Friday, April 29, 2016

Aung San Suu Kyi called for a 21st-century Panglong conference


State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi called for a 21st-century Panglong conference when she was visiting the Joint Monitoring Committee meeting held at Horizon Lake View Hotel in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday.
It was the first meeting between Suu Kyi and the committee since the new government came to power.
The Panglong Agreement was reached in Panglong, southern Shan State, between General Aung San and the Shan, Kachin, and Chin peoples on February 12, 1947. The agreement accepted "full autonomy in internal administration for the frontier areas" and envisioned a federal union. It is celebrated in Myanmar as Union Day each February 12.
Suu Kyi said: “We can attract non-signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement by showcasing the fruitful results of the ceasefire through clear-cut transparency. At the same time, we could start working to show the benefits of peace.
“Some people name the peace conference a 'second Panglong'. It doesn’t matter whether it is a second or third Panglong or not. I don’t want to buy the time to hold a 21st-century Panglong conference and want to finalise the processes within one or two months. Our country is thirsty for peace and it is a daily essential. Many people across the country have to bear the brunt of war. Even one day is crucial. We should seek ways to start holding a peace conference successfully and rapidly in order that people can earn a living peacefully. I would like to urge committee members to share their knowledge with me. We should seek ways to include non-signatories in the peace talks,” she added.
“There is give and take when we do a job, especially in collective works. We mainly need to think about what we can give. Nothing will happen if individuals look to gain. Individuals need to think about what we can do for the country. It is difficult for us to make peace and become united if we prioritise our desires. We can maintain the ceasefire and create a situation for participation of non-signatories in the ceasefire simultaneously.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

UNHCR says it has no control over fake refugee cards

The Star Online

KUALA LUMPUR: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it has no control over fake refugee cards being circulated, saying that the market exists as refugee status is not given out easily.
UNHCR Malaysia representative Richard Towle said that they had issued about 158,000 cards and that it was possible to replicate features of a legitimate card to make a fake.
Towle said a card featured in a recent news report was fake, as its details did not match that in their database.
"Somebody in the community has paid money to get a false card, it has nothing to do with the UNHCR," Towle told The Star Online.
Towle said that UNHCR had robust and rigorous procedures to decide on a person's refugee status, adding that their card system was controlled very tightly.
He said that they collected biometric data such as fingerprints and even retinal scans.
"We have procedures so the most vulnerable people get our help as quickly as possible," he said.
Towle added they were not concerned about the number of cards issued, saying that it was more important that it was issued to those who actually needed protection.
He said that local authorities could verify if a UNHCR card was genuine via the Internet or by calling a hotline, and added that they had a high degree of cooperation with the Government.
As of end February 2016, there are some 158,510 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia with about 145,000 of them from Myanmar.
There are another 14,120 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries, including from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Somalia, Syrian, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine and Iran.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

IS targeting some 220,000 Rohingya refugees vulnerable to radicalisation

The Star Online

MALAYSIA carried out more than 100 arrests of people suspected of having links to the Islamic State (IS) terror group and foiled seven terrorist plots last year.
Indonesia made at least 74 terror-related arrests and prevented nine plots last year – yet an attack occurred in Jakarta on Jan 14 this year.
By the year end, 150 people now imprisoned in Indonesian jails for terror-related offences will be released. And at least 100 Indonesians have returned from Syria, while 200 others have been deported by Turkey while trying to get there.
These worrying developments in Singapore's immediate neighbours were cited by the island nation's home affairs minister K. Shanmugam in a speech to some 300 senior Home Team officers Friday, where he outlined strategies Singapore was taking to counter the growing terror threat.
The rise of IS means that the threat of a terror attack here is at its highest level in recent times. So countermeasures have to be stepped up, he told the Home Team Leaders' Forum, an annual platform for the minister to update top officers of Home Team agencies on key issues and strategic directions for the year ahead.
Singapore home affairs minister K. Shanmugam.- AFP

"In 2015, we saw the terror threat morph into a very different, newer, much more powerful large monster.
"It is now a qualitatively different and much more dangerous threat. IS presents a far graver threat than Al-Qaeda and its affiliates ever were," he said.
Last year, IS directed or inspired at least 56 attacks outside Iraq and Syria. Many targeted civilians, and Shanmugam cited seven major attacks this year alone.
IS' control of large territories and oil resources has also earned it hundreds of millions of dollars.
It also uses social media skilfully, makes people believe they need to kill in the name of God, and has recruited over 30,000 foreign fighters - some 1,000 of them from South-east Asia.
"In scale, network, finances, propaganda, IS is at a different level and sophistication compared with other terrorist groups," he said.
IS also seeks to set up a regional caliphate that includes Singapore.
Shanmugam had, in a speech two months ago, set out at length how the political backdrop in the region made it fertile ground for a climate of rising extremism.
"We have to keep that political backdrop (in mind) because when politics fails, then everything else fails, and that is unfortunately happening," he said.
He noted how in Malaysia, some of those arrested for IS links were commandos, police officers and civil servants. There was also a substantial threat posed by "clean skins" - people with no criminal records and who are not under the scrutiny of security agencies.
They come together through social media, and last April, Malaysia arrested 12 such militants who could get past immigration checks undetected if they travelled.
"Every day, we have more than 400,000 persons crossing our land checkpoints in Woodlands and Tuas both ways. In Woodlands alone, we have about 90,000 travellers via motorcycles and 80,000 travellers via cars, every single day," he said.
"You can work out for yourself the nature of the threat to us, from a would-be terrorist in Malaysia."
"When we complain about jams, one has got to take it in perspective, but it is very difficult to bring this point across to the broader public. The checks are necessary," he said.
As for Indonesia, he said some pro-IS groups are coming together under the banner of Jamaah Ansharul Khilafah. Other groups are also competing for attention, raising the risk of one-upmanship attacks.
The situation is exacerbated by shortcomings in Indonesian law, which currently does not allow for the detention of those who want to join IS. As a result, home-grown terrorists, individuals who are released, and those who have returned from Syria and Iraq are coalescing.
The last group poses a significant risk as they are battle-hardened with combat skills and violent tendencies, Shanmugam noted.
"They want to destroy what there is and replace (it) with what there is in Iraq and Syria, and in territories in control by them," he said.
South-east Asian militants in Syria and Iraq are also actively encouraging militants in the region to strike.
They include IS' Malay Archipelago Unit leader Bahrun Naim, who has encouraged attacks in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
Last year, Thailand was hit by bombings in Bangkok's Siam Paragon mall in February, in Koh Samui in April, and at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok in August.
Some Philippine and Malaysian militants have reportedly pledged allegiance to IS, which could lead to the setting up of a wilayat or province in southern Philippines.
Shanmugam noted that extremist Uighur militants have also linked up with militant networks in this region, and as many as 3,500 Uighurs are fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Groups sympathetic to the perceived mistreatment of Uighurs in China could also target Chinese interests in South-east Asia and elsewhere. In Turkey, the Thai consulate was attacked after Thailand deported 109 Uighurs in July last year.
The Rohingya issue also has potential security implications, with IS targeting some 220,000 Rohingya refugees vulnerable to radicalisation in camps in Malaysia and Thailand. Shanmugam noted that the Rohingya have attempted retaliatory attacks on Myanmar interests.
"There are multiple layers of threats in this region - complex, interwoven, fusing religion with domestic political grievances," he said. "And we are in the middle, an oasis of calm, and a prime target for all." - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bangladesh agrees to send 1.5 million workers to Malaysia

NST Online

KUALA LUMPUR: Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given the nod to send 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers to Malaysia. Bangladeshi cabinet secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam said its prime minister had approved the memorandum of understanding (Mou), expected to be signed with Malaysia within a month, as reported by 

He said the Bangladeshi workers will be sent under a 'G2G Plus' system after the 'Business to Business' (B2B) and 'Government to Government' (G2G) methods did not yield expected results. “It is a major achievement of Bangladesh that Malaysia has listed us as a source country [from which to recruit manpower].

