Refugees fleeing Myanmar violence at mercy of traffickers, warns UN

Rohingya Muslim refugees wait for a consultation at a clinic run by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Leda refugee camp near the Bangladeshi town of Teknaf on September 18, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2017
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Refugees fleeing Myanmar violence at mercy of traffickers, warns UN

KUALA LUMPUR: Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Myanmar are “at the mercy” of human traffickers, the UN migration agency warned on Wednesday, saying well-managed refugee camps were needed to reduce the risk.
Fighting in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state has forced 422,000 Rohingya to seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh, where unofficial shelters have sprung up outside of two government-run camps.
But the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the new arrivals – the majority of them women and children — are at risk of human trafficking, as officials and aid workers struggle to cope with the influx.
“Most have no money, no food, no clean water, no shelter and don’t speak the language,” IOM’s Asia-Pacific spokesman Chris Lom told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar.
“That leaves them potentially at the mercy of anyone offering help and they may end up as victims of trafficking.”
Lom said the IOM has sent a counter-trafficking specialist to the border but warned that effectively-run camps were needed to reduce the dangers.
“The best way to minimize this risk is to have a functioning camp management system in the locations where they are settled,” he said.
“We — the humanitarian agencies on the ground — are currently a long way from being able to provide this, given the numbers and the speed at which people have arrived and continue to arrive.”
Rohingya seeking to escape persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar have been trafficked or smuggled by road and sea to places like Thailand and Malaysia in the past.
In 2015, a crackdown by Thai authorities on human trafficking activities saw migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh abandoned at sea by smugglers. Dozens of bodies of suspected migrants were discovered in jungle camps along the Thai-Malaysian border.
The violence in western Myanmar began on Aug. 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked about 30 police posts and an army camp, killing about 12 people.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in her first address on the crisis on Tuesday, condemned rights abuses in Rakhine state but did not address UN accusations of ethnic cleansing by the security forces, drawing a cool international response.


Indonesia jails former parliament speaker for 15 years over graft

Updated 24 April 2018
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Indonesia jails former parliament speaker for 15 years over graft

JAKARTA: An Indonesian court on Tuesday sentenced the former speaker of parliament, Setya Novanto, to 15 years in jail for his role in causing state losses of around $170 million, linked to a national electronic identity card scheme.
The case has shocked Indonesians, already used to large corruption scandals and has reinforced a widely held perception that their parliament, long regarded as riddled with corruption, is a failing institution.
“The defendant is found guilty of conspiring to commit corruption and is sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined 500 million rupiah,” Yanto, the head of a panel of five judges, told the Jakarta court. The fine is equivalent to $36,000.
Novanto would be barred from holding public office for five years after serving his sentence and have to repay $7.3 million he was accused of plundering, added the judge, who goes by one name.
In a session that ran for more than three hours, judges read out dozens of case notes, including descriptions of where the former speaker held meetings to divvy up cash made from a mark-up on a contract for the identity card.
Novanto showed little emotion as the judge read the verdict.
After a quick consultation with his legal team, he told the court he would take some time to consider whether to appeal the sentence.
Novanto is accused of orchestrating a scheme to steal $173 million, or almost 40 percent of the entire budget for a government contract for the national identity card.
Prosecutors, who had questioned 80 witnesses in the case, had sought a jail term of at least 16 years for the former speaker.
Novanto, who had been implicated in five graft scandals since the 1990s but never convicted, was detained by investigators last November after repeatedly missing summonses for questioning over the case, saying he needed heart surgery.
Indonesians have to contend with high levels of graft in many areas of their lives and the country placed 96th among 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index last year, on par with Colombia and Thailand.