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Al-Anbaa visits Kutupalong Rohingya Muslim camp

rongCOX’S BAZAAR: Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are subject to the most brutal oppression and violence for decades starting with the ethnic cleansing operations that took place during the 70s of the last century by the Mag Buddhists who forms the majority of Myanmar’s population which is over 55 million with Muslims making more than 20 percent and the rest Mag Buddhists and other sects. The state is made up of more than 140 ethnicities, most important of which are the Burman followed by Muslims, yet Muslims make up more than 70 percent of the Arakan region’s population and were subjected to all forms of oppression such as killings, forced immigration, hunger and confiscation of lands following the military coup of General Ne Win in 1962 with backing from the communists in China and the former Soviet Union, and conducted the harshest operations against Muslims in 1978 called the “Dragon King” operation. The second ethnic cleansing operation Rohingya Muslims faced at the start of the 90s of the last century is considered the most heinous as it lead to the killing and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Muslims as their blood, money and honor in Arakan became fair play by hardline gangs among extremist Buddhists with complete silence by the world and support from the Burmese government in order to displace them from their homeland to preserve their Buddhist majority in the region. The great majority of the displaced headed to neighboring Bangladesh which received more than 350,000 Rohingya Muslims refugees, some of them having Bangladeshi passports. The government there established two camps, one with 19,000 refugees while Kutupalong camp has more than 10,000 refugees.

Visit to the camp
Al-Anbaa visited the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh to see firsthand the conditions of Rohingya Muslims there. Following a flight from Dhaka to Chittagong and from there to Cox’s Bazaar by road that took nearly five hours driving, we headed to the camp which is around an hour and a half farther by road. Kutupalong refugee camp is considered one of the last two remaining camps out of 20 that were established to give Myanmar refugees a safe haven during their influx in 1992. The camp lies 37 km from Cox’s Bazaar city, and the second lies 48 km farther from this camp and is established on the lands of Rajapalong Union only 500 m away from Myanmar’s borders.

Escaping from death
Refugees crossed the borders from Myanmar (Burma) into Bangladesh between November 1991 and June 1992 and found a safe haven there. They are the residents of Rakhine “Arakan” State that lies in the western part of Myanmar. They are known as Rohingya which is derived from Rahang/Roshang which is the old name of Arakan. They escaped oppression and death in Burma at the hands of the Buddhists there, to a point that he United Nations considers them the most oppressed minority in the world.

Lack of facilities
Despite the difficulties, problems and moderate capabilities Bangladesh has, it received those refugees, though it received much criticism to a point where some people accused it of not helping them, while some accused Bangladesh of collaborating with Burmese authorities using the evidence that Bangladesh government did not allow charity organizations to give aid to Burmese Muslims because that may encourage Rohingya Muslims to escape from Burma to Bangladesh, while Bangladeshi authorities and many of its officials confirmed that they extend all what they can to serve those refugees. But Bangladesh started to suffer from social, economic and security repercussions due to the presence of those large numbers of refugees and weak facilities, as the rescue and humanitarian aid of all types to the refugees is little and do not cover the daily requirements to secure dignified living such as healthcare, medicine, education and its requirements. They also spoke about providing foodstuff, clothes and suitable housing to protect them from the forces of nature. The majority of the Bangladeshi population of 180 million suffer from poverty and unemployment. The difficult economic situation and natural disasters such as cyclones, floods and others besides the large increase in population are all matters that burden the Bangladeshi government. The government believes that allowing refugees to remain encourages others in Myanmar to seek refuge here and increase their numbers in Bangladesh which is already suffering from dense population, and the Myanmar government is responsible for solving the problem by preventing racial and religious discrimination and granting the Rohingya Muslims full citizenship and their rights. Bangladesh demanded that all countries around the world and humanitarian and international organizations play a positive role to urge the Myanmar government to solve this problem in a way that does not deprive those people from their citizenship. Even if Bangladesh is helping them out of brotherly and Islamic links, this aid constitutes a burden on its economy which cannot bear the expenses of receiving this large number of refugees.

