Rohingya: ‘Most friendless people’

For generations, the ethnic Muslim Rohingya have endured persecution by the ruling junta of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country.

The plight of the Rohingya, descendants of Arab traders from the 7th century, gained international attention over the past month after five boatloads of haggard migrants were found in the waters around Indonesia and the Andaman Islands.

But unlike the Kurds or the Palestinians, no one has championed the cause of the Rohingya. Most countries, from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia, see them as little more than a source of cheap labor for the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs.

“The Rohingya are probably the most friendless people in the world. They just have no one advocating for them at all,” said Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. “Hardly any of them have legal status anywhere in the world.”

There are an estimated 750,000 Rohingya living in Myanmar’s mountainous northern state of Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh. Thousands flee every year, trying to escape a life of abuse that was codified in 1982 with a law that virtually bars them from becoming citizens.

Myanmar’s military government has repeatedly denied abusing the Rohingya, though Amnesty International said the junta has described them as less than human.

Rights groups have documented widespread abuses, including forced labor, land seizures and rape.

“It was like living in hell,” said Mohamad Zagit, who left after soldiers confiscated his family’s rice farm and then threw him in jail for praying at a local mosque. The 23-year-old spoke from his hospital bed in Thailand, where he had been detained after fleeing Myanmar. continue

U.N. human rights envoy visits Myanmar ethnic groups(Alertnet)

Source: Reuters
YANGON, Feb 15 (Reuters) – A United Nations human rights envoy toured eastern Myanmar bordering Thailand on Sunday to assess the human rights conditions of ethnic groups in the southeast Asian country, a government source said.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. Special Human Rights Rapporteur for Myanmar, visited eastern Kayin State on the first leg of a fact finding tour he hoped would include meeting detained opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi.
State-run media have not reported Ojea’s five-day visit, his second trip to the country since taking office last May.
In a previous visit in August, Myanmar’s government did not respond to Ojea’s request to meet Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years.
She is among 2,162 people believed to be in detention in Myanmar for their political or religious beliefs.
According to the U.N. Information Centre, Ojea hopes to meet some political prisoners jailed by the ruling military regime as well as opposition leaders this week. He also plans to travel to western Rakhine and northern Kachin states.
Rakhine is home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group which made headlines recently following reports hundreds of Rohingya who fled to Thailand to escape poverty and hardship were mistreated by the Thai military.
“The main objectives of his visit are to assess the development of situation of human rights since his previous mission last summer,” a U.N. statement said. continue

Travel firms sell holidays to blacklisted Burmese resorts

Over a dozen British tour operators are selling holiday packages to Burma in resorts owned by individuals with strong links to the repressive military junta, breaching a European Union blacklist.

Tourism is thought to earn the generals who run Burma £180m, with a significant proportion coming from the UK.

Many of the leading resorts are owned by state entities that lease properties to investors. Some resorts, it is alleged, have been built by slave labour and involved the forcible displacement of huge numbers of people from their homes with little or no compensation.

Tour operators contacted by the Observer such as Undiscovered Destinations and Bamboo Travel said they were unaware that resorts were on a banned list. Operators maintained that they believed it was important outsiders visited the troubled nation.

But Tricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern, whose report on the Burmese travel industry will be published later this week, says: “It is the responsibility of tour operators to ensure that they … do not provide financial benefits to the military dictatorship. Given the lack of transparency in Burma and the overlap between state- and private-owned enterprises, the best way to do this is to stop trading with Burma.”