Violence forces more Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh

Rohingya refugee fixes his makeshift shelter at Kutupalong refugee camp in the Bangladeshi district of Ukhia on Jan. 9, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2018

Violence forces more Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh

DHAKA: Rohingya refugees are still arriving in Bangladesh as violence forces them to leave Myanmar, according to a report released over the weekend.
“This week, Rohingya refugees were still arriving in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh — the New Year bringing no end to the reports of violence and fears, which forced them to flee their homes in Myanmar,” said the report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“Over 2,400 refugees are estimated to have arrived in Bangladesh during December 2017, with more people continuing to arrive each day as 2018 begins,” the report said.
Rohingya refugees from the Arakan state of Myanmar continue to enter Bangladesh while authorities of both countries discuss the process of refugee repatriation starting this month.
In the first week of January, about 60 Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh through the Teknaf border in Cox’s Bazar district, as confirmed by local Union Parishad chairman Noor Hossain. The refugees narrated the ongoing atrocities by the Myanmar army in Rakhine.
“We were encircled by the army for the past few months. We could not even go to the jungle to collect firewood. There is an acute crisis of food,” said Farida Begum, 29, who lived in the Buthidhang area under Rakhine state of Myanmar. Farida, along with her three children, reached Bangladesh four days ago and took shelter at Tengkhali camp in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar.
“My brother-in-law and two cousins were shot dead by the army during the first week of September. Still I tried to stay there. But these days food is scarce in my locality and that compelled me to cross the border,” Farida said.
Despite the ongoing atrocities in Rakhine, Bangladesh and Myanmar are now working on Rohingya refugee repatriation. The Joint Working Group (JWG) formed according to the deal signed on Nov. 23 last year for the repatriation of refugees, is expected to meet by mid January in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, according to foreign ministry sources in Dhaka. The agreement demanded repatriation to begin within two months of signing the deal. But analysts express reservations over the success of the JWG meeting.
“Are the Rohingyas comfortable with the idea of repatriation amidst the ongoing violence?” the former Bangladeshi ambassador to the United States, Humayun Kabir, told Arab News.
Citing the three important players — the government, army and the Buddhist community of Myanmar — he says the “political government of the country needs to take the initiative and create a friendly environment so that the Rohingyas feel confident going back to their place,” he said. “The repatriation should be voluntary. Under the current circumstances, I don’t feel that they will be comfortable to go back voluntarily.”
Professor Akmol Hossain, who teaches International Relations at Dhaka University, said: “The Rohingya need to see that a favorable and welcoming situation prevails in Rakhine. Bangladesh has faced the Rohingya refugee crisis earlier as well and it took a long time to repatriate them.”
“After signing the agreement, repatriation becomes a bilateral issue for Bangladesh but we simultaneously need continuous international support,” Professor Akmol said. “We need to sensitize the Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC] leaders to make more diplomatic efforts. At the outset of the refugee crisis, the Bangladesh government had drawn very good international attention through its diplomatic efforts, which recently seems to have dimmed. We need to build pressure on Myanmar government through effective diplomacy.”
According to IOM, as of Jan. 7 a total of 655,000 Rohingya refugees had taken shelter in Bangladesh since the violence escalated in late August last year. The international migration agency fears a continuation of violence against Rohingyas in the new year, which has compelled them to leave the Myanmar and live an austere life in Bangladesh’s refugee camps.
Olga Rodbello, mental health and psycho-social support coordinator for IOM in Cox’s Bazar, said, “We continue to see a great deal of distress among Rohingya survivors arriving in Bangladesh. They have faced a lot of adversity and many are in need of psycho-social support to help restore a sense of safety and further strengthen the resilience they’ve already shown.”


Exclusive: St. Kitts & Nevis PM aims to ‘cement ties with the Middle East’

Updated 25 min 12 sec ago

Exclusive: St. Kitts & Nevis PM aims to ‘cement ties with the Middle East’

  • Prime Minister Timothy Harris emphasizes ‘enduring appeal’ of Saint Kitts and Nevis amid a global pandemic
  • Dual-island nation has announced a discount in the amount needed to secure citizenship for a limited period

DUBAI: After the turmoil and tedium of the last few months, a distant island getaway is probably what tops most people’s dreams. One Caribbean destination, surrounded by sparkling sand and turquoise waters, is intent on using its natural landscapes to nurse people back to normality — and build commercial bridges to the Middle East in the process.

In an interview via Zoom with Arab News, Prime Minister Timothy Harris noted with satisfaction that his country was home to a number of individuals from the Middle East, including the GCC countries. But his ambitions are clearly much bigger than that.

