UN chief urges Myanmar to create conditions safe for the return of Rohingya Muslims

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (C) arrives at the Kutupalong refugee camp during his visit to the Rohingya community in Bangladesh's southeastern border district of Cox's Bazar on July 2, 2018. (AFP / MUNIR UZ ZAMAN)
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Rohingya youths demonstrate before the visit of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the Kutupalong refugee camp for the Rohingya community in Bangladesh's southeastern border district of Cox's Bazar on July 2, 2018. (AFP / MUNIR UZ ZAMAN)
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Rohingya refugees welcome UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on July 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
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Rohingya refugees gather during the visit of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on July 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
Updated 02 July 2018
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UN chief urges Myanmar to create conditions safe for the return of Rohingya Muslims

  • In a demonstration, a group of Rohingya refugees asked the inclusion of the Rohingya community in UN talks with the Myanmar government.
  • It's time to come up with a concrete solution, say senior Bangladesh diplomat Humayun Kabir and Dhaka University Professor Amena Mohsin.

KUTUPALONG REFUGEE CAMP/DHAKA, Bangladesh: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for more international pressure on Myanmar to create conditions safe for the return of Rohingya Muslims who have fled the country since a military crackdown last August.
“Repatriation should take place when the conditions for them to live with full dignity in their own country are there,” Guterres told a press conference at the Kutupalong Refugee Camp in the southeastern Bangladeshi town of Cox's Bazar.
Guterres and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim arrived in Bangladesh Sunday to assess the needs hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees driven from their homes in Myanmar. They met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina before proceeding to the refugee center.
“It is unbelievable. My heart is broken,” said Guterres while briefing the local media at refugee camp in Ukhiya district.
“I have just heard unimaginable accounts of killing and rape from Rohingya refugees who recently fled Myanmar. They want justice and a safe return home,” he later tweeted after his meeting with some of the refugees.
The United Nations and Myanmar struck an agreement in May that the UN hopes will eventually allow thousands of Rohingya to return safely and by choice.
“This memorandum of understanding is the first step on the way of progressive recognition of the rights of the people,” Guterres said, speaking inside a bamboo shelter at the refugee camp.
“This is the kind of concession that was possible to obtain at the present moment from Myanmar ... Let’s test the sincerity of this concession and then let’s move on in relation to the full rights of the people.”
No one was available from the Myanmar government to comment on Guterres’s statement on Monday.
The visit by Guterres came 10 months after attacks by Muslim militants in Myanmar triggered a military offensive that has forced more than 700,000 Rohingya – a mostly Muslim ethnic minority – to escape to neighboring Bangladesh. The UN has described the crackdown as ethnic cleansing, an allegation Myanmar denies.
The MOU, details of which were reported by Reuters last week, does not offer explicit guarantees of citizenship or freedom of movement — which have been among the key demands of many Rohingya, a long-persecuted group that Myanmar doesn’t consider citizens.

More help sought from donors
The UN chief, accompanied by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, urged the international community to generate more funds to deal with the Rohingya refugee crisis.
During the visit of the high-powered delegation, a group of Rohingya refugees staged a demonstration, demanding their safe return to Myanmar.
“Include Rohingya in agreements about Rohingya” and “Dignified repatriation must include full citizenship right as Rohingya ethnic group.”
Some Rohingya leaders have said they wouldn’t accept the deal in its current form.
Guterres said the agreement was UN’s effort to try to force the Myanmar government “to pave the way for potential future returns.”
“So it is like that it must be considered. Not as a final agreement on returns,” he said. “We know that Myanmar will probably not accept everything at the same time.”
He and Kim also stressed that while safe and voluntary returns of the Rohingya to Myanmar was the first priority, the immediate need was to support Bangladesh in dealing with the humanitarian disaster.
Their visit follows the World Bank’s announcement last week that it would provide $480 million to Bangladesh to help support the refugees, living in congested bamboo-and-plastic shelters built on sandy hills and at risk of deadly monsoon floods and landslides this month.
Kim said on Monday the World Bank would look for ways to bring more development resources to Bangladesh – among the world’s poorest nations – “because of the contribution they’ve made to the world in hosting the Rohingya.”
Rohingya who have arrived in Bangladesh in recent months have reported mass killings, arson and rapes by Myanmar security forces. Guterres and Kim met some of those victims at the camps, whose conditions they said were some of the worst they had ever seen.
“It is probably one of the most tragic stories in relation to the systematic violation of human rights,” Guterres said. “We need to push and will be pushing in the right direction.”

