Ramadan brings new misery for Rohingya

Scarcity of food has deprived Rohingya refugees living in clustered camps to observe Ramadan as they did back home. (Reuters)
Updated 19 May 2018
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Ramadan brings new misery for Rohingya

  • I could not even provide a good meal for my 12-year-old son: Rohingya refugee

DHAKA: “Last night I had only a small portion of vegetables and rice for my ‘sahri’ (meal before dawn),” said Abdul Latif, 45, a Rohingya refugee living in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp with his wife, three children and mother. 

“I could not even provide a good meal for my 12-year-old son.” 

Latif’s misery is commonplace in the refugee camps, where about 1.3 million Rohingyas are sheltering from the Myanmar army.

Recalling Ramadan in his homeland of Rakhine, on Myanmar’s western coast, Latif said: “I always managed decent meals for my six-member family while staying at my home. Ramadan is the most important month for us as Muslims.” 

Latif, who was a prosperous farmer in Mongdu, gave charity every year during Ramadan.

Now, fate had left him relying on other people’s charity, he told Arab News. 

“I am no better than a beggar here in Bangladesh,” he said. 

Rohingya refugees have been barred from working, so are forced to rely on charities and aid.

Lack of food, austere living conditions and limited supplies of firewood have made it difficult for the Rohingya to observe the Muslim month of fasting as they did back home. 

Marium, 35, could not find any food during her sahoor on the first day of Ramadan. 

“Here we sqshave a grave scarcity of firewood. Most of the time, I cook only once a day and prepare enough rice for two meals a day,” she said.

But this summer she could not store the cooked rice for a long and had only a glass of water for her sahoor to start her fast. 

Marium’s husband was shot and killed by Myanmar troops last September, forcing her to flee to Bangladesh with her two sons and a daughter.

“On last Eid-ul-Fitr, my husband bought new clothing for all the family. We even gave new clothes to the relatives,” she said.

Mohammad Bashar, 13, who lives with his family in a small makeshift house at Balukhali camp, said: “We had hot summers back home in Myanmar. I used to spend a long time in the pond with the cousins to escape the heat.” 

 


After Afghan cease-fire gamble, prospects rise for US-Taliban talks

Updated 6 min 47 sec ago
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After Afghan cease-fire gamble, prospects rise for US-Taliban talks

  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to tweak the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a cease-fire that is currently due to end on Wednesday
  • While Washington has long resisted direct talks with Taliban, the official said that recent developments indicate “the US now seems less and less averse to it”

KABUL/WASHINGTON: Prospects have risen for negotiations between the Taliban and the United States after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called a cease-fire and allowed militants to roam into cities in a gamble to encourage peace talks.
The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by US-led troops, insist that any negotiations with what it calls the “puppet” Afghan government on a peace plan can begin only after talks with the United States about withdrawing foreign forces.
Analysts and Western diplomats said Ghani’s offer to hold unconditional peace talks had set the stage for US officials to open backchannel negotiations with the Taliban, despite Washington’s policy that peace talks be Afghan-led.
“Ghani has done his bit,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank.
“It is now for the US to cut through this blockade,” he said, although that would be a departure from US policy that talks to end the 17-year-old war must be wholly Afghan-led.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to tweak the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a cease-fire that is currently due to end on Wednesday. The Taliban said its cease-fire ended on Sunday.
“As President Ghani emphasised in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces,” Pompeo said. “The United States is prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in these discussions.”
Richard Olson, former US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, described the statement as significant “in that it signals that the US is prepared to ultimately discuss the issue that is paramount to the Taliban, which is the withdrawal of foreign forces.”
A senior US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the start of the cease-fire, however said there were a number of issues that made direct talks between the Taliban and the United States unlikely in the short-term.
The official said there was a substantial gap in knowledge about the Taliban — for instance as to who had the authority to negotiate on the their behalf. “There is not enough intelligence or resources on this issue,” the official said.
A second official said there was still a question of what would happen with hard-line elements of the Taliban. “There are Taliban that won’t come to the table,” the official said.
Taliban call
The Taliban, in a statement marking the end of their cease-fire on Sunday, said the organization was unified and called on “the invading American party” to “sit directly for dialogue with the Islamic Emirate to find a solution for the ongoing imbroglio.”
A senior diplomat with knowledge of the negotiations leading to the cease-fire estimated the chances of eventual talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government at “50-50.”
“The Taliban want to talk to the US directly on withdrawal (of foreign forces) because they do not want to share the credit of withdrawal with the government,” the official said.
And while Washington has long resisted direct talks with Taliban, the official said that recent developments indicate “the US now seems less and less averse to it.”
In August, US President Donald Trump unveiled a more hawkish military approach to Afghanistan, including a surge in air strikes. Afghan security forces say the impact has been significant, but the Taliban roam huge areas of the country and, with foreign troop levels of about 15,600, down from 140,000 in 2014, there appears little hope of outright victory.
Ghani, never widely popular, met his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, on Sunday to secure support for peace talks. He visited a restaurant in Kabul where he met diners and took selfies with children, trying to capitalize on the unprecedented party atmosphere created by the cease-fire to mark last weekend’s Eid Al-Fitr festival.
But Amrullah Saleh, the former head of intelligence and head of a political party, said Ghani had committed a blunder by allowing insurgents to pour into government-controlled areas.
“Thousands of Taliban fighters were allowed to enter with guns and some of them could be hiding in civilian areas, planning attacks,” Saleh told Reuters.
Ghani has also come in for praise.
“Now we can say that our president is making an absolute honest attempt” for peace, said Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, the chairman of the outspoken New National Front of Afghanistan.