      'Marriage restrictions'
      In a report, Fortify Rights said it had analysed 12 government documents from 1993 to 2013, and found that government policies imposed "extensive restrictions on the basic freedoms of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine state".

      The policies restricted Rohingya's "movement, marriage, childbirth, home repairs and construction of houses of worship", it said.

      Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state were also prohibited from travelling between townships, or out of Rakhine, without permission, the report said.

      The report said a government order stipulated that married Rohingya couples in parts of Rakhine state could not have more than two children, while another document said Rohingya had to apply for permission to marry, in what the report described as a "humiliating and financially prohibitive" process.

      One document published in the report said officials should force a woman to breastfeed her child if there were doubts over whether she was the birth mother.

      The restrictions have been known about for some time, but what is new is that campaigners say they have the official orders issued by the Buddhist-dominated local government in Rakhine state, the BBC's Jonah Fisher in Rangoon reports.

      It is an oft-stated fear of Myanmar's Buddhists that the larger families of Muslims mean they will one day be in the majority, our correspondent adds.

      Tensions remain high between Buddhist and Muslim communities with the latest violence - an attack on Rohingya villagers in January - thought to have killed scores of people.

      In 2012 widespread rioting and brutal clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims, largely thought to be Rohingya Muslims, left almost 200 dead and displaced thousands.

      Massacre reports put Rohingya on the run
      Pressure mounts on Myanmar for an investigation amid reports that dozens of the persecuted minority were killed.
      Joshua Carroll Last updated: 05 Feb 2014 12:43


      Sittwe, Myanmar - In the dusty Burmese village of Thet Kay Pyin, Rosia sits tending to her elderly, disabled mother on the floor of a dark bamboo hut. Eighty-year-old Feroza cannot feed herself, speak, or even sit up. Without Rosia's care she would be utterly helpless.

      The two women, both Rohingya Muslims, live together in Myanmar's western Rakhine state. In the past 18 months, Rosia and her mother have twice had to undergo the stressful ordeal of abandoning their home. In 2012, Buddhist extremists burned their house down during communal violence in Sittwe, the state capital.

      Then, last month, after receiving news of an alleged massacre more than 100km north, Rosia said she feared the violence would return and fled to the countryside.

      "I heard the Rakhine are coming to attack, and that many people are going to leave. I thought if we didn't come here soon, there would be nowhere left to stay," she said.

      At least dozens more like Rosia fled their homes following the reported killings of 48 Muslim men, women and children in the village of Du Chee Yar Tan, Maungdaw township, between January 9-13. Myanmar's government said it had no information about any deaths.

      Fear and confusion rapidly spread south to Sittwe after harrowing reports of the incident began to emerge. The exact details of what happened remain unclear, as journalists and aid agencies have been denied access by the government.

      Buddhist threats

      Many in Sittwe say they believe violence will now return, mirroring the spread of attacks from Maungdaw to Sittwe that happened in 2012. Some are taking no chances and are leaving their homes to stay in camps or with relatives further away from the Buddhist Rakhine population.

      They say they have been scared by rumours that Buddhists are threatening to attack their communities, though Al Jazeera was unable to verify whether any threats took place.

      Many of those fleeing have memories of previous violence that are still raw, and the renewed tension following the killings in Du Chee Yar Tan has reawakened their worst fears.

      In the downtown district of Aung Mingalar, thousands have been living in intolerable conditions under an apartheid-like system. The rumours have finally convinced some to sell their belongings so they can afford to leave this small patch of land, where Muslims are closed in by checkpoints and are surrounded on all sides by Buddhists.

      "We can't sleep well since the violence in Maungdaw," said one resident of Aung Mingalar who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. "Lots of the people leaving are women, because they heard that in Maungdaw… some people were raped."

      It is believed that dozens have fled Aung Mingalar in the last two weeks.

      Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch, said Aung Mingalar is "surrounded by hostile Rakhine who have made clear their intention to push the Rohingya out".

      "Incidents in other parts of Rakhine state where discriminatory attitudes against the Rohingya boil over in violence and lives lost certainly increase the fears felt by those still besieged in Aung Mingalar."

      On the run

      According to the chairman of Rubber Garden, a camp for internally displaced people, anywhere between 25 and 100 people like Rosia are now arriving every day from around Sittwe.

      Kyaw Myint sold his belongings, including his bicycle rickshaw, so he could move his wife and two young children out of Aung Mingalar to the camp. "I heard the Rakhine would attack… I have small children and there's no one to help me," he said.

      Gani Ahmed, a teashop owner in Sittwe's Bumay district, sent his two sons to a camp after hearing of threats. "At night time the Rakhine came very close to this area… and they shouted, 'We are coming soon to attack you'", he said.

      He added that, since the killings in Maungdaw, business has been slow because others have fled. He has his belongings packed and ready in case he needs to leave quickly.

      Security around Aung Mingalar has been stepped up since the Maungdaw killings. And for around three days after the violence, guards frisked every Rohingya who passed through the checkpoint outside Sittwe University, says Aung Win, a local activist.

      Sittwe, like other parts of Rakhine state, operates a system of segregation enforced by barbed-wire barricades and armed police that allows Rakhines to move freely, but severely limits the movements of darker-skinned Rohingya Muslims.

      In Rubber Garden, new arrivals are putting pressure on the camp's resources, said Noor Mohamed, its chairman. He said that other than a few blankets, the Rakhine state government has not provided any extra support.

      In an area near Sittwe airport, about 30 of the 150 families living there have left in the past two weeks, according to Aung Win. Internal migration is common in the region so it is difficult to determine exactly how many are fleeing in fear of more violence.

      Shwe Maung, central committee member for the RNDP, the ruling party in Rakhine, denied there had been threats by Buddhists against Rohingya since January 13. He said Muslims may be fleeing their homes because they do not have papers allowing them to stay in the country. The increased level of security in the last two weeks could have made them fear being found out and deported, he said.

      Intensifying pressure

      The Myanmar government does not acknowledge the Rohingya's right to citizenship, maintaining they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact that they have been in the country for generations.

      The government also continues to strongly deny there were any deaths in Du Chee Yar Tan, but has acknowledged that a clash took place.

      Some women and girls have now returned to the village, which had a population of 4,000 before its residents fled, but most men and boys remain in hiding. Human Rights Watch said police have issued a blanket order to arrest any male residents over the age of 10.

      One man, who spoke to Al Jazeera by phone on condition of anonymity, said he is hiding nearby. He reported hearing gunshots and seeing men, women and children running from the direction of the noise on the night of January 13. He said on the following day he saw two wounded people in a nearby village.

      Late last month a blaze destroyed 16 homes in the village. A Rakhine official claimed Rohingyas may have "burned their own homes". There were no casualties.

      The medical charity Medicines Sans Frontiers said last week it had treated at least 22 people who appeared to have been injured in the violence, some with gunshot wounds.

      Myanmar's government has been under intensifying international pressure to investigate and to allow aid agencies to move freely in the area.

      The stateless Rohingya have faced decades of persecution, but their suffering has intensified since a fresh wave of communal violence started under President Thein Sein's reformist government.

      With little hope of a political solution in sight, Rosia is just happy to enjoy the relative stability of Thet Kay Pyin. "They are all Rohingya here, I feel safe."

      Myanmar's Buddhist-Rohingya ethnic divide
      Displaced Rohingya Muslims struggle with persecution and Buddhist resentment.
      Zigor Aldama Last updated: 04 Feb 2014 13:09


      Sittwe, Myanmar - A checkpoint guarded by three bored-looking policemen in the middle of a narrow road separates two very different worlds.

      On one side in Sittwe, capital of Myanmar's western state of Rakhine, people lead a common life: They're free to go wherever they please, marry whomever they want, and to attend religious ceremonies in their Buddhist temple of choice.

