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

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.


Philippine, Kuwaiti officials meet amid labor ban

Updated 21 January 2020

Philippine, Kuwaiti officials meet amid labor ban

  • The meeting took place days after the Philippines announced a complete ban on the deployment of new workers to Kuwait

MANILA: Philippine and Kuwaiti officials on Sunday held talks in the wake of a ban imposed by Manila on Filipinos working in the Gulf state.

Abdullah D. Mama-o, President Rodrigo Duterte’s adviser on overseas Filipino workers’ (OFW) concerns, met with Kuwait Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah to discuss bilateral ties and how to overcome the crisis.

The meeting took place days after the Philippines announced a complete ban on the deployment of new workers to Kuwait following the killing of Jeanelyn Villavende.

A forensic examination conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation on Villavende’s body showed “clear indications of sexual abuse,” and signs of physical abuse dating back weeks before her death.

Villavende’s employer and his wife, allegedly the perpetrators in the Filipino maid’s killing, are now behind bars in Kuwait.

During the meeting between Mama-o and Al-Jarallah, “the Filipino official praised Kuwait for the legal procedures the country has taken to address the issue,” Kuwait’s official news agency KUNA reported.

Officials from both countries are scheduled to hold further meetings next month to resolve the crisis.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait rescued another Filipino maid, Delia Solomon, who accused her employers of mistreatment.

“While a distressed OFW’s plea was going viral (on) social media yesterday, our Kuwait PE (Philippine Embassy) worked quietly on extracting her,” Foreign Undersecretary Brigido Dulay tweeted on Sunday.

“We are happy to report that she is now sheltered in our embassy and we’re working on reuniting her with her loved ones next week.”

Prior to his talks with Al-Jarallah, Mama-o on Saturday met with more than 100 members of the Filipino community in Kuwait.

Issues discussed included the Philippine government’s contingency plan amid tensions in the Middle East, and the decision of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s governing board to impose a ban on the deployment of newly hired OFWs bound for Kuwait.

Mama-o, who was accompanied by other Philippine officials, said the Duterte administration will exert all efforts to safeguard the welfare of all Filipinos in the Middle East.

During the Filipino community meeting, Chargé d’Affaires Noordin Pendosina Lomondot assured Filipinos in Kuwait that the embassy is preparing for any scenario in case the situation in the region does not improve.

The official gave Filipino community leaders details of the embassy’s contingency plan, such as possible evacuation routes and the names of area coordinators.