Bangladesh says Rohingya influx grinds to a halt

Filippo Grandi, UN high commissioner for refugees interacts with Rohingya children on Saturday at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (AP)
Updated 23 September 2017
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Bangladesh says Rohingya influx grinds to a halt

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: The flood of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has come to a virtual halt, Dhaka officials said Saturday, almost a month after violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and sent nearly 430,000 people fleeing across the border.
Officials gave no reason for the dramatically reduced numbers. But Rohingya Muslim leaders said it could be because villages located near the border in Myanmar’s Rakhine state were now empty.
Bangladesh Border Guard commanders said hardly any refugees are now seen crossing on boats coming from Myanmar or trying to get over the land border.
In the past two weeks there have been up to 20,000 people a day entering Bangladesh.
The UN says 429,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh since attacks by Ronhingya militants in Rakhine on August 25 sparked a major Myanmar military crackdown.
Many gave up money and jewelry to get places on boats crossing the Naf river, which marks part of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
“Our guards have not seen any Rohingya coming in the past few days. The wave is over,” Bangladesh Border Guard commander S.M. Ariful Islam told AFP.
The United Nations also said “the influx has dropped.” It said it will now release updates on the numbers of refugees entering Bangladesh once a week, rather than daily.
Rohingya community leaders said most of the Rakhine villages near the Bangladesh border are now deserted.
“Almost all the people I know have arrived in Bangladesh,” Yusuf Majihi, a Rohingya leader at a camp at Balukhali, near Cox’s Bazar, told AFP.
“Village after village has become empty due to the attacks by Myanmar soldiers and torching of the houses by Moghs (Buddhists),” he added.
“Those who are left in Rakhine live far off the border,” he said.
Farid Alam, another Rohingya leader, said “I have not heard of any Rohingya crossing the border in the past five days. All I could see is people concentrating near the main camps.”
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said this week that troops had ceased “clearance operations” targeting Rohingya militants in Myanmar’s border area.
The United Nations previously said the military crackdown could amount to “ethnic cleansing.”
But despite the calm on the border, there were new signs of unrest in Myanmar.
While the army chief blamed Rohinyga militants for an explosion outside a mosque in Rakhine, Amnesty International accused the military of starting fires in the region to prevent refugees from returning.
Myanmar commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing issued a statement saying Rohingya militants planted a “home-made mine” that exploded in between a mosque and madrasa in Buthidaung township on Friday.
The army chief accused militants of trying to drive out around 700 remaining villagers. Analysts highlighted however that the militants’ influence depends on the networks they have built across Rohingya communities.
Amnesty said new videos and satellite imagery indicated fires were still raging through Rohingya villages, scores of which have already been burned to the ground.
According to government figures, nearly 40 percent of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine have been abandoned over the past month.
Human Rights Watch on Saturday also echoed allegations from Bangladeshi officials that Myanmar security forces were laying land mines along the border.
A number of Rohingya, including children, have been killed by mines at the border.
Bangladesh authorities are meanwhile stepping up efforts to bring order to the chaotic aid distribution for refugees.
Soldiers have been deployed around a 70 sqq. km area where Rohingya have built camps on hills or in open spaces near existing UN run camps.
“We are in the process of taking over the whole relief distribution,” said an army spokesman.
He said the troops would dig hundreds of latrines for refugees after doctors warned that the camps were on the brink of a health disaster.
Even before the latest exodus, the camps were home to some 300,000 Rohingya who had fled previous violence in Rakhine.


Indian manned space flight ‘by 2022,’ PM pledges

Updated 15 August 2018
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Indian manned space flight ‘by 2022,’ PM pledges

  • Modi highlights manned space mission and major health care initiative during independence day address
  • PM’s speech a campaign launch for next year’s elections, observers say

NEW DELHI: India is planning its first manned space mission by 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Wednesday.

Delivering his fifth independence day speech from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, Modi said that the manned flight would be the culmination of India’s recent advances in space science.

“We have decided that by 2022, when India completes 75 years of independence, or before that, a son or daughter of India will go to space with a tricolor in their hands,” he said.

India will become the fourth nation after the US, Russia and China to send a manned mission to space.

In his 90-minute speech, Modi listed his achievements of the past four-and-a-half years and announced a new health care scheme that would cover 5 billion people.

Observers described Modi’s speech as a campaign launch for next year’s elections.

“No doubt next year’s elections are playing on the PM’s mind. The tone and tenor of the address reflects that,” said political analyst and author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.

As expected, the Indian PM announced his government’s flagship program, Ayushman Bharat, a national health scheme that will offer health insurance from about $5,000 to 1.4 million poorer families.

Popularly named “Modicare,” the scheme targets rural and middle-class voters and will be rolled out in the final week of September.

Comparing the past four years of his leadership with the previous government, Modi said that “the red tape has gone and now there is more ease of business — the sleeping elephant has started walking.”

He boasted that “India’s standing in the world has increased in the past four years and today when any Indian goes anywhere, all countries of the world welcome them and the power of the Indian passport has increased.”

However, the opposition Congress Party described the speech as high in rhetoric and low in substance.

“The Indian economy is a virtual shambles. The rupee has crashed to a historic low. Joblessness, farmers’ suicides, atrocities against marginalized Dalit groups, attack on minorities, corruption — all these show that the government has failed,” said Sanjay Jha, a Congress Party spokesman.

Aateka Khan, of Delhi University, said Modi’s speech was “hollow” and that “India has never looked as divided as it is looking now. He has failed to assure the besieged minorities about their security.”

Mukhopadhyay said the speech was “disappointing” and failed to reflect the vision Modi set out when he addressed the nation for the first time in 2014.

“He seems to be still blaming the opposition for the ills of the country,” the political analyst said.

Mukhopadhyay believes that “Modicare” ignores India’s huge infrastructure deficiency. “In the absence of good medical facilities, how are poor people going to benefit from the insurance?” he asked.

India’s 71st independence day also offered observers a chance to reflect and assess the country’s future.

“The legacy of freedom is under siege today. We as a modern nation state with secular principle are at a crossroads,” said Santosh Sarang, a political analysts based in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

“The forces of division are more predominant today than ever before in this independent nation.”

Sarang said that “economic growth is not the only parameter that can make India great; keeping India together and preserving its syncretic culture is also important. The way the attack on minorities has increased and their sense of insecurity has been institutionalized make us question how long we can remain a liberal and secular democracy.”

He warned that “majoritarian Hindu forces now want to rewrite the Indian constitution to make it exclusive, not inclusive.”

Urmilesh, a New Delhi-based thinker and analyst, agreed. “What is at stake is the idea of India. In 1947, we took a pledge to make India a modern, progressive nation and tried to promote scientific temper among new generation, but today a new idea of India is being promoted which sees its future in majoritarian politics. This is very much against the spirit of freedom struggle and nation-building.”

He said that independence day left him “somber and sad” that fundamentalist forces, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its protege Bhartiya Janata Party, which never participated in the freedom struggle and opposed the creation of a liberal and secular India, are ruling the country.

“The atmosphere in the country is so vicious that religious minorities and liberals have been pushed to the edge,” he said.

The right-wing activist Nirala, however, said that “the meaning of independence day does not remain the same all the time. We cannot have the same prism of looking at India as it was in 1947. What is happening today is the redefining of nationalism, which reflects the majoritarian thinking. Hinduism is the way of life in India and it should asserted unabashedly.”