’We are always missing you’: Torn apart by violence, Rohingya families connect through letters

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Oli Mian, a Rohingya refugee who has found his son in Buthidaung prison in Myanmar through trace message request program of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, is seen at a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, in this July 3, 2018 photo. (REUTERS)
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Members of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society collect trace message requests from Rohingya refugees who have missing relatives in Myanmar or other countries, at a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, July 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Bangladesh Red Crescent Society staff at a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh take down messages to be sent to the refugees family members in Myanmar June 28, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Bangladesh Red Crescent Society staff at a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh take down messages to be sent to the refugees family members in Myanmar June 28, 2018. (REUTERS)
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In this Jan. 23, 2018 file photo, a Rohingya refugee hangs a blanket out to dry at Balukhali refugee camp, about 50 kilometers from Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (AP)
Updated 19 July 2018

’We are always missing you’: Torn apart by violence, Rohingya families connect through letters

  • With entire villages razed and thousands believed dead, Red Cross workers say many of those stuck in Myanmar prisons have been desperate to know if their families made it to the safety of refugee camps in Bangladesh
  • Army sweep last August that forced more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh/YANGON: Inside a bamboo shelter on Bangladesh’s eastern coast, 58-year-old Sait Banu held a dog-eared note from her husband. “If you find a good match for my daughter Una Jamin, you can arrange her wedding,” he urged her in the letter.
“Don’t worry, there is no problem in jail.”
The message, sent from a prison hundreds of miles away in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, was the first Sait Banu had heard from her husband since he was arrested in an army sweep last August that forced more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims, including Sait Banu and her nine children, to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
During weeks of violence that the United Nations has called “ethnic cleansing,” soldiers killed, raped, and arrested thousands of Rohingya, survivors and human rights groups said. Myanmar denies the allegations.
With entire villages razed and thousands believed dead, Red Cross workers say many of those stuck in Myanmar prisons have been desperate to know if their families made it to the safety of refugee camps in Bangladesh. And those on the other side of the border, unable to go back, told Reuters they are equally keen to know if their loved ones had survived.
Scraps of paper carried between prisons in Myanmar and the camps by the International Committee of the Red Cross are a rare source of hope for families torn apart by the largest and fastest refugee influx in the region in the past twenty years, the refugees say.
More than 1,600 notes have been gathered from the Bangladeshi camps since August, the Red Cross says. About 160 have been delivered to jails in Rakhine and the replies sent back to Bangladesh.
Reuters saw copies of seven notes, provided by Red Cross officials and hand-written on forms bearing the letterheads of Red Cross organizations, but could not independently verify their authenticity.
The letters often serve as the first proof of life of loved ones. They also include snippets of family news.
“I’ve been imprisoned for three years. Please don’t worry for me,” one letter from a Myanmar jail reads.
“We’re always missing you very much, and I know you’re also missing us,” reads another one sent from the camps in Bangladesh to a Myanmar jail.
“Please send a picture of everybody. I would be so happy to see you all. Give news of the children,” a Rohingya man detained in Myanmar asks in a February letter delivered to his wife in the camps in Bangladesh.

When Sait Banu’s husband was arrested in their village in northern Rakhine one morning last August, she was not told why the police were taking him. “They arrested 50 men from my village that day,” she said. It took place only days before Rohingya insurgents struck 30 police posts on Aug. 25.
Spokesmen for the Myanmar government and police did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment on the arrests or on ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses against the Rohingya, which they have denied in the past. They also did not respond to requests for comment on the exchange of letters.
Myanmar has said it has arrested 384 Rohingya on suspicion of links to the Muslim militant group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) since last August.
More than 2,700 people were detained in prisons in Rakhine state’s two main jails — in the state capital Sittwe and Buthidaung in the north — according to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, although it does not say how many of them are Rohingya.
Min Tun Soe, a spokesman for Myanmar’s prisons department, declined to say how many people had been arrested on accusations of ties to ARSA and said that only those formally charged were kept in the jails.
With no idea where her husband had been taken, Sait Banu was forced to escape without him. “They shot and killed people, so we fled,” she said, referring to Myanmar security forces.
In December, Red Cross volunteers near her shelter called on refugees who wanted to write to their families. She had heard from relatives that most men from her village had been sent to Sittwe prison, so she gave her husband’s name and other details. Red Cross staff in Myanmar later traced him to Sittwe prison.

When Yuzana, 30, a field officer for the Myanmar Red Cross, visited the jail in February, she faced anxious questions from Rohingya detainees. “They thought I’d met their families,” she said. “They asked me: “How is my family? Do you know where my wife is?“
Although written forms of the Rohingya language exist, and there are efforts to digitise a script, none is widely used in the camps.
But some of the refugees speak Burmese or English. In Bangladesh, their messages are taken down by Red Cross volunteers in English, often through a translator, while those from the prisons in Rakhine are in Burmese so they can be read by the censors.
Because Myanmar censors all communications in and out of the jails, the letters are limited to family news. Rohingya cannot write about last year’s violence or why they were arrested, Red Cross officials say.
Min Tun Soe, a spokesman for the Myanmar Prisons Department, said it was normal practice to censor communications in the prisons.
“We have to check whether the information written in the letter affects the security of the prison or not,” he said.
On a recent afternoon, a volunteer for the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society — a Red Cross-funded organization – at the Zadimura refugee camp read out a list of 16 Rohingya men found alive in Buthidaung jail.
Among the refugees who quietly gathered around him was Oli Mian, 70, hoping to hear the name of his 35-year-old son, Mohammed Rashid, who was arrested in 2016.
When Oli Mian heard his son’s name, he couldn’t believe it. Only when it was read out again and the family details were confirmed he realized this meant his only son was alive. His eyes welled up with tears and he walked with his wooden stick back to his shelter to tell his wife.
“If my son was here, I wouldn’t have to stand in the long relief distribution lines for hours to get food,” he said, as tears fell onto the wrinkled hands folded on his lap.
“I’ll write to him that I want to hear his voice,” his wife Roshan Begum said, also fighting back tears.
“I’ll tell him his parents are alive.”

Pelosi pursues articles of impeachment against Trump, says democracy at stake

Updated 06 December 2019

Pelosi pursues articles of impeachment against Trump, says democracy at stake

  • House panel could approve impeachment charges by Dec. 12
  • Trump assails “Do Nothing” Democrats, vows: “We will win!“

WASHINGTON: Warning that US democracy is at stake, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed a congressional committee on Thursday to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, a historic step setting up a fight over whether to oust him from office.
In a dramatic televised statement, Pelosi accused the Republican president of abusing his power and alluded to Britain’s King George III, the monarch against whom the American colonies rebelled in forming the United States in 1776, saying that in the United States, “the people are the king.”
“Our democracy is what is at stake. The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections,” said Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress.
At the heart of the Democratic-led House’s impeachment inquiry is Trump’s request that Ukraine launch an investigation targeting Joe Biden. The former vice president is a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and our heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment,” Pelosi said. She had opened the investigation in September.
She was referring to Jerrold Nadler, whose House Judiciary Committee has the responsibility of drawing up the formal charges that would later be voted on by the full House.
Two people knowledgeable about the process said the panel could draft and recommend the articles of impeachment to the House as early as Dec. 12. Democrats said lawmakers would work through the weekend to get them written.
The charges could include abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.

Senate trial
If articles of impeachment are passed as expected, that would lead to a trial in the Senate. Republicans, who control the Senate, have shown little support for convicting and removing him.
Pelosi was asked what it would take for Republicans to support impeachment as she took questions at a Town Hall on CNN on Thursday night. “I can’t answer for the Republicans, they’ve taken an oath to Donald Trump,” she answered.
Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, wrote on Twitter: “The Do Nothing, Radical Left Democrats have just announced that they are going to seek to Impeach me over NOTHING.”
“The good thing is that the Republicans have NEVER been more united. We will win!” Trump said.
Pelosi’s announcement clearly signaled that she believes Democrats have the votes in the 435-seat House to impeach. She acted after receiving overwhelming support in a party meeting on Wednesday night, a source familiar with the meeting said.
The impeachment drama is unfolding at a time of deep partisan divisions across the United States that have widened during Trump’s tumultuous presidency.
The inquiry’s focus is a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, and a discredited theory promoted by Trump and his allies that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 US election.
Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption. They have denied wrongdoing and the allegations have not been substantiated.

Security aid
Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine — a vulnerable US ally facing Russian aggression — as leverage to pressure Kiev into conducting investigations politically beneficial to Trump.
Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election. They have described Trump’s actions as aimed at weeding out corruption in Ukraine, not getting political dirt on Biden.
They also argue the inquiry has failed to produce first-hand evidence showing Trump made US aid to Ukraine or a White House meeting for its president contingent on Kiev pursuing the investigations.
On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing in which three constitutional law experts called by Democratic lawmakers said Trump had committed impeachable offenses. A fourth expert called by Republicans called the inquiry slipshod and rushed.
Nadler has given Trump until 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Friday to say whether he or his legal counsel will participate in upcoming proceedings by calling witnesses, introducing evidence and making a presentation. Nadler has given committee Republicans the same deadline to request witnesses.
Judiciary Democrats said the report by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller documenting Russian interference in the 2016 election could be part of testimony they hear on Monday from a committee lawyer, who is presenting evidence along with a Democratic lawyer from the House Intelligence Committee. Republican committee lawyers are also expected to testify.
Including material from Mueller’s report in an article of impeachment would demonstrate a pattern of behavior involving foreign interference in US elections, House Judiciary Democrat Pramila Jayapal said.
“What we have to think about is what gives us the strongest trial in the Senate,” she told reporters.
The US Constitution empowers the House to impeach a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
No US president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Republican Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House began the process in the Watergate corruption scandal.
Two other presidents were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.
In 1998, a Republican-led House passed articles of impeachment against Democratic President Bill Clinton, charges arising from a sexual relationship he had with a White House intern. The other president impeached by the House but left in office by the Senate was Andrew Johnson in 1868, three years after the US Civil War.
Asked if he worried that impeachment would tarnish his legacy, Trump told reporters at the White House: “No, not at all, not at all. It’s a hoax, it’s a big fat hoax.”