'Concrete solution' urged
This high-profile visit is indeed very significant and Bangladesh can achieve some advantage from this, said veteran Bangladeshi diplomat, Humayun Kabir.
“The UN has talked a lot over the Rohingya issue for the past 10 months. Now the UN chief will have the opportunity to validate everything they have talked about,” said Humayun, former Bangladesh ambassador to the US, told Arab News.
He said the donors’ funding for Rohingyas may also accelerate with the visit of the World Bank Group’s president as most donors prefer to donate through global channels such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Talking about a possible stepping up of refugee repatriation after the UN chief’s visit, Humayun said: “Although they can’t play any direct role they still have influence over the situation.”
He suggests that much talk has been done; now it is time to do something concrete to put Myanmar in a situation that compels the country to repatriate the Rohingyas with “dignity and rights.”
Professor Amena Mohsin, international relations teacher at Dhaka University, told Arab News: “We need a concrete solution, not support.” She believes no result can be achieved without the US re-imposing sanctions on Myanmar.
“It’s a crime against humanity and no more a bilateral issue. The world, including China, should mount pressure on Myanmar to accelerate refugee repatriation,” said Mohsin.
She hopes that during the next UN General Assembly session in September, there may come a stronger decision against Myanmar on the country’s gross violation of human rights on the Rohingyas.

(With Reuters and AFP)


Mysterious naked holy men a huge draw at India’s Kumbh Mela

Updated 17 January 2019
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Mysterious naked holy men a huge draw at India’s Kumbh Mela

  • Organizers expect up to 150 million people to bathe at the confluence of three holy rivers
  • The Kumbh Mela has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality from demons

PRAYAGRAJ, India: Ash-smeared and dreadlocked Naga sadhus or Hindu ascetics, naked except for rosary beads and garlands and smoking wooden pipes, are a huge draw at the world’s largest religious festival that began this week in India.
At the Kumbh Mela, or “festival of the pot,” held this year in Prayagraj in north India, organizers expect up to 150 million people to bathe at the confluence of three holy rivers: the Ganges, the Yamuna and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.
The festival is one of the only opportunities to see the reclusive Naga sadhus, some of whom live in caves after taking a vow of celibacy and renouncing worldly possessions.
Their charge down to the waters to bathe at the opening of the Kumbh, many armed with tridents and swords, is one of the highlights of the festival.
“It is a confluence of all Naga sadhus at the meeting point of these holy rivers,” said Anandnad Saraswati, a Naga sadhu from Mathura, a holy city in north India.
“They meet each other, they interact with each other and they meditate and pray here at the holy confluence. They give their message to the people and they transform people.”
Most of the Nagas enter the orders in their early teens, leaving their friends and families to immerse themselves in meditation, yoga and religious rituals. It can take years to be conferred with the title of a Naga, they say.
“One has to live a life of celibacy for six years. After that the person is given the title of a great man and 12 years after that he is made a Naga,” said Digambar Kedar Giri, a Naga sadhu from Jaipur.
During the eight-week Kumbh, generally held every three years in one of four cities in India, the Nagas live in makeshift monasteries called Akhara erected on the eastern banks of the Ganges.
They spend their days meditating and receiving a stream of visitors who come to pay their respects.
“It feels surreal: all this time you have read about them. They are almost like fictional characters and then you meet them,” said a woman who gave her name as Pallavi, on a visit to the Akharas.
The Kumbh Mela has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality from demons. In a 12-day fight for possession, four drops fell to earth, in the cities of Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik, who share the Kumbhs as a result.