As world leaders meet at UN, opinion hardens against Myanmar

A Rohingya Muslim woman Lalmoti is carried to hospital by her son and grandson in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 19 September 2017
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As world leaders meet at UN, opinion hardens against Myanmar

UNITED NATIONS: International opinion hardened against Myanmar on Monday as the US, Britain and other powers renewed calls for an end to violence against Rohingya Muslims, whose plight is overshadowing the Southeast Asian nation’s historic transition to democracy.
A year ago at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, Myanmar was being lauded for staging elections and shifting peacefully from decades of oppressive military rule.
At this year’s UN session, Myanmar, also known as Burma, appeared in danger of being an international outlier again.
Outrage is growing over a military crackdown that has triggered an exodus of more than 400,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh in less than a month in what the UN has described as “ethnic cleansing. “
Last week, the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body, condemned the violence in its first statement on Myanmar in nine years.
On Monday, Britain presided at a meeting of several Western and Muslim-majority governments that urged senior Myanmar officials to stop abuses against the Muslim minority and restore humanitarian access.
Myanmar’s government has blamed the crisis on Rohingya insurgents who attacked security posts in Rakhine State in late August.
But the military’s heavy response has severely affected civilians. Human rights groups, which are demanding punitive sanctions against Myanmar, say satellite imagery shows dozens of settlements have been set on fire. Many fleeing Rohingya say their homes were burned by Myanmar troops or Buddhist mobs.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the violence a “stain” on Myanmar’s reputation.
He urged action from the nation’s democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been criticized for failing to speak out in defense of the Rohingya. The minority group is widely loathed by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar and viewed as outsiders despite the fact many have lived in the country for generations.
“It is vital that Aung San Suu Kyi and the civilian government make clear these abuses must stop,” Johnson said in a statement.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who spent nearly 15 years in house arrest under Myanmar’s former ruling junta, is skipping the UN gathering and will address her nation Tuesday.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said Monday’s meeting, attended by Myanmar’s national security adviser and deputy foreign minister, was productive but the situation remains dire. She urged the government to end military operations, grant humanitarian access and commit to aiding the safe return of civilians to their homes.
“People are still at risk of being attacked or killed, humanitarian aid is not reaching the people who need it, and innocent civilians are still fleeing across the border to Bangladesh,” Haley said.
Ministers from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, Australia, Canada, Sweden and Denmark also attended the closed meeting Monday. The British statement said the meeting urged Myanmar to implement recommendations of a commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan calling for economic development and social justice to counter deadly violence between Buddhists and the Rohingya.
Also Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said one-third of the Rohingya community has been forced into exile and it requires a collective response by the international community to ensure their protection.
“We are waiting for Aung San Suu Kyi to give a strong answer and a real dialogue,” he told reporters.


UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

Updated 29 min 47 sec ago
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UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

  • The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics
  • UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017

GENEVA: A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide from war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, an increase of more than 2 million from last year and an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.
The annual “Global Trends” report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counts the number of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018, in some cases following decades of living away from home.
The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.
Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.
The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.
UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 — and nearly a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people — or more than 41 million people — have been displaced within their home countries.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
The phenomenon is both growing in size and duration. Some four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years. After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.
Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.
Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.
“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
The United States, meanwhile, remains the “largest supporter of refugees” in the world, Grandi said in an interview. The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings that have given the United States the world’s biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.
He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and refugees.
“In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from “the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens.”
The UNHCR report noted that by far, the most refugees are taken in in the developing world, not wealthy countries.
The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”