Harris, who was re-elected to a second term as prime minister of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis on June 5, says he will continue to deepen the dual-island nation’s relations with the GCC region.

“We intend to open an embassy soon in the UAE,” he told Arab News. “This will further cement our ties to the Middle East region and to the UAE specifically.”

With their relative affluence and large expatriate populations, GCC countries constitute a key part of the catchment area of the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program of St. Kitts and Nevis.

“What the CBI program offers applicants is the advantage of mobility,” said Harris, adding: “In the context of St. Kitts and Nevis, it also offers citizenship in a nation that is democratic, peaceful and safe.”

(Full Arab News interview with Prime Minister Timothy Harris)

His government is also counting on efficient processing of citizenship applications to help it stand out in a crowded field.

Amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, some, particularly for those hailing from troubled countries in the Middle East, see a silver lining: A discount on the citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Harris has announced a time-limited reduction in the contribution required to secure citizenship. The government of St. Kitts and Nevis has decided to temporarily reduce the family minimum contribution by $45,000 to $150,000. However, the minimum contribution for a single applicant remains at $150,000.

Basseterre, capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. (Supplied)
A single applicant seeking economic citizenship normally contributes at least $150,000, while the cost for a family of up to four comes to $195,000. But from July 7 until the end of this year, families of up to four people will be able to secure citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis at the discounted rate.
The decision was influenced by the global fallout of the COVID-19 crisis and the efforts of the Harris government to find creative ways to stabilize the economy and put it back on the path to the growth rates it had enjoyed over five years preceding the pandemic.

Harris is upfront about his objectives. “This limited-time offer will provide the resources to help us successfully fight COVID-19 and enhance the safety nets for those who have lost their jobs or income as a consequence," he said.

(St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris talking about his country's COVID-19 response)

“The CBI program is crucial to our growth and development. The effects of COVID-19 have also destabilized our economy. Without the CBI program we would have been in serious danger.”

The St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program grants citizenship to individuals of high net worth and their families, who get visa-free access to 156 countries, including EU member states and the UK.

Migrate World Ltd is one of the authorized representatives for the CBI program for the Middle East and Africa. Speaking to Arab News in May, Moe Alhaj, CEO of Migrate World Ltd, said: “There’s been a notable increase — of around 40 percent — in applicants from the Arab world during the pandemic.

“The individuals that the program caters to in the Middle East are largely from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia.” The CBI program does not accept applicants from Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

(St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris talking about his country's citizenship program)

During the pandemic, CBI officials say, the program has witnessed a 40 percent increase in applicants from families hailing from the Arab world. Arab News could not independently verify the figure.

What is undeniable is that while the coronavirus crisis continues to ravage countries across the globe, particularly those in North America, the Caribbean region has largely been spared high caseloads.

The total population of residents in the Caribbean is just under 45 million. As of July 27, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections stood at 91,907. The nations with the highest number of cases are the Dominican Republic with 64,156; French Guiana with 7,332; Haiti with 7,315 cases and Puerto Rico with 5,416. 

Aerial view of Black Rocks Beach on St. Kitts. (Supplied)

St. Kitts and Nevis had one of the lowest numbers. By May 19 all of the 16 cases on its two islands had recovered, although one new case was announced on July 4. There have been no deaths. The islands went into lockdown on March 31 when just eight cases had been declared. It was then extended until April 18 and then again to April 25.

“We began an aggressive public education campaign in our schools and workplaces, security forces and health-care workers early on,” Harris told Arab News. “As cases rose, we were at a high level of alertness and citizens and residents complied, so we were able to stop the spread efficiently.”

The CBI program was launched in St. Kitts and Nevis in 1984 as a way to assist the island’s economy, which had suffered due to the collapse of the sugar industry, and to stimulate foreign direct investment inflows.

FASTFACT

ETHNIC GROUPS

- 53,821 = Population of St. Kitts & Nevis

- 92.5% African

- 3% Mixed

- 2.1% White

- 1.5% East Indian

“Clearly, size does matter and being a small nation state with limited resources, we had to find unique ways of bringing in investment that would help the country thrive from year to year,” Harris told Arab News.

“While COVID-19 has placed the world under enormous strain, St. Kitts and Nevis’s record to date of zero hospitalizations and zero fatalities from the disease underlines the character and enduring appeal of our great country.”

With alluring beaches, laid back Caribbean lifestyle and faraway location, the offer is hard to refuse — if one’s pockets are deep enough.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor