Rohingya greet UN refugee day amid doubts on return

Rohingya greet UN refugee day amid doubts on return
Earl R. Miller, US ambassador to Bangladesh, joined activists at Thursday’s rally in Cox’s Bazar to observe World Refugee Day. (Reuters)
Updated 20 June 2019

Rohingya greet UN refugee day amid doubts on return

Rohingya greet UN refugee day amid doubts on return
  • Muted celebrations in crowded Bangladesh camps, home to 1.1m Myanmar exiles
  • Cox’s Bazar — site of the world’s largest refugee settlement — observed the day with programs and festivities

COX’S BAZAR: More than 1.1 million Rohingya exiles in heavily congested camps at Cox’s Bazar observed UN World Refugee Day on Thursday despite continuing uncertainty over their return to Myanmar. 

Since 2000, UNHCR has observed June 20 as World Refugee Day and this year appealed to participants to “take a step with refugees around the world.” 

War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are the main causes of refugees fleeing their countries, with two-thirds of all exiles worldwide coming from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

Cox’s Bazar — site of the world’s largest refugee settlement — observed the day with programs and festivities, although there is still no sign of an end to the Rohingya plight. 

A colorful rally at Kutupalang camp was attended by US envoy Earl Miller, UNHCR country representative Steven Corliss and government officials. Later, dignitaries met with Rohingya community leaders and discussed their demands. 

About 750,000 Rohingya have fled their northern Rakhine homeland since August 2017 when a so-called “clearance operation” orchestrated by the Myanmar military forced them to take shelter at Kutupalang camps in Cox’s Bazar. 

In 1977 and 1978, about 200,000 Rohingya sought refuge in Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar. 

Between 1989 and 1991, an additional 250,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh when a military crackdown followed a popular uprising and Burma was renamed Myanmar. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal that led to thousands of Rohingya returning to Rakhine. 

The Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh resumed in 2016 when a military crackdown followed an attack on a border post in which several police offers were killed. About 87,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh. 

A repatriation deal was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar in late 2017, but not a single Rohingya returned. 

Finally, Nov. 15, 2018, was agreed as the new date to start repatriation, but the Rohingya said that conditions made it impossible for them to return. 

Recent violence in Rakhine between the Myanmar military and a militant Buddhist group has cast fresh doubts on the refugees returning in the near future. 

The Rohingya exodus has changed the demographic of Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar. 

In 2011, around 500,000 people lived in the two areas. Now more than double that number of Rohingya refugees shelter there, turning the host community into a minority. 

The Bangladesh government and UN aid agencies together asked for $920 million to run humanitarian operations in the camps this year. But only a quarter of this amount has been raised. 

Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said that authorities are hoping for an increase in funding in coming days. 

“Some big donors such as the EU, UK, Japan and so on are yet to come up with their pledges. I believe it will happen soon and humanitarian operations here at Cox’s Bazar will not decline,” he told Arab News.


UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation
Updated 11 min 15 sec ago

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation
  • A report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population
  • Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol

LONDON: Imams across Britain are helping a drive to dispel coronavirus disinformation, using Friday sermons and their influential standing within Muslim communities to argue that Covid-19 vaccines are safe.
Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) which is leading a campaign to reassure its faithful, is among those publically advocating that the inoculations are compatible with Islamic practices.
“We are confident that the two vaccines that have been used in the UK, Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are permissible from an Islamic perspective,” he told AFP.
“The hesitancy, the anxiety (and) concern is driven by misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and rumors.”
Britain, the hardest-hit country in Europe by the virus after registering nearly 95,000 deaths, is relying on its biggest-ever vaccination effort to end repeated cycles of lockdowns and restrictions.
However, a report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population.
It highlighted that 72 percent of Black survey respondents were unlikely or very unlikely to get the vaccine.
Among those from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, the figure was 42 percent.
Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol, which are banned by Islam.
Asim said it was “legitimate” to question whether things were permissible under Islam but without paying attention to unfounded claims.
Among the falsehoods spread about the vaccine are that it can modify DNA, make recipients sterile, or even involve inserting a microchip in the body.
Misinformation around the coronavirus is all the more dangerous given several studies have shown that it can impact minorities disproportionately.
“These are precisely the communities we should be trying to target,” said Nighat Arif, a general practitioner based in Chesham, near London.
When she received her vaccination, she posted a video in Urdu on social media aimed at the language’s speakers living in Britain.
“I’m hoping that because they see someone who looks like them, who is a practicing Muslim, wears a hijab, someone who is Asian who speaks their language, that’s more relatable than something that’s coming through from the government,” she added.
Arif is still surprised by the refusal of certain patients to be inoculated, noting they will often get vaccinated to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabi, or to visit Pakistan or India.
She blames conspiracy theories spread online, which contribute to the science behind the process “being lost.”
Samara Afzal, 34, a general practitioner at Netherton Health Center in Dudley in the West Midlands, also shared a video in Urdu with her 35,000 Twitter followers to “debunk some myths.”
She said some people had asked her to send the video directly to them so they could forward it to skeptical loved ones via social tools like WhatsApp.
At her medical center, Afzal estimates that around 40 to 50 people out of 1,000 have refused to be vaccinated when she had expected only one or two.
“It’s still a fair amount of people that are saying no and obviously we haven’t even addressed the younger ones, so this is just the elderly,” she added.
“So I’m sure when it comes down to the younger ones, there’ll be a lot more that say no.”
Around five million people, almost entirely the elderly and caregivers, have already received a first dose of the vaccine in the UK, the highest rate in Europe.
In a sign of officials’ concerns about minority take-up of the jabs, the state-run health service is mobilizing “influencers” in communities to convince the skeptics.
“There’s a big piece of work happening where we’re translating information, we’re making sure the look and feel of it reaches the populations that matter,” Harpreet Sood, a doctor who is leading the anti-disinformation campaign, told the BBC.
A vaccination center has even been set up in a mosque in Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city, which has a large south Asian population.
Imam Nuru Mohammed said the move sent “a big ‘no to fake news’” message to his 2,000-strong religious community and beyond.
He shared the video of his own vaccination on social media.
For Asim, the MINAB chairman whose mosque is in Leeds, in northern England, their efforts also help counter far-right claims.
“If there was a lower take-up of vaccines in Muslim communities in comparison to all other communities, then potentially, it could fan the flames of Islamophobia,” he noted.
“And in this pandemic, no one should be scapegoated.”