 "Now workers can be sent for the service, manufacture and construction sectors. Earlier it was limited to plantation only,” he was quoted as saying. 

Shafiul said once the Mou is signed, the expenditure to send a worker is between Tk34,000 and 37,000 with employers to bear the cost. Malaysia is the one of the biggest manpower markets for Bangladesh as around 600,000 Bangladeshis are currently working in the country.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Is it safe for Myanmar refugees to return after elections


(Mae Hong Son, Thailand) January 28, 2016 – In November 2015, Myanmar held its first national vote since a nominally civilian government was established in 2011, ending almost 50 years of military rule. Since the elections, there have been much optimism for national reconciliation, which may allow for repatriation of Burmese refugees who fled to camps on the Thailand-Myanmar border decades ago.
After over four years of negotiations, only eight of 16 ethnic armed groups have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, and there are still security concerns in many parts of Myanmar. Furthermore, addressing displacement has not yet been prioritized in the peace process. For example, decisions regarding restoration of citizenship status and providing identification documents have not yet been clarified. Many refugees feel that to return right now to Myanmar would be premature.

Security. Although life in the camps is not a durable solution, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) believes repatriation should be considered on a case to case basis, with the safety of the refugees taking priority. Paths back to Myanmar should not only be demilitarized and undisputed, but clear from landmines as well.

"In the future, I would like to be a teacher and improve the education of our Karenni children, but only if the situation back home is safe," said Maung Saw Tin*, a refugee student.

Dignity. JRS works under the principles of non-discrimination and works on both sides of the Thailand-Myanmar border providing education – particularly for youth – and offering trust-building programs for refugees and returnees.

However, many refugees fear the lack of services in the communities to which they are returning. Many of the communities in Myanmar to which refugees are returning do not provide the practical support, such as food, shelter, heath care and education as is provided in the camps, as humanitarian agencies are not yet present there.

"Most camp refugees came from remote areas in Myanmar where there's no access to social services. There are schools but no teachers, clinics but no medicine," said U Aye Ko*, a refugee leader.

Voluntary return. Thus, JRS believes repatriation must be a voluntary decision, with refugees involved and consulted throughout the entire process. Returnees have the right to be well-informed and made aware of the current situation in their specific location of return, before making any decisions. JRS is working to improve communication to give refugees the information they need to help them make an informed decision regarding their decision to return to Myanmar.

"We love our country but our villages were burnt. We do not want to go back to that situation," said Mee Meh*, a refugee in Mae Hong Son camp.

Last month, the Karenni Refugee Committee, the UN refugee agency, Thailand's Ministry of Interior and World Education attended a four-day workshop on voluntary repatriation hosted by JRS in Mae Hong Son, Thailand. The framework of the workshop took into consideration the hopes as well as the fears of refugees around repatriation.

*Names have been changed

Adapted from an article written by Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific

Sunday, January 3, 2016

153,850 refugees registered with UNHCR in Malaysia

The Star Online

PETALING JAYA: A total of 153,850 refugees and asylum-seekers have registered themselves with the Malaysian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The statistics, as of September, showed that 33,740 of the refugees were below the age of 18.
This was revealed at a sympo­sium on “Malaysia’s Immigration Crisis? The Different Experiences of Migrants, Refugees and Expats” organised by the Strategic Information and Research Deve­lopment Centre on Saturday.
“Migration is always cross-border. That means legally it cannot be handled by the logistics of national law only.
“It needs lateral legal arrangements and regulations across borders in order to handle migration,” said Unicef Malaysia’s senior social policy specialist Dr Victor P. Karunan.
Simon Williams, a lecturer at Taylor’s University’s Centre for Language, said: “Originally, I was all for them to be integrated to the state system (national school) but now I don’t agree with that point anymore.
“Can Malaysia handle 30,000 plus kids being integrated into the state system? I don’t think they can.
“A lot of these kids are not used to the Malaysian curriculum,” he said.
“The Rohingya people would go for a more Islamic curriculum.
“The Chin community wants to go for a more English curriculum because they have the notion that they will be repatriated to another country, even though the rates are very low,” said Williams, who has been working with refugee schools for the last three years.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Suhakam Urges Malaysia To Recognise Rights Of Refugees

The Star Online

KUALA LUMPUR: The lack of a proper system to govern refugees has allowed human rights abuses against refugees to take place, said the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam). 
The non-recognition of refugees by Malaysia has made the community more marginalised, added Suhakam vice-chair Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee (pix). 
“We urge for the establishment of a Government-led system which engages with various other organisations such as the UNHCR and non-governmental bodies which deal with refugees to ensure a better mechanism to deal with the issues and challenges faced by refugees in Malaysia. 
“And we will continue to urge the Government to accede to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and its 1967 Optional Protocol in order to accord adequate protection to, and to respect the rights of, refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.” 
Dr Khaw said this in her keynote address Thursday on the commission’s role at the Roundtable on Challenges and Opportunities for Refugees in an Urban Environment organised by the UNHCR. 
Since Suhakam’s inception, she said it has been inquiring into complaints of alleged violations of their human rights and by recommending to the Government to accede to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and its 1967 Optional Protocol. 
“Over the last four years, from 2012-2015, we have received a total of 129 complaints from refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.”
The breakdown is as follows: 50 in 2012, 25 in 2013, 38 in 2014 and 16 as at Nov 17 this year. 
The complaints related mainly to health, education, employment, vulnerability to arrests and detention, and delays in registration and resettlement.   
“In relation to health, the complaints were about their inability to pay medical bills, especially for those who were admitted to hospital for chronic illnesses,” said Dr Khaw, adding that Suhakam has received several requests for medical and financial assistance from members of the refugee community.   
While refugees get a 50% discount at government hospitals, she noted this was available “only to UNHCR card holders, and not to asylum seekers, or those who may be persons of concern but who do not possess valid UNHCR documents”.  
She reminded the Government of its obligation under Article 24(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which states that every child shall have access to adequate healthcare. 
And as Malaysia is a signatory to the CRC, it must strive to protect the rights of all children including refugee children to obtain access to education, said Dr Khaw. 
However, there is no access to formal education for refugee children in Malaysia. 
Instead, Dr Khaw said there was alternative or informal education from projects run by UNHCR in partnership with non-governmental organisations, or community-based education classes organised by the refugee communities themselves with the support of non-refugee groups such as faith-based organisations. 
“The Commission asserts, however, that there is no substitute for formal education with necessary resources to meet the educational needs of refugee children. 
“Education is an important element in everyone’s life, with the ability to change a person’s life, especially when education is one of the main assessment criteria for resettlement.” 
Dr Khaw commended the Government for its proposal to allow Rohingya refugees to seek employment through a pilot project, which will focus on certain market sectors. 
“The Commission welcomed a similar decision to issue work permits to refugees in July 2013. However, that did not materialise,” she added.  
On Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s announcement at the UN General Assembly in New York on Oct 2 that Malaysia would accept 3,000 Syrian refugees and provide them with shelter and jobs temporarily, as well as access to education for their children while in Malaysia, she said Suhakam hoped such rights would be extended to all refugees in Malaysia. 
In relation to allegations of abuse of power by enforcement authorities as well as the unsatisfactory conditions of immigration deportation centres, she said there was no proper system to govern the arrest, detention and deportation of refugees.  
Dr Khaw added that lack of recognition of their status as refugees rendered them vulnerable to arrests and detention, as well as abuses at the hands of the authorities.