Tour of the camp
During our tour of the camp, we found out that all activities of the government, non-government, international and UN agencies were all under the supervision, monitoring and coordination by the office of the person responsible for the camp and he is the government’s representative in the camp and responsible for implementing its policies and decisions related to refugees. The camp is under the supervision and coordination of the office of Rescuing and Repatriating Refugees Commissioner in Cox’s Bazaar. This commissioner is the joint secretary of the Bangladesh government. The camp covers an area of 3 sq km and divided into 7 parts. It was established on Feb 2, 1992 and has 1,219 refugee families representing 10,805 persons distributed in 453 tents. It has 12 schools for children and the total number of students are 3,431 with 1,668 male and 1,763 females taught by 95 teachers - 48 Bangladeshi and 47 refugee. There are 14 mosques in the camp, a social center, two women’s centers and a soap factory where refugees are trained to make soap and work in it too. There are 134 small water wells equipped with manual pumps, 635 toilets and 270 bathrooms. There are 35 garbage containers and 6 incinerators in addition to a medical incinerator.

The responsible office
When we asked about the duties of the office responsible for the camp, they explained to us that they carry out the following duties - general administration of the camp, coordinate the duties of all agencies, maintain law, build and maintain tents and other infrastructure. They also keep refugee statistics and other statistics and supervise voluntary return of refugees. They also conduct field bilateral discussions with Myanmar about registration and repatriation of refugees and maintain links and relations with the general representatives and the district administration.

Health Services
There is a health unit in the camp that provides medical and rescue services and even food services for the refugees. It is divided into several departments including outpatient clinics, inpatient clinics, vaccination program and family organization in addition to patient refugee transfers. We also saw the role of the Bangladesh Red Crescent in transporting, storing and distributing food to refugees and supervising the storing and distributing of nonfood materials that are given by the UN Refugee Commission and the World Food Program. This is in addition to distributing material presented by the Bangladesh government such as rice, cereals, soybean oil, salt, sugar and mixed foods twice a week. There are other materials too such as washing detergents, bath soaps, kerosene, blankets, mattresses among others. The camp has a police center to maintain security inside it and solve disputes and differences when they arise.

Role of the UN
The United Nations is available in the camp through several agencies, most important of which is the Refugees Commission which protects and distributes non-food items to refugees. It chairs the joint sessions to exchange information, manage voluntary returns with the participation of the Bangladesh government in addition to helping camp authorities in all rescue fields and voluntary returns. The World Food Program plays a distinguished role in presenting food material to distribute to refugees and distribute meals based on the School Students Feeding Program and supervise food distributing activities. The World Health Organization supervises a vaccination program to prevent the spread of diseases especially among children and newborns. The UN Population Fund lends technical and administrative support for reproductive care and post birth visits. It also supervises the birth unit and its needs and arranges family organization programs. Appeal to the world A large number of those living in the camp raised banners appealing to international and humanitarian organizations along with world governments to interfere and rescue them, and pay attention to their issue that is getting more complicated and longer day by day. They asked the UN and all governments to pressure the Myanmar government to stop ethnic cleansing operations being launched by Buddhist extremists against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan and other Burmese provinces. They also asked for halting massacres that are being committed under the eyes of the free world without anyone caring for their suffering. They asked for allowing them to return to their homeland with guarantees of their right to citizenship and dignified living and for them to enjoy all the advantages enjoyed by others. We noticed their determination to hold on to their right and keenness to return whenever safety and security are guaranteed and the Burmese government treats them as citizens who have duties and rights.

Rohingya Muslims were forced out of their country under the oppression of the Buddhist majority that is supported by the regime in Myanmar. More than 24 camps were erected around the Arakan province’s capital under the supervision of the UN High Commission for Refugees, which coordinates the services such as water supplies and health services according to humanitarian standards and the principles of protection and fair distribution of aid in the camps and ensuring their safety and trains officials on managing it. It also helped host countries to enable them meet their needs and ever-increasing demands. Many countries offered help to these refugees and contributed to their upkeep and provided means of dignified living for them. Kuwait was among the first countries that extended aid and help from several bodies headed by the Joint Kuwaiti Relief Committee, Social Reform Society, Abdallah Al-Noun Society, Sheikh Fahd Al-Ahmad Charity Society, Kuwait Arakan Committee, Kuwait Red Crescent and personal efforts of Kuwaiti activists who gave a lot in support to displaced Rohingya Muslims, be them in Burma or Bangladesh or anywhere else in neighboring countries that welcomed these refugees. There was also the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz when he presented $50 million to Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, as well as what is being presented by Nadwa and Zamzam Charity societies, and donations from many charitable Saudis to meet the needs of the refugees and to alleviate the suffering they are subjected to, such as ethnic cleansing, murder and displacement. Qatar, on its part, contributed by presenting relief aid to Rohingya Muslims and signed a cooperation and partnership agreement with the high commissionfor refugees affairs to help Myanmar Muslims in Arakan province, according to which the society donates $2 million along with Sheik Eid Charity Establishment, Qatar Red Crescent and other aid from Qataris. UAE presented emergency aid to Myanmar Muslims at the instructions of the head of state Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al- Nahayan and through the UAE Red Crescent and Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan Humanitarian Society. Because Dubai is considered the hub for storing the emergency reserves of the UN High Commission for refugees, more than 500 tents were sent from the commissions stores, in addition to 700 tents donated by the Korean Agency for International Cooperation in 2012 after the horrific massacres Rohingya Muslims faced in Arakan last year. The Turkish Relief Authority distributed various aid including foodstuff, detergent and toys to Arakan refugees. Meanwhile the European Union promised to present Ä200,000 in humanitarian aid for refugees in Thailand, who were stuck while attempting to reach Malaysia when they escaped from Myanmar at the beginning of this year. The EU expressed fear towards the fate of Rohingya Refugees inside and outside Muyanmar, and as for Malaysia, it is exerting efforts to help refugees and ease matters for them.

Deserved demands
Rohingya Muslims in Burma are asking world leaders in general and Muslims leaders in particular to pay attention to their cause in a suitable manner as far as discussions and study are concerned, and support the creation of education chances for Rohingya Muslim children and present scholarships and allocate university seats for them.

Travel and marriage ban
Rohingya Muslims do not have passports, because they are not allowed to travel or leave Arakan Province to other areas of Myanmar. They are not allowed to marry without permission, in addition to setting periods during which marriage is not allowed that may last years to limit reproduction and change the demographic structure of the region.

Efforts that contributed to the visit’s success
Al-Anbaa thanks Deputy Premier, Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid, Ministry Undersecretary Khalid Al-Jarallah and Director of Undersecretary’s Office Minister Plenipotentiary Hany Ayham Al-Omar for their efforts to facilitate the visit. We also thank ambassador Ali Al-Thafiri for coordinating with the foreign ministry in Bangladesh, who did not spare any effort since the start of the visit’s idea which included meeting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid and former prime minister Begum Khalida Zia, as well as Foreign Minister Dipu Moni. Thanks also to the director of central and western Asia office at Bangladesh Foreign Ministry Mohammad Nazeer Al-Islam and the administrative attachÈ in our embassy in Bangladesh Nasser Al-Enaizi who accompanied us during our tour. Thanks also to the public relations official at Kuwait Embassy Javid Haidar Kareem, bearing in mind that Al-Anbaa gained exceptional government approval from the foreign ministry in Bangladesh to visit Kutupalong Camp in Cox’s Bazaar with efforts of our ambassador there.

Abu Muhannad:
The pioneer We proudly mention the efforts or our colleague Yousuf Abdelrahman “Abu Muhannad” who was the first to visit the camps of Rohinya camps in Bangladesh 20 years ago, particularly in May 1993 to deliver the aid of the joint Kuwaiti Relief Committee, and published the reports of his visit in Al-Anbaa.

The population and language
The population of Myanmar (Burma) is more than 55 million, and the percentage of Muslims among them is no less than 15 percent, half of them in Arakan which has a Muslim majority. Burma people are made of many ethnicities that reach more than 140 using several languages. Most people there speak the Burman language and they are called Burmans. They are Chinese tribes that descended from the Tibet area and came to Burma during the sixteenth century. They are known for being ferocious and adopted Buddhism. They controlled the country at the end of the 18 century and ruled it.

Arakan groups
Among the groups that make up Burma are Arakan and Kasheen groups where Islam is widespread among them and live in the southern part of Arakan heights which has a large Muslim population density, representing 70 percent of the region’s population, even as the official government statistics do not justify them. Islam reached Arakan during the reign of Abbasid Caliph Haroun Al-Rasheed during the seventh century through Arab travelers. It was ruled by 49 Muslims kings consecutively for more than 350 years between 1430 and 1748 AD. Islam was spread all over Burma and there are magnificent Islamic ruins including schools and mosques. The Burmese authorities worked on destroying all that is related to the civilized and human heritage of Rohingya Muslims, demolished mosques, schools and historic buildings and prevented their refurbishment or rebuilding them. It does not even recognize or authenticate the certificates of graduates from Muslim schools in an attempt to melt down Muslims in the Buddhist society by force to end Muslim culture in a racist manner far away from the minimums of humanitarian dealings.

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This article was published on 21/10/2013