Malaysia aims to play bigger role within ASEAN to end Rohingya suffering 

Rohingya girls in their classroom in Chakmarkul refugee camp, Bangladesh. (AP)
Updated 15 September 2018
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Malaysia aims to play bigger role within ASEAN to end Rohingya suffering 

KUALA LUMPUR: The Pakatan Harapan (PH) ruling coalition in Malaysia continues to criticize Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s treatment of the Rohingya. 
And the coalition senior leader Fahmi Fadzil told Arab News on Friday that Malaysia should play a bigger role within ASEAN to stop Myanmar atrocities.
Fahmi Fadzil, a member of Parliament from the People’s Justice Party (PKR), told Arab News that he agreed with the PKR president. “The Malaysian government can and has to play a bigger role within the framework of ASEAN vis-a-vis Myanmar and the Rohingya humanitarian crisis,” he said.
He added that ratifying the UN refugee convention would be “a progressive step toward fulfilling our commitment to universal human rights.”
This week Anwar Ibrahim, who is in line to become Malaysia’s next premier in the next two years, blasted Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence over the regime’s mistreatment of Rohingya.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is a real, real disappointment,” Anwar said during an interview at Bloomberg Television in Hong Kong.
Maria Chin, a PH member of Parliament, supported Anwar in criticizing Suu Kyi. “The new government is committed to taking care of the Rohingyas,” she said, adding that the PH government would eventually ratify the UN refugee convention, but it would take time.
“It is not just the signing but adherence and change of mindset toward refugees and protecting their rights,” she said.
The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world; many live in deplorable conditions and face human rights violations and abuse on a daily basis. A UN report released last month accused top military officers in Myanmar of war crimes amounting to genocide against the Rohingya.
“This problem is partly because of ASEAN. It has protected this regime even when it is under military rule from international pressure over human rights violations. That is why they can get away with it,” said Debbie Stothard, the secretary-general of the International Federation for Human Rights.
The Myanmar government has intensified its grip over the Rohingya issue. This month, two Reuters journalists were jailed for reporting on the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state. Last week, the Thai authorities stopped a conference organized by the Thailand Foreign Correspondent Club from discussing the Rohingya situation.

Eric Paulsen, legal director of Fortify Rights, told Arab News that he was optimistic about the new government. “Their policy on refugees, although still problematic, has developed over time and it is hopeful that in the new Malaysia, the government will take the leap to take the rights of refugees more seriously by ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention,” he said.
Lilianne Fan, of the Geutanyoe Foundation, told Arab News that Malaysia had the strongest stance in ASEAN on the Rohingya situation in response to the UN report. The Malaysia foreign minister urged the Myanmar foreign minister last month to hold those responsible accountable for war crimes against humanity under the UN Genocide Convention.
The view was not shared by Dina Zaman, cofounder of the Malaysia-based think tank Imam Research. “(ASEAN’s) non-interference policy is still standing with the PH government. Malaysia doesn’t want to play a stronger role because other countries such as Singapore and Australia do not want to accept any refugees,” she said.
However, Malaysia’s strong stance against the Myanmar’s mistreatment of Rohingya does not tally with the way the new PH government handles the influx of refugees domestically.
There are more than 150,000 refugees in Malaysia, of which 100,000 are Rohingya refugees. Malaysia has never ratified the UN refugee convention, though the PH government has made it part of its election manifesto.
S. Arutchelvan, a politician from the Socialist Party of Malaysia, said that the new government was inconsistent on its refugee policy, adding that there were 60 refugees detained in Belantik camp with no access to UNHCR. “Malaysia is under pressure from civil society to ratify the convention, yet the government is still not very ‘human rights’,” he told Arab News.
Melissa Wong, a senior policy and research analyst at the Center For Public Policy Studies, told Arab News that the current refugee policy in Malaysia was short-sighted and did not cover the basic rights and protections for refugees. Malaysia is expected to be a “transit” for refugees to other countries.
“It remains to be seen whether refugee protection will be something the PH government will work toward during their term or whether it will remain just another weightless election promise,” she said.


Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

Updated 25 sec ago
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Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

  • Volunteer groups have begun meeting in ‘humanitarian camps’
CARACAS: Venezuela has expelled five visiting European lawmakers, an act opposition leader Juan Guaido branded “irrational” as his showdown with President Nicolas Maduro over the arrival of international aid intensifies.
The members of the European Parliament were being tossed out with no explanation, said Spanish MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons, who led the group.
“We are being expelled from Venezuela. Our passports have been seized. They have not informed us of the reason for the expulsion,” Pons said.
The incident on Sunday is the latest point of tension between the international community and Maduro, who is in the grip of a power struggle with Guaido, the head of the National Assembly who proclaimed himself interim president last month.
Guaido has the backing of more than 50 countries including 30 in Europe.
Pons’ fellow Spaniards Jose Ignacio Salafranca and Gabriel Mato Adrover, as well as Esther de Lange of the Netherlands and Paulo Rangel of Portugal, were also expelled. All are members of the conservative European People’s Party (PPE).
Writing on Twitter, Guaido said the MEPs were being “deported by an isolated and increasingly irrational regime.”
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the Europeans had “conspiratorial aims” and were sent back from the country’s main Maiquetia airport.
Earlier Sunday, Guaido set a goal of enlisting a million volunteers within a week to confront a government blockade that has kept tons of humanitarian aid, most of it from the US, from flowing into the country where residents can’t get enough food and say they are dying because of a shortage of medicines.
Guaido has given next Saturday — one month to the day after he proclaimed himself acting president — as the date for a showdown with Maduro over the aid.
Food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements have been stockpiled near the Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia.
Additional storage centers are supposed to open this week in Brazil and Curacao, a Dutch island off Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast.
“Our principal task is to reach a million volunteers by February 23,” Guaido said in a message to the 600,000 supporters who have signed up so far for the push to bring aid in.
Caravans of buses are being planned to carry volunteers to border entry points to meet and transport arriving cargo. Guaido has kept to himself how he plans to overcome the border barriers put up by the Venezuelan military, on Maduro’s orders.
Volunteer groups have begun meeting in “humanitarian camps” in several Venezuelan states to organize and prepare for the aid arrival.
They have started to identify the most vulnerable and have begun caring for the needy in accordance with Guaido’s promises.
Sometimes working under awnings or tents, doctors, nurses, dentists and pediatricians have attended to local residents who can receive donated medications.
Patients arrive with respiratory, skin or other ailments, and suffering from malnutrition.
An imploding economy has driven an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans to migrate from the oil-rich country. Those who remain have been punished by hyperinflation that has put scarce food and medicine out of reach for many.
Andrea Hernandez, a physical therapy student whose mother is a pediatric nurse, is among those offering her help. Hernandez said her mother often “cried from seeing her patients die from lack of medicine.”
Yorger Maita, a helper from the aid group Rescate Venezuela, said that if foreign aid does not enter “other people will continue to die.”
Maduro, who denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, dismisses the opposition moves as a “political show” and a cover for a US invasion.
US Senator Marco Rubio arrived Sunday in Cucuta for a first-hand look at the aid operations.
“Whoever prevents the entry of humanitarian aid is condemned to spend the rest of their lives fleeing international justice, because that is an international crime,” Rubio said in Spanish.
Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen more tons of food assistance to Cucuta on Saturday.
Another US aircraft is due in Curacao from Miami on Tuesday, and a collection center for Brazilian aid will open Monday on the border, Guaido’s team said.
Venezuelans based in Miami held their own drive, putting together 1,000 crates of food to send to their homeland.
On Friday, Maduro instructed his army to prepare a “special deployment plan” for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.
Guaido appealed for the military to let the aid pass.
Maduro has dismissed the humanitarian assistance as “crumbs” and “rotten and contaminated food” while blaming shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions.