Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

During the past month, Bangladesh and the world have watched in horror as 400,000 refugees have crossed the border from Myanmar in the wake of an increase in military crackdowns among Muslim Rohingya villages. Many have lost family members in the violence and all have lost their homes. In the wake of the catastrophic events that have unfolded, Bangladesh has been forced to absorb a majority of the shock as ad hoc camps have been built along the borders. With 31.5% of its population already living below the national poverty line, aiding the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh may prove difficult for the Bangladeshi government.

Myanmar has made international headlines over the past month as images surfaced of entire villages being burned and destroyed. Beginning in August of this year, Rohingya militants executed a series of attacks in Rakhine State, where a majority of Rohingyas reside. The Rohingya people are known to be one of the most persecuted communities in the world. They suffer from systematic discrimination by both the government and fellow citizens because they are seen as illegal.

The government of Myanmar responded to the attacks with what is considered by U.N. officials to be “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Thus far, the operation has killed more than 1,000 and forced over 400,000 from their homes.

While Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said last week in a televised broadcast that the country was ready to welcome back the refugees, there has been skepticism about how welcoming the country will actually be, considering its history of Rohingya mistreatment. Furthermore, she stated that the Rohingya refugees would be allowed back in via a “verification” process. It remains to be seen what that verification process would entail.

Considering the uncertain future for the Rohingya refugees, organizations and countries have already stepped up to not only help the refugees but also the country of Bangladesh, particularly since the economic burden of hosting 400,000 refugees has been great. While Bangladesh has been focusing on its own impoverished citizens, the U.N. has estimated that nearly $200 million will be needed to aid the Rohingya refugees for a period of just six months. Bangladesh has urged the international community to put pressure on Myanmar to halt the influx of refugees, and it has seemed to help.

The U.N. has reported a drop in Rohingya refugee arrivals to Bangladesh since the end of September. While the International Organization for Migration claims that this is “too soon to say that the influx is over,” it is still a small victory for both Bangladesh and the international community. Likewise, Bangladesh has received significant aid from surrounding countries, including 53 tons of relief materials from India. Those materials included rice, pulses, sugar, salt, cooking oil, tea, ready to eat noodles, biscuits and mosquito nets. Additionally, this week, the U.S. agreed to give $32 million in humanitarian aid in the form of food, medical care, water, sanitation and shelter. This comes at a crucial time, as the Bangladeshi government has agreed to build 14,000 temporary homes. This aid will go a long way to support the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh while their future in Myanmar is still unclear.

Sydney Roeder

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Myanmar
Following recent elections, human rights abuses in Myanmar continue. The new government, which took power in March 2016, has not limited military authority. The 2008 constitution gives the military extensive power within the government with no civilian oversight. This means that human rights in Myanmar are abused for political prisoners and ethnic minorities.

The military government suppressed opposing views and placed thousands of people in jail. People who have dissenting views are harassed, arrested without cause, tortured, imprisoned and sometimes executed. The current number of political prisoners is unknown because there is no clear method to account for them. Political prisoners face inhumane conditions, often without sufficient food or basic sanitation. Prisoners do not receive medical treatment, so many have lasting injuries from initial acts of violence in the prison.

People who speak out about human rights violations are often arrested and detained. This makes it very difficult for people to monitor and document the abuses in the country.

Ethnic minorities face the most significant threats to their human rights in Myanmar. Areas of the country with large populations of ethnic minorities lack educational, health and social services. The military has killed, tortured and sexually assaulted ethnic minorities. The areas where ethnic minorities live have been shelled and vandalized.

Soldiers rape ethnic women regularly as part of a military strategy. They do not face any prosecution for these widespread crimes. The government denies these reports and soldiers are not prosecuted for these crimes. There is no system for women to report sexual assault in the country. Displaced women are most vulnerable to assault and abductions.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, are currently facing human rights abuses. There are around 1.2 million ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar. After outbreaks of violence, media and humanitarian aid groups were not allowed to enter the northern Rakhine State. There have been reports of murder, torture, sexual violence and arrests. Satellite imagery showed 430 buildings destroyed by fire. It is believed that 30,000 Muslims are displaced from their villages. The government did not investigate these offenses and did not seek U.N. assistance.

The Rohingya do not have citizenship in Myanmar. This fact limits both their access to healthcare and education and their movements in the country.

In March 2017, the U.N. agreed to investigate human rights in Myanmar and the attacks against the Rohingya. Hopefully, this probe will bring attention to the abuses, justice for the victims and accountability to the government and military.

Sarah Denning

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Thailand
The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol established a legal framework that implemented rights for refugees. To date, 145 state parties have ratified this agreement; however, Thailand is not one of these countries and provides no legal protection to refugees and asylum-seekers. Currently, there are more than 100,000 refugees in Thailand. Discussed below are 10 facts about the lives and circumstances of refugees in Thailand.

Top 10 Facts on Refugees in Thailand

  1. Nearly 130,000 people reside as refugees in Thailand, of whom approximately 90 percent are from the bordering country of Myanmar, also known as Burma. More than 80 percent of Burmese refugees in Thailand are ethnic Karen. They fled eastern Myanmar due to persecution by the Myanmar army beginning in 1988 and have resided in nine refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border for nearly three decades. Thousands of refugees have been born inside these camps and know no other life.
  2. Because Thailand did not ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Thai Royal Government (TRG) considers refugees stateless persons or irregular migrants. They are not citizens, meaning they are do not have access to healthcare, employment or education, nor are they allowed to vote, own property or obtain a driver’s license.
  3. Due to their stateless status, refugees must live exclusively in refugee camps, without the right to work or leave the camp. Refugees who choose to live and work outside of camps in Thailand are considered illegal and do not have any legal protection, making them highly susceptible to arrest and deportation.
  4. Cut off from government assistance and employment opportunities, many refugees in Thailand depend entirely on aid organizations for food and other basic resources.
  5. The TRG has pledged to end statelessness by 2024. One step toward this goal is the 2010 Civil Registration Act, which allows babies born to refugee parents to receive birth registration. While this does not grant the infants citizenship, they are no longer considered stateless persons. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that 4,300 infants were registered and provided birth certificates in 2017.
  6. The refugee camps have become highly organized. The TRG serves as the overall authority for the camps, implementing refugee policies and providing border patrol. The Karen Refugee Committee (KRC) and Karenni Refugee Committee (KnRC) serve as the representatives of refugees in the camps and act as liaisons between the camps and the government, border patrol, NGOs and the UNHCR. Camp members elect committee members and all refugees over the age of 20, regardless of registration status, are eligible to vote.
  7. Most refugee camps are in mountainous regions with limited access to electricity, phones and healthcare services. These areas are also susceptible to flash floods during the rainy season. Overcrowding is rampant, with houses primarily built out of bamboo and wood, leading to a high fire risk. In 2015, a fire in the Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp damaged 194 homes and five community buildings. Fortunately, there were no casualties and several nonprofits and the UNHCR pooled together to begin rebuilding within a month.
  8. The KRC and World Education are two of the leading nonprofits supporting education opportunities for refugees. Schools are primarily located in the largest refugee camp, Mae La. There are currently more than 2,000 students who come from other camps and live in boarding houses in Mae La while completing their secondary education.
  9. Resettlement to third countries began in 2005, and since then more than 80,000 refugees have resettled. The U.S., Australia, and Canada accept many of these refugees.
  10. Now under a democratically elected government, in 2014, the Myanmar government opened peace talks with persecuted ethnic minorities. While they are still in progress, in October 2016, the Myanmar and Thai governments endorsed the return of 68 refugees to Myanmar and hope to gradually support the return of more.

