IDs offer the Rohingya hope amid dire Eid celebrations

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A panoramic view of the squalid Rohingya camps at Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh which is the largest refugee settlement of the world at this moment. (Photo: Shehab Sumon, Arab News)
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A panoramic view of the squalid Rohingya camps at Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh which is the largest refugee settlement of the world at this moment. (Photo: Shehab Sumon, Arab News)
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Rohingya refugees from Myanmar waiting for food aid in a refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (Shutterstock)
Updated 12 August 2019

IDs offer the Rohingya hope amid dire Eid celebrations

  • Completion of registration is expected by end of the year

DHAKA: More than half-a-million Rohingya at Cox’s Bazar have received identity cards to ensure better access to humanitarian aid in refugee camps.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Bangladeshi government initiated the procedure in June 2018 to store necessary information about the Rohigya people in one database.

This comprehensive registration work has been underway in all refugee settlements at Cox’s Bazar. On an average, about 5,000 refugees are registered every day on seven different sites. More than 550 local staff were recruited to facilitate the registration process.

UNHCR has engaged a number of community representatives, including imams, elders and teachers, to explain the benefits of registration among refugees. Outreach teams of refugee volunteers also go into the community to explain and encourage the registration process.

“This registration aims to establish and secure the identity of individuals and families by collecting basic biographical information. Biometrics such as fingerprints and iris scans are also collected for individuals aged 5 years and above to help verify identities,” said Louise Donovan, a UNHCR spokesperson at Cox’s Bazar.

“Information on family composition, specific needs and protection risks are also gathered. This data is stored on a secure server and on the basis of the information gathered, individual ID cards are issued to all refugees aged over 12,” Donovan added. All children under 12-years-old are included on their parents’ ID cards.

She described the identity card as “extremely important” for the Rohingyas as it is the “first official identification document that they have owned.”

The registration cards record Myanmar as the country of origin. This establishes the right of the refugee to return home when they feel the conditions are safe. However, the registration exercise is not linked to repatriation.

With the aid of the biometric data, UNHCR launched the Global Distribution Tool in one of the refugee camps last week.

“Through verification of fingerprints or iris scans, this tool speeds up distributions and is fraud proof. It can be used by partners to ensure that there is no overlap in assistance and that nobody is left out. It will continue to be rolled out in more settlements in the coming weeks,” said Andrej Mahecic, a UNHCR spokesperson.

“This will help the aid agencies in humanitarian response as no one will be able to fraudulently claim for aid. We will forward the same information to the Myanmar authorities for their verification of repatriation,” Mohammad Shamsuddoja, additional commissioner at the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC) of Bangladesh told Arab News.

He added that these identity documents will help authorities protect the Rohingyas from illegal migration through preventing the distribution of fake Bangladeshi passports.

HIGHLIGHT

The UNHCR and the Bangladeshi government initiated the procedure in June 2018 to store necessary information about the Rohingya people in one database.

Rohingyas throughout Cox’s Bazar welcomed the documentation process.

“It has given me an identity as Myanmar national. It also contains my family links. Now with this document, Myanmar authorities can easily verify me as a resident of Rakhine,” said Fokan Ullah, 53, a refugee from the Kutupalang Rohingya camp.

Refugee Monowara Begum, 34, said: “This identity card has eased my life at the camps. Now, I don’t need to wait a long time in the queue to receive monthly food aids for my family.”

The authorities expect to complete the registration process by the end of the year. More than 1.1 million Rohingyas have been living in the squalid camps at Cox’s Bazar since August 2017.

Amid dire uncertainty for future, the Rohingyas at Cox’s Bazar are preparing for the Eid-ul-Azha, the second largest Muslim festival, scheduled to be observed on Monday. For many, it is going to be their third Eid celebration at the refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Authorities in the country have taken preparations to make the Eid more colorful for the refugees.

“From different NGOs and benevolent entities, we have received around 4,000 cattle to be sacrificed on the Eid day. We will distribute the meat among the 210,000 families so that the refugees can celebrate the true spirit of this Eid-ul-Azha,” Mohammad Shamsuddoja, from the RRRC told Arab News.

This initiative from Bangladesh has inspired enthusiasm among the Rohingya families.

“In this refugee life we receive rice, lentils, vegetable oil and some other daily needs as food aid. But there is no opportunity to have fish and meat. My children have been waiting for last one month for this Eid day as we knew that cattle will be sacrificed in the camps” said Rahmat Ali, 46, a refugee from the Balukhali camp.

Taslima Khatun, 27, a mother of two, has expressed her frustration over the camp life on the eve of Eid festivals.

“Eid days were full of festivity during our days at Rakhine. On Eid-ul-Azha, I used to sacrifice cattle for my family and shared it with the neighbors. Unfortunately, destiny has brought me here today in this miserable condition of camp life,” Khatun said.

“However, due to savings from our daily needs, I managed to buy two new dresses for my sons. The little boys were really happy with their gifts,” she added. 


Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

Updated 23 January 2020

Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

LOS ANGELES: Nine parents who were deported as the Trump administration separated thousands of migrant families landed back into the US late Wednesday to reunite with children they had not seen in a year and a half.
The group arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Guatemala City in a trip arranged under the order of a federal judge who found the US government had unlawfully prevented them from seeking asylum. An asylum advocate confirmed the nine parents were all aboard the flight.
Some of the children were at the airport to greet them, including David Xol’s 9-year-old son Byron.
David fell to one knee and tearfully embraced Byron for about three minutes, patting the back of his son’s head.
“He was small,” David said after rising to his feet. He looked at his attorney — who accompanied him on the flight — raised his hand about chest-high and said, “He grew a lot.”
David, Byron and his attorney, Ricardo de Anda, then embraced in a three-way hug and exchanged words in their huddle. Byron was all smiles. Father, son, attorney and family sponsor eagerly left the airport for their hotel.
The reunion was a powerful reminder of the lasting effects of Trump’s separation policy, even as attention and outrage has faded amid impeachment proceedings and tensions with Iran. But it also underscored that hundreds, potentially thousands, of other parents and children are still apart nearly two years after the zero-tolerance policy on unauthorized border crossings took effect.
“They all kind of hit the lottery,” said Linda Grimm, an attorney who represents one of the parents returning to the US “There are so many people out there who have been traumatized by the family separation policy whose pain is not going to be redressed.”
More than 4,000 children are known to have been separated from their parents before and during the official start of zero tolerance in spring 2018. Under the policy, border agents charged parents en masse with illegally crossing the US-Mexico border, then placed their children in government facilities, including some “tender-age shelters” set up for infants.
The US has acknowledged that agents separated families long before they enforced zero tolerance across the entire southern border, its agencies did not properly record separations, and some detention centers were overcrowded and undersupplied, with families denied food, water or medical care.
In June 2018, US District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to stop separating families and reunite parents and children.
At least 470 parents were deported without their children. Some of the kids were held in US government facilities and ultimately placed with sponsors. Others were deported to their home countries.
Accounts emerged of many parents being told to sign paperwork they couldn’t read or understand or being denied a chance to request asylum in ways that violated federal law.
The US Department of Homeland Security referred a request for comment to the Justice Department, which did not respond.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the original family separation lawsuit before Sabraw, asked the judge to order the return of a small group of parents whose children remained in the US In September, Sabraw required the US to allow 11 parents to come back and denied relief to seven others.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said Sabraw made clear he would only order the return of people “who were misled or coerced into giving up their asylum rights.” That will leave other parents who fled violence, poverty and persecution to decide whether to have their children return to their home countries or remain in the US without them.
“Many are going to make the decision that generations of immigrant parents have made — to leave their child in the US and endure the hardship of separation, but to do it for their child’s own safety,” Gelernt said.
Xol said that after he and his then-7-year-old son, Byron, crossed the border, they were taken to a US Border Patrol processing center in South Texas. Xol was charged with illegal entry on May 19, 2018.
Two days later, Xol said an officer told him to sign a document that would allow him and Byron to be deported together. If he didn’t sign, Byron would be given up for adoption and Xol would be detained for at least two years.
Xol signed the document, only to have Byron taken away and then get deported to Guatemala. Byron was placed in government facilities for 11 months.
The family’s attorney, Ricardo de Anda, persuaded a federal court to force the US to let a Texas family take in Byron. Since May 2019, Byron has lived with Holly and Matthew Sewell and their two children, with regular video calls to his family.
Holly Sewell brought Byron, now 9, to meet his father at the airport. They planned to go back to Texas to pack and prepare for Byron to move in with his father once Xol is settled in California. Before the reunion, Byron kept asking Sewell, his caretaker, when his father would clear immigration authorities.
“They’re almost here, you’re doing great,” she said. “Count to 1,000.”
“999,” Byron responded.
She said she was thrilled Byron could see his dad again but sharply criticized the US government’s treatment of asylum-seekers.
Esvin Fernando Arredondo was expected to be on the plane. The father from Guatemala was separated from one of his daughters, Andrea Arredondo — then 12 years old and now 13, after they turned themselves in on May 16, 2018, at a Texas crossing and sought asylum legally, according to Grimm, his lawyer. He failed an initial screening and agreed to go back to Guatemala.
According to Sabraw’s ruling, the government deported Arredondo even after the judge had ordered families reunited and subsequently prohibited US officials from removing any parent separated from their child. He’s now being given a second chance at asylum under the court order.
Andrea was separated from all family for about a month, living in a shelter as the government struggled to connect children with their parents because they lacked adequate tracking systems. She was finally reunited with her mother, who had turned herself in at the Texas crossing with the other two daughters four days earlier than her husband, on May 12, 2018.
She and her two daughters passed the initial screening interview for asylum, unlike her husband, even though they were fleeing for the same reason. Their son Marco, 17, was shot and killed by suspected gang members in Guatemala City.
Arredondo’s wife, Cleivi Jerez, 41, arrived at LAX less than an hour before the flight landed with their three daughters in tow, ages 17, 13 and 7.
“Lots of nerves, last night I couldn’t sleep,” she said in Spanish in an interview after the flight landed.
Jerez said she planned to stay up late catching up with her husband. She planned to rest at their Los Angeles home tomorrow as well, catching up on their 17 months apart before he has to report to an ICE office Friday in San Diego. Alison Arredondo, 7, said she missed going to the park with her father and she wanted to go to one with him in LA.
While the US has stopped the large-scale separations, it has implemented policies to prevent many asylum-seekers from entering the country. Under its “Remain in Mexico” policy, more than 50,000 people have been told to wait there for weeks or months for US court dates. The Trump administration also is ramping up deportations of Central Americans to other countries in the region to seek asylum there.
“People want to make this a heartwarming story, but it’s not. It’s devastating,” Sewell said. “There is just no good reason why we had to do this to this child and this family. And he symbolizes thousands of others who have been put in this exact same position.”