      Behind barbed wire on the other side, nearly 150,000 people are crowded into a dozen or so camps for internally displaced people. They are the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group not recognised among the 134 official ethnicities of the country, and considered by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

      They can't leave the camps, they can't marry without permission, most are unemployed and have no source of income, and they rely on the rations given by the World Food Programme to survive. A law passed in 1982 denies them citizenship and makes them stateless because they are considered immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, who came along with British imperial troops in the 1800s.

      "It's just plain apartheid and genocide," Aung Win, a prominent Rohingya leader in the camps, told Al Jazeera.

      The only way to get out is to bribe policemen who demand large amounts of money. The rest try to escape in rudimentary fishing boats such as the one that sank in the Indian Ocean on November 3, 2013, killing at least 70 people. Many of those who do manage to make their way into Thailand or Malaysia end up trafficked as slave labour by the mafias in those countries.

      "Still, many think that it's worth taking the risk," Aung Win said.

      The reason for the segregation of these two groups that have coexisted in relative peace for centuries lies in the unrest sparked on May 28, 2012 by the alleged rape and killing of a young Buddhist woman by Rohingya men.

      Six days later, 10 Muslims travelling on a bus were beaten to death by angry Buddhists, and long dormant ethnic hatred exploded. Thousands of houses were burnt down and, since then, close to 300 people - mostly Rohingya - have died in a conflict that has spread to other parts of the country, and is currently threatening social stability and the ongoing democratisation process.

      The 969 movement

      In Mandalay, a city roughly 300 kilometres northeast of Sittwe, Ashin Wirathu is the abbot of the Masoeyein monastery and one of the Buddhist monks who led the 969 movement, which many blame for the spread of violence against Muslims.

      Wirathu called himself the "Burmese bin Laden" and Time magazine put his face on the front cover under the headline "The face of Buddhist terror". He denied inciting violence, but told Al Jazeera that Muslims are trying to establish an Islamic state in Myanmar by 2100, and that the Rohingya are fighting in Rakhine state with that target in mind.

      He described 969 as a defensive movement. "We want to protect the country against the Muslim invasion," Wirathu said. Other monks attending the interview - which they videotaped - nodded along in agreement.

      "First of all, they are not an ethnic group and neither are they our citizens. Secondly, if the neighbouring countries want to accept them, we will be happy to send them there. Finally, if they have to remain in our territory we will take care of them as refugees with the help of the UN, as we are doing now."

      Back in Sittwe, most Rakhines agree with Wirathu's words. Many also support the influential Rakhine Nationalities Development Party.

      "You just need to go to our ancient capital, Mrauk U, to see that there is nothing Muslim there, only Buddhist ancient ruins can be found," said the party's U Shwe Mg. "That shows the so-called Rohingya are just illegal immigrants. We allowed them to settle down here because we are generous people and we thought they would just stay a while. But the Bengali had a lot of children, paid Buddhist women to convert to Islam and marry them, stole our land, squeezed our resources, and now they demand equal rights and citizenship. It can't be."

      Ethnic connections

      In Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, Kyaw Min told a very different story. He is one of the few Rohingya politicians, and was elected as a member of parliament in the 1990 elections that were won by Aung San Suu Kyi, but was never accepted by the junta who ruled the country until 2010.

      Kyaw Min is the president of the Democracy and Human Rights Party, and showed Al Jazeera many old documents to prove the existence of the Rohingya in the country, known also as Burma, before British colonisation.

      "We have an ethnic connection with India, because we have always lived in the border, and it's true that there are some similarities with the people of today's Bangladesh. But in 785, Burma occupied what is now Rakhine state, formerly known as Arakan, and we've lived there since then," Kyaw Min explained.

      But in the displacement camps around Sittwe, Rohingyas deny any connection with Bangladesh. "All my ancestors were born in Burma, and I have no relatives whatsoever in that country. Why should I be sent there?" said a 60-year-old woman who only uses her first name, Amina.

      She lives in a small bamboo hut along with her husband, five children and 12 grandchildren.

      "We are beggars here. But I'd rather be a beggar than signing those documents the government is pressing onto us to allow our resettlement, because in those papers they state that we are Bengali," Amina said. Around her, other displaced people started to shout, "Rohingya! Rohingya."

      Aung Win, who lost family members during the 2012 unrest, described how the authorities had to give up their proposed census because of opposition from the inhabitants of the camps, who wouldn't agree to anything which called them Bengali.

      "There were even some deadly riots inside, and tension remains high due to the inhumane living conditions," he said.

      Squalid conditions

      Desperation abounds in the camps and in the ghetto of Aung Mingalar, an area in central Sittwe where several thousand Rohingya live.

      Rice and vegetables are what people eat two times a day, if they're lucky. Children suffering from malnutrition have distended abdomens, medical facilities are insufficient and ill-equipped, and medicine is in short supply. Most of the doctors are ethnic Rakhine, and patients complain about their lack of interest in treating them.

      One of the doctors, who refused to answer Al Jazeera's questions, shouted that both foreign journalists and NGOs are biased and only interested in portraying Rohingya's suffering, while failing to note there are also displaced Rakhine in camps.

      At the nearby mosque, the body of 12-year-old Ahmed is brought in. According to his parents, he came down with a fever a few days before his death, but doctors said it was nothing to worry about. When his condition worsened, he was transferred to the hospital outside the camps, where no other relatives were allowed, and died two days later.

      "He's been killed," his mother screamed, her face covered in tears. "They injected him with poison like the others."

      Aung Win said he doesn't think her allegations were plausible, but added that Ahmed's case is another one of medical negligence that ends up tragically every week.

      Schools in the camps aren't in much better shape. "Children come here for free, but they are not getting a good education," said U Khin Maung, principal of Thet Kay Pyin school, where 2,600 Rohingya pupils aged between five and 15 go to class. There are 49 teachers, but only six receive a salary.

      "We don't have money for the rest, so they volunteer," Maung said. "I'm afraid that even if these kids are eventually able to live freely, they won't be able to build themselves a good future, because they've been neglected too long."

      Government officials contacted for comment declined to be interviewed for this story.

      Muslims 'killed by Myanmar mob'
      Published: 17 Jan 2014 at 11.00Online news:


      A Buddhist mob rampaged through a town in an isolated corner of Myanmar, hacking Muslim women and children with knives, a villager and a rights group reported, saying Friday that more than a dozen people may have been killed.
      A government official said the situation was tense, but denied any deaths.

      Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country of 60 million people, has been grappling with sectarian violence for nearly two years. More than 240 people have been killed and another 250,000, mostly Muslims, forced to flee their homes.

      Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, an advocacy group that has been documenting abuses against members of the Rohinyga Muslim minority for more than a decade, said details about the violence that occurred early Tuesday morning in northern Rakhine state were still emerging, with many conflicting reports.

      It is one of the most isolated regions in the country, both politically and geographically, and access to foreigners is denied or severely restricted. The death toll could range anywhere between 10 and 60, said Lewa, whose sources range from a village administrator to witnesses.

      Tensions have been building in the region since last month, when monks from a Buddhist extremist movement known as 969 toured the area and gave sermons by loudspeaker advocating the expulsion of all Rohingya, who make up 90% of the population in northern Rakhine. It is the only place where the religious minority is in the majority.

      A resident who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals said an initial flare-up followed the discovery of three bodies in a ditch near Du Char Yar Tan village by several firewood collectors.

      Believing they were among a group of eight Rohingya who went missing after being detained by authorities days earlier, they alerted friends and neighbors who returned with their cellphones to take pictures, said the man, who works as a volunteer English teacher.

      That night, five police went to the village to confiscate the phones and check family lists, but the crowd turned on the officers, beating and chasing them off, he said. The police returned at 2am, saying one of their men had gone missing, he said.

      That triggered a security crackdown.

      Soldiers and police surrounded the village, breaking down doors and looting livestock and other valuables, the English teacher said. Almost all the men fled, leaving the women, children and elderly behind, he said.

      Lewa said her sources reported that Rohingya women and children had been hacked to death, but the numbers varied widely. Some put the toll as low as five or 10, but one source who works for the administration in Maungdaw town, said it is widely believed 40 died, mostly women and children.

      That some of the victims appeared to have been stabbed with knives, not shot or beaten, "would clearly indicate the massacre was committed by (Buddhist) Rakhine villagers, rather than the police or army," the Arakan Project wrote in a briefing Thursday.

      The English teacher, who spoke by telephone, said 17 women and five children were killed.

      Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said police had surrounded the village because they were looking for the policeman who went missing, but that he was not aware that anyone had been killed.

      Khin Maung Than, a Muslim who lives in a neighbouring village, said he visited Du Char Yar Tan and had seen no evidence of violence or deaths there.

      Tensions have been reported for days, but getting information is difficult. Northern Rakhine - home to 80% of the country's 1 million Rohingya - runs along the Bay of Bengal and is cut off from the rest of the country by a mountain range.

      Some of the people there descend from families that have been there generations. Others arrived more recently from neighbouring Bangladesh. All have been denied citizenship, rendering them stateless.

      For decades, they have been unable to travel freely, practice their religion, or work as teachers or doctors. They need special approval to marry and are the only people in the country barred from having more than two children.

      No respite for Rohingya in Bangladesh
      Refugees forced to flee Myanmar are living in camps without adequate access to food or health services.
      Jack Goodman Last updated: 16 Jan 2014 11:09


      Rohingya refugee Shajida Begum, 18, has lived in northern Britain for four years, and 2014 will be the year she finishes high school and hopefully begins a university degree in accountancy.

      It is a very different life from the one she left in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, where she was born and spent her first 14 years. Shajida is grateful for her new existence in the UK, but is constantly reminded of those she left behind.

      "We still miss the people who live in the refugee camps. We are happy, we have rights, we have got everything, but people who are still back home have got absolutely nothing," she told Al Jazeera.

      "I was worried about leaving them because I can imagine how difficult it is to stay there. There is no electricity, no facilities, no health and safety."

      About 30,000 Rohingya refugees officially live in Bangladeshi camps today. Unofficially, there are more are 200,000 unregistered Rohingya there. The registered are provided with aid and support by The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Bangladesh government. Unregistered refugees receive nothing.

      Bangkok-based UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan described what she has witnessed as a "dire situation".

      The number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh has increased since violence in neighbouring Arakan state in Myanmar erupted between Muslim Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in June 2012, which caused some of the 140,000 internally displaced to attempt to flee across the border.

      Tayub Uddin is the vice president of the newly formed Democracy and Human Rights Party. He described in an email from his base in Yangon, capital of Myanmar, the current situation for Rohingya in that country.

      "There is completely no law and order in Arakan state for us. We are no more than animals in our motherland," he told Al Jazeera.

      Since 2010, rapid democratic reforms in Myanmar have reopened diplomatic channels and an international spotlight has been shone on the plight of the Rohingya, but little is known about refugees living in Bangladesh. Even less is known about what the future might hold for tens-of-thousands of unregistered refugees.

      Cramped conditions

      Nijam Mohammed, 29, is a human rights activist and Rohingya refugee who, like Shajida, also lives in Bradford in northern Britain. About 350 Rohingya refugees have settled in the UK, 300 of them in Bradford.

      Nijam visited Bangladesh's Kutupalong camp in October 2013. Extended families live in a room four metres by three metres, and movement is often restricted within the camp. However, Nijam acknowledged a "good" education system for registered refugees since 2004 there, despite it only reaching primary levels, as well as the provision of basic healthcare assistance from UNHCR.

      This is in stark contrast to some of the estimated 70,000 out of 200,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees that he witnessed living outside Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh.

      "They live under open sky, with no support from the United Nations or the Bangladeshi government," Nijam said. "People are dying every day, there is a lack of food, treatment and education. You can't imagine how life is."

      This is the case for the large majority of refugees in Bangladesh, aid groups say. The Bangladeshi government banned aid agencies - including Médecin Sans Frontières (MSF), Action Contre le Faim and Muslim Aid - from operating in the refugee camps in August 2012.

      A Bangladeshi official told Al Jazeera the charities were "encouraging an influx of Rohingya refugees". Restrictions remain today, but MSF currently runs a clinic that serves both Bangladeshi and Rohingya patients.

      "According to international law, if you are forced to leave your country because of political or religious persecution, you have a right for refugee status," said Nijam.

      "My question is why are these people not getting refugee status in Bangladesh? Why are the Western countries silent? Are they not interested because there is no oil or gas in Arakan state [in Myanmar]?"

      New strategy

      The mass exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar after the 2012 riots in Arakan state was the most recent episode of decades of persecution and forced evacuation.

      In 1991-92, more than 250,000 fled across the border into Bangladesh after an alleged escalation of killings, torture, rape and forced labour at the hands of the Myanmar's notorious military. A similar mass departure also occurred in 1977.

      Much of the modern-day ethnic division and persecution was created and entrenched by the 1982 Citizenship Act, which effectively withdrew citizenship from the Rohingya.

      The Citizenship Act accorded Rohingya only "temporary registration cards" because they were not a recognised "national race". The majority of Rohingya did not then - and still don't have today - the required identification documents to gain full citizenship status.

      Even those with proper identification have often had it forcibly removed. As a consequence Rohingya are popularly perceived to be illegal Bengali immigrants, despite the fact they have settled in Myanmar - formerly Burma - for centuries.

      The 2012 riots are believed to have begun after the alleged rape and killing of a Buddhist Rakhine woman by three Rohingya males, who were then sentenced to death. A government report stated the 2012 violence resulted in nearly 200 deaths, and Rohingya areas were razed to the ground by angry Buddhists.

      Human Rights Watch has described the events in Myanmar as ethnic cleansing, and the United Nations has called for its government to provide Rohingya citizenship in the country.

      According to the UNHCR, Bangladeshi authorities may propose a new system to provide humanitarian assistance that will include the unregistered refugees currently stranded in Bangladesh.

      But UNHCR's Tan when asked about the issue said she was unsure whether this would happen this year. "Unfortunately, there is no clarity on when exactly the government strategy will be unveiled."

      She said, however, more pressure on the government of Myanmar was urgently needed to help resolve the refugee issue.

      "A crucial element in resolving the plight of the Rohingya in Bangladesh lies in improving conditions in Rakhine state," Tan said.

      "The Myanmar government needs to step up efforts to promote reconciliation after the inter-communal violence of 2012. More must be done to encourage peaceful co-existence between the communities, and ensure that everyone can enjoy their basic rights."

      'Didn't have a chance'

      Today, a generation of refugees born in camps in Bangladesh enjoy a life they'd never thought possible.

      Salah Uddin, 17, who speaks with an endearing Yorkshire inflection that has distilled his accented English, is a cricketing all-rounder and business student.

      "I always prayed to God to bring happiness in our life. Suddenly it's happened and we are in the UK," Salah told Al Jazeera. "But it doesn't make me delighted. In Bangladesh, lots of people couldn't leave. In Bangladesh, I didn't have a chance."

      The future of the refugees in Bangladesh remains uncertain, with the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments unwilling to provide any sort of long-term protection for those stranded and by law, effectively stateless citizens.

      In this small corner of northern Britain, the fight for the Rohingya continues. The activist Nijam recently returned from a conference held by the European Rohingya Council in Stockholm, Sweden.

      "We do not fight for our independence, we only fight for our rights," Nijam said.