While the TRG still does not provide legal rights or protection to refugees, it has taken steps toward eliminating the stateless status of refugees and assisting them in resettling in other countries or safely returning to Myanmar. The TRG has pledged not only to eliminate statelessness by 2024 but at the 2016 U.N. Leaders’ Summit on Refugees it also pledged to provide better skills training opportunities for refugees, coupled with employment opportunities.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr

Resilience and Readiness: Preparing for Natural Disasters in Myanmar
Over the past 20 years, 139,515 deaths have resulted from natural disasters in Myanmar. Myanmar has experienced more of these fatalities than almost every other nation, with the exceptions of Haiti and Indonesia. In order to better prepare for and combat future consequences of natural disasters, Myanmar is working to improve its disaster training and community resilience practices.

The aftermath of natural disasters takes a toll on any nation but is generally worse in low-income nations. Myanmar’s floods in summer 2015, for example, caused 132 deaths, destroyed 1.2 million acres of rice and resulted in economic losses equaling 3.1 percent of the country’s GDP. Another 400,000 lives were disrupted by flooding in summer 2016, with additional damages to 400,000 acres of paddy fields. Such frequent and widespread damages necessitate policies of prevention, rather than reaction.

Myanmar has committed to a region-wide funding system to promote disaster preparedness. The fund “is an expression of the solidarity shared within the region, as well as recognition that preparedness is less costly than response,” said Poonam Khetrepal Singh, the U.N. World Health Organization’s director for the Southeast Asia Region. This funding will allow Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries to invest in the infrastructure and human resources needed to improve disaster preparedness.

Recent conferences and training seminars have further sought to change the attitude of response to one of prevention. Training has been conducted through the Adaptation Fund’s project entitled, “Addressing Climate Change Risks on Water Resources and Food Security in the Dry Zone of Myanmar.”

This project seeks to enhance disaster preparedness through community-based prevention practices. Protecting against the effects of natural disasters in Myanmar is also embedded in the Constitution, and Parliament has discussed and approved prevention plans for the 2016 El Niño heatwave. Integrating this narrative into legislation presents a genuine commitment to institutionalizing preventative measures.

Preparation for natural disasters in Myanmar is especially important in the country’s Dry Zone. Plagued by scarce water, thin vegetation cover, severely eroded soil and chronic poverty, residents are very limited in their livelihood opportunities. By taking preventative measures to enhance development and minimize the risks of future disasters, the Adaptation Fund’s project and other resilience-oriented training prove dedication to mitigating disaster-related effects.

The International Day for Disaster Reduction, observed this year on Oct. 13, marked a call for collaboration on disaster preparedness and reduction. In his 2016 message, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon encouraged governments and civil society members to work together towards the common goal of risk reduction. The pursuit of disaster training and community resilience shows a commitment to proactive climate action and changing attitudes of disaster response to disaster prevention.

McKenna Lux

Photo: Flickr

Collective Effort to Provide Assistance: Reducing Hunger in Burma
Burma, also referred to as Myanmar, is the second largest country located in Southeast Asia bordering the countries of Bangladesh and Thailand as well as the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Burma is reducing hunger showing a valiant effort by the government and nonprofits.

From 1962 to 2011, Burma was considered a pariah state due decades of oppressive rule from a military junta.

When the new civilian government came into power in 2011, the country found itself with remnants of human rights abuses, such as hunger, from the former military junta. However, government reforms and nonprofit organizations are underway in order to combat hunger in Burma.

According to the 2014 Human Development Report, Burma ranks 150 out of 187 countries in terms of being severely underdeveloped.

As a result, malnutrition rates in the country continue to rank among the highest in the world. With undernutrition being linked to the 35 percent of stunted children and the 8 percent of acutely malnourished children.

In addition, erratic conflicts of communal violence increase, prevent and limit food security for those who suffer from hunger in Burma. Communal violence in Burma is often between Muslims and Buddhists fighting over sexual assault accusations and other local disagreements.

Nevertheless, Hunger in Burma is slowly being tackled in part due to efforts from Burma’s government and non-profit organizations.

