UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019
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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.


4 Democratic women of color slam Trump for ‘bigoted remarks’

Updated 16 July 2019
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4 Democratic women of color slam Trump for ‘bigoted remarks’

WASHINGTON: Defiant in the face of widespread censure, President Donald Trump escalated his demand for four Democratic congresswomen of color to leave the US “right now,” stoking the discord that helped send him to the White House and claiming “many people agree with me.”
The four lawmakers fired back, condemning what they called “xenophobic bigoted remarks” and renewing calls for Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings.
Trump had called on the four to “go back” to their “broken and crime-infested” countries in tweets that have been widely denounced as racist . His remarks were directed at Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are American citizens, and three of the four were born in the US
The episode served notice that Trump is willing to again rely on incendiary rhetoric on issues of race and immigration to preserve his political base in the leadup to the 2020 election. He shrugged off the criticism.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump said Monday at the White House. “A lot of people love it, by the way.”
At the Capitol, there was near unanimous condemnation from Democrats and a rumble of discontent from a subset of Republicans, but notably not from the party’s congressional leaders.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Trump’s campaign slogan truly means he wants to “make America white again,” announced Monday that the House would vote on a resolution condemning his new comments . The resolution “strongly condemns” Trump’s “racist comments” and says they “have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”
In response, Trump tweeted anew Tuesday about the four congresswomen: “Why isn’t the House voting to rebuke the filthy and hate laced things they have said? Because they are the Radical Left, and the Democrats are afraid to take them on. Sad!“
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s White House nominee in 2012 and now one of the president’s most vocal GOP critics, said Monday that Trump’s comments were “destructive, demeaning, and disunifying.”
Trump dug in. “If you’re not happy in the US, if you’re complaining all the time, you can leave, you can leave right now,” he said.
His words, which evoked the trope of telling black people to go back to Africa, may have been partly meant to widen the divides within the House Democratic caucus, which has been riven by internal debate over how best to oppose his policies. And while Trump’s attacks brought Democrats together in defense of their colleagues, his allies noted he was also having some success in making the progressive lawmakers the face of their party.
The Republican president questioned whether Democrats should “want to wrap” themselves around this group of four people as he recited a list of the quartet’s most controversial statements.
At a news conference with her three colleagues, Pressley referred to Trump as “the occupant of our White House” instead of president.
“He does not embody the grace, the empathy, the compassion, the integrity that that office requires and that the American people deserve,” she said, encouraging people “not take the bait.” Pressley said Trump’s comments were “a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people” — prescription drug prices, affordable housing, health care.”
Omar, a naturalized US citizen born in Somalia, accused him of “openly violating” the Constitution and sounded the call for impeachment proceedings.
Ocasio-Cortez said Trump “does not know how to defend his policies and so what he does is attack us personally.”
The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, said his party would also try to force a vote in the GOP-controlled chamber.
Trump, who won the presidency in 2016 in part by energizing disaffected voters with inflammatory racial rhetoric, made clear he has no intention of backing away from that strategy in 2020.
“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them,” he tweeted Monday afternoon. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!“
Trump has faced few consequences for such attacks in the past. They typically earn him cycles of wall-to-wall media attention. He is wagering that his most steadfast supporters will be energized by the controversy as much, or if not more so, than the opposition.
The president has told aides that he was giving voice to what many of his supporters believe — that they are tired of people, including immigrants, disrespecting their country, according to three Republicans close to the White House who were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Trump singled out Omar, in particular, accusing her of having “hatred” for Israel and expressing “love” for “enemies like Al-Qaeda.”
“These are people that, in my opinion, hate our country,” he said.
Omar, in an interview, once laughed about how a college professor had spoken of Al-Qaeda with an intensity she said was not used to describe “America,” “England” or “The Army.”
Republicans largely trod carefully with their responses.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the president who golfed with him over the weekend, advised him to “aim higher” during an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends,” even as he accused the four Democrats of being “anti-Semitic” and “anti-American.”
Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said “I don’t think that the president’s intent in any way is racist,” pointing to Trump’s decision to choose Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan, as his transportation secretary.
Chao is one of the few minorities among the largely white and male aides in high-profile roles in Trump’s administration. She is the wife of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who declined comment Monday on Trump’s attacks.
Among the few GOP lawmakers commenting Monday, Rep. Pete Olson of Texas said Trump’s tweets were “not reflective of the values of the 1,000,000+ people” in his district. “I urge our President immediately disavow his comments,” he wrote.
In an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll from February 2017, half of Americans said the mixing of culture and values from around the world is an important part of America’s identity as a nation. About a third said the same of a culture established by early European immigrants.
But partisans in that poll were divided over these aspects of America’s identity. About two-thirds of Democrats but only about a third of Republicans thought the mixing of world cultures was important to the country’s identity. By comparison, nearly half of Republicans but just about a quarter of Democrats saw the culture of early European immigrants as important to the nation.