The government of Burma has initiated a commitment to decreasing the amount of hunger within the country. In 2013, Burma joined the SUN Movement in order to establish a National Plan of Action in Food and Nutrition. Additionally, the National Nutrition Centre in the Department of Health is collaborating with the Myanmar Nutrition Technical Network in the hopes of reducing hunger as a solution to poverty alleviation.

The Action Against Hunger campaign has reported that in just 2015, the organization has helped roughly 111,787 people in Burma. This figure includes providing 50,271 people with nutritional support, 39,081 people with access to safe water and sanitation and 22,435 people with increased economic self-sufficiency.

In addition, the World Food Programme states that they are aiding in combating hunger in Burma through providing food assistance for the 128,000 displaced people in Rakhine State, the 5,000 in Shan and the 39,000 in Kachin.

Shannon Warren

Photo: Flickr

Prioritizing Education in Myanmar Moving Forward
The spring of 2016 has brought exciting changes for the citizens of Myanmar. Although Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi is constitutionally ineligible to run for president, due the fact that her sons are of British nationality, she and her supporters have still found a way to impact the education system in the country.

A close friend and aid of Suu Kyi, Htin Kyaw, was elected into office. President Kyaw has given Suu Kyi a place in the cabinet, and she will oversee foreign affairs, as well as the reformation of education in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s new branch into democracy, breaking away from the debilitating rule of a military regime which abolished the once prominent higher education system, brings hope for proper education back to the people of Myanmar.

Primary education in Myanmar is mandatory and free to the public. However, for decades the education sector has been neglected, and it shows. The rule of a military regime, which lasted nearly half of a century, discouraged education amongst Myanmar’s citizens and invested little money or resources in the education system.

The constant conflict and poverty in Myanmar which ensued disrupted students from being able to attend school. The current students and graduates of Myanmar’s public education system have not been properly prepared.

Deepak Neopane, founder of City College Yangon, comments that the economy in Myanmar has recently rebounded, but the those entering into the workforce are unequipped with basic thinking skills and much of this influx of opportunity is going to waste.

With the National League for Democracy (NLD) at reigns of the government, a plan is in place to mend and improve education in Myanmar within the next five years. Beginning in the 2017/18 academic year, the grade structure will be reconfigured and increased to follow a 13-year format.

The goal for the curriculum moving forward is to expand and enhance problem-solving and critical thinking skills within the pupils. Though the budget is yet to be finalized, it is likely that following the last year’s investments in the education system that more significant increases are to be made.

The Myanmar education sector has been receiving grants from several humanitarian organizations including UNICEF, the British Council and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, to ensure the prosperity of education for the children in Myanmar moving forward.

Undoubtedly, the government’s agenda to revitalize education in Myanmar is promising. However, they do not deny that there will be hurdles to overcome. The Myanmar government has not neglected to see that every facet of the current education system will need updates and revision.

The plan includes re-training teachers to bring them all up to the modern regional level of teaching and reconfiguring existing schools to situate smaller class sizes, which will improve teacher to student ratios. The end-goal is to have education in Myanmar completely modernized and fully up to standard with regional accreditation by 2030.

Amy Whitman

Photo: Flickr

Earlier this summer, the state counsellor and minister for foreign affairs  (also a Nobel Peace Prize winner) of Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, spoke at the opening ceremony of an International Development Association (IDA) meeting held in Myanmar to spread awareness about conditions in her country.

IDA is a sector of the World Bank that aims to assist the world’s poorest nations. IDA is currently working towards a triannual replenishment initiative and Myanmar is one of the possible recipients. The recent meeting was the second of four talks about the replenishment plan in 2016.

While the meeting was held in a more urban area of the country, Suu Kyi urged attendees to consider sending aid to the rural villages of her country. According to Suu Kyi, these areas suffer from a lack of electricity, hunger, poor education, and a lack of jobs.

She told her audience, “We would like to work together with you to lift our people…out of a situation where they are dependent either on other institutions or on other people to survive. We want our people to feel that they are capable of carving out their own destiny.” While Myanmar has already received financial report from IDA, the country hopes to receive greater aid in the future.

While speaking, Suu Kyi organized her points to fit with the numerous themes of the meeting. She worked to highlight how each theme would impact the small nation. She also shared that two of the nation’s current goals include working towards national reconciliation and internal peace.

Suu Kyi does not wish to take aid away from other countries that may need it as much, if not more, than Myanmar, and acknowledges that she knows many other nations working towards development too.

She believes that Myanmar needs more material and logistical support from the IDA to address some of the current issues plaguing the country. In the words of Suu Kyi, “ending poverty is a difficult task, and we all have to join in.” Suu Kyi supports Myanmar, now it’s up to the IDA if they do too.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

Facts About Myanmar RefugeesMyanmar was previously known as Burma until the ruling junta changed the country’s name in 1989. It is an ethnically and religiously diverse country with a history of conflict and violence. This history has resulted in thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing and/or settling in Myanmar’s borders. Here are 10 facts about Myanmar refugees:

  1. According to The Border Consortium, a total of 108,407 refugees fleeing political upheaval, civil strife and economic stagnation in Myanmar were living in refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border as of April 2015.
  2. In addition to refugees, the IDMC estimates that there were up to 662,400 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Myanmar as of March 2015.
  3. The Rohingya Muslims are Myanmar’s largest group of stateless people and number 1.45 million as of 2014.
  4. The government does not recognize the Rohingya as a “national race” and has stripped them of their citizenship.
  5. Under the Rakhine State Action Plan that was drafted in October 2014, the Rohingya must demonstrate their family has lived in Myanmar for least 60 years to qualify for a lesser naturalized citizenship and the classification of Bengali, or they are put in detention camps and face deportation.
  6. Bangladesh struggles to accommodate the 29,000 Rohingya Muslims living as refugees in Cox’s Bazar.
  7. None of the countries harboring large refugee populations from Myanmar have signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Several countries changed their policies in order to cultivate better relations with the Myanmar government.
  8. As a result of not signing the Geneva Convention, refugees found outside refugee camps in Thailand are treated the same as illegal immigrants.
  9. Thai authorities have not allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to register more than a few refugees since 2006. Without registration, refugees cannot apply for resettlement or for most university scholarships abroad.
  10. Mae La is the largest refugee camp in Thailand. Established in 1984, the camp houses 50,000 refugees. Although over 90 percent of the refugees are Karen, Mae La is the most ethnically and religiously diverse camp along the Thai-Myanmar border. The Border Consortium—a union of 11 international NGOs that provide shelter, food and non-food items to Myanmar refugees—oversees and runs the camp.

While these 10 facts about Myanmar refugees are not an exhaustive list, they provide insight into how thousands of underprivileged people live in a system that seems to work against them.

Alexis Pierce

Photo: Reuters

In rural Myanmar today, only 16 percent of households have electricity. The Myanmar government, in partnership with the World Bank, intends to drastically increase the number of connections to reach universal connectivity for rural residents by 2030 through the National Electrification Plan.

The Myanmar government has found that lack of access to electricity is more than a basic hindrance to the people of Myanmar. As it turns out, lack of access plays a major role in stunting community development and perpetuating the poverty cycle.

Students, in particular, suffer from the lack of universal connectivity, having to rely on expensive battery powered lights or candles. In a nation where the sun sets each evening before 7 p.m. year-round, that leaves a lot of rural school children in the dark.

Creating sustainable local businesses has also proven to be a challenge. Without electricity, markets are unable to operate at night, losing valuable employment opportunities for community members while causing a loss of community potential for outside investment.

Rural clinics also suffer due to the shortage of quality lighting but, more importantly, because of refrigeration issues. A wide variety of injectable medication requires constant refrigeration, such as lifesaving drug insulin.

The National Electrification Plan will be able to put an end to these problems. Designed with three checkpoints, the program intends to reach 50 percent access by 2020, 75 percent by 2025 and universal access by 2030, according to World Bank.

Due to some of the challenging geographic locations that require a connection, the program is incorporating solar power and mini-grid connections besides just increasing the size of the of the national grid.

As of Sept. 16, 2015, the Myanmar government was approved for a $400 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to move forward with the program. The entire project is estimated to require $6 billion of investments to connect all 7 million households.

The first phase of the project is estimated to cost $700 million and connect nearly 2 million homes and will be finished over the course of the next five years.

As for community welfare, 23,000 new connections have been designated for clinics, schools and religious buildings, and more than 150,000 public lights are planned to illuminate public spaces.

The Myanmar government hopes that the National Electrification Plan will help pave the way to increased economic and social prosperity throughout the nations, giving the people of Myanmar a brighter, more successful and sustainable future.

Claire Colby

Sources: Timebie, World Bank, World Factbook
Photo: Pixabay

The Aftermath of Floods in Myanmar
Flooding is usually just a normal part of life in Myanmar. With every annual monsoon season comes the floods, yet this year has been different.

Since June, this Southeast Asian country has experienced some of its worst flooding in decades. In total, the natural disaster has critically affected almost 1 million people and killed at least 103. There has also been an agricultural toll; water has flooded more than 1 million acres of rice fields and destroyed more than 150,000 acres.

The floods have had a widespread impact on Myanmar with all but two of the country’s 14 states affected by rains. However, some are worse off than others.

Four regions in particular, Chin, Sagaing, Magwe and Rakhine have experienced the worst of the floods. The national government stated that all four had become natural disaster zones.

Sadly these regions were also some of the most impoverished and vulnerable in “a country where nearly 70 percent of people live close to the $2/day poverty threshold,” according to UNICEF. These states face what the UN has dubbed a ‘double catastrophe,’ both extreme poverty and natural disaster.

Children comprise a substantial 34 percent of Myanmar’s population and are among the worst victims of this disaster. According to UNICEF Deputy Representative in Myanmar Shalini Bahuguna, “The floods are hitting children and families who are already very vulnerable, including those living in camps in Rakhine State…Beyond the immediate impact, the floods will have a longer term impact on the livelihoods of these families.”

Of the four most devastated states, Rakhine seems the worst off. In addition to floods, the Cyclone Komen touched down causing even more destruction. Currently 140,000 children and families have been forced to out of their homes and must live in camps designed only for short-term use.

However, even these numbers are not entirely comprehensive. UN officials have struggled to access townships in the region due to the destruction of infrastructure.

The Myanmar government in tandem with UNICEF and other UN agencies has worked recently to mitigate the damages caused by natural disasters. They have sent teams of officials to survey the destruction and to provide water purification, hygiene and health supplies to those in need.

Shalini Bahuguna also added that “We are working with the Government to get emergency messages out to local communities through radio, to tell people how to prevent water borne diseases.”

In one of the most devastated areas, Chin State, UNICEF has worked to provide stranded refugees with access to latrines constructed from local resources.

So far UNICEF has requested $9.2 million in funds for humanitarian aid for children in Myanmar. While this sum is by no means worthless, it pales in comparison to the region’s aid requirements even before the disasters. Early in 2015, the organization requested $24.9 million to assist children in Rakhine state but only managed to garner a mere $5.6 million. With this taken into account, Myanmar still needs far more foreign aid than it has received.

Though perhaps operating on a tight budget, UNICEF has still accomplished a substantial amount. They have provided 860,000 water purification tablets, which are enough for 57,000 people for just over two weeks. Similarly, they have distributed 6,000 hygiene kits for 30,000 people. Of course, much more funding is required in order to meet the needs of all of Myanmar’s people.

Andrew Logan

Sources: Unicef 1, Unicef 2, Reuters, BBC, Al Jazeera
Photo: Stuff