Refugees: America’s Responsibility

Excellent Op-Ed by Steve Hilton:

While we can argue forever about the causes of conflict in the Middle East, it is impossible to ignore the impact of American foreign policy on what’s happening in Europe. It was shocking to see an “expert” from the Council on Foreign Relations quoted on Saturday saying that the situation is “largely Europe’s responsibility.” How, exactly? The Iraq invasion (which could reasonably be described as “largely America’s responsibility”) unleashed a period of instability and competition in the region that is collapsing states and fueling sectarian conflict.

There are plenty of comments to his post, several asking what responsibility Russia and Iran have, particularly in Syria.  As usual in human affairs the choices vary from bad to worse.

It’s crazy that, as Nicholas Kristoff points out, that “…the World Food Program was just forced to cut 229,000 refugees in Jordan off food rations because it ran out of money…” There’s an example of losing a dollar to save a dime…

One think I have not heard anything of is what kind of organizing might be encouraged among the refugees — while still in the camps, and when disbursed around Europe.  It’s an enormous cohort of educated and talented people which, if they are like most refugees, will retain strong feelings for the lands of their birth for decades.  What might emerge if their social capital can be encouraged to grow and find a way to slow and halt the on-going disasters, then to stabilize and re-build what they have lost?

The Never Endig Persecution of the Royhinga

Jane Perlez of the New York Times, who for so long was the Bureau Chief in Afghanistan, is now based out of Beijing — and covers most of South East Asia.  She has been bringing detailed stories of the persecution and flight of the Myanmar Royhinga to the front page of the times.  Today’s was especially harrowing.

More than 2,000 Rohingya are believed to be missing at sea, presumed drowned, since June 2012, when the violence against them first erupted in Rakhine, said Chris Lewa, coordinator of the Arakan Project, a human rights group specializing in the Rohingya. In all, about 80,000 Rohingya have left Myanmar by sea since then, Ms. Lewa said.

Run out of Myanmar by rabid Buddhist violence they try to get to Malasia, where their Islam faith is in the majority, but typically have to pass through Thailand to make the journey.

Burma ROHINGYAmap-artboard_1

Despite Thailand’s long history of absorbing refugees from conflicts in nearby countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as members of other ethnic groups from Myanmar, the country has declined to grant the Rohingya temporary shelter or basic services. The government refuses to assess their requests for asylum, human rights groups say, instead subjecting them to detention so harsh that some die in custody. Arguments by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that Thailand should treat the Rohingya like other refugees have failed to convince the Thai government, the agency said.

Instead, the government has authorized what it calls “soft” deportation of the Rohingya: moving them out of detention cells, placing them in wooden boats at the southern port of Ranong, and sending them out into the Andaman Sea. There, they are picked up again by smugglers who, human rights groups charge, are often in league with Thai officials. Those who cannot pay ransom for passage to Malaysia are finally forced into indentured servitude on Thai plantations and fishing vessels, rights groups say.

NY Times: Perlez


News From Mali

Mali has been too much in the news these days, after decades of never appearing in the western press except by proxy as the location of Timbuktu, the most remote end of a travel route in the imagination.  Now we read of radical Islamists,  splits between factions and leaders, Tuareg tribesmen allying with the rebels and then back to the government, refugees pouring across the borders and uncertainty screwed down tight by approaching death. All this you can read about.

Here is something else: a letter from a Malian artist who has lived in Portland, Oregon for years, traveling back in his homeland.

Today is January 16Friends in Malith 2013.  I have just returned from Baroueli visiting the Kone family that I met through David, Kay and Sasha Pollack. It was a spectacular time that Gaoussou Kone and his family showed me.

Gaoussou is a type of person my mother would describe as “A man with an extra eye in the back of his head.”  Despite his intense hard work in their little family restaurant, he also seems to be the ambassador of the town. He is the head of the farmers association and takes part in every small organization for the betterment of Baroueli. Gaousou Kone is also a respectful butcher in town because of his expertise in recognizing the healthiest animals.

Read more of this post

Burma Bleeding

Once upon a time, many centuries ago, we were all stateless beings. Under the shadow of the nearest biggest guy with horses and throwing or stabbing weapons to be sure, but stateless; no borders except those around the royal game preserves. Along the trading routes peoples of different hues and tongues mixed, changing hues and tongues as random encounters encouraged. Being stateless was not only not a crime, it was unknown. Not so today. If the state hasn’t entirely supplanted clan, ethnicity and religious feeling as the central sense of belonging in people, it has the structural, legal and military upper hand. ‘You may not feel your identity is with me, but you belong to me,’ the State Avatar might say.

Open Society We Are Rohinga

We Are Rohingya from Open Society

So, when a significant body of people are in fact stateless, serious consequences flow. As they are with the Rohingya Muslims, come from Bangladesh decades ago, fleeing turmoil there and seeking security and livelihood along the Burmese coasts.  Here is a very short history from The International Observatory on Statelessness:

The British annexed the region after an 1824-26 conflict and encouraged migration from India. Since independence in 1948, successive Burmese governments have considered these migration flows as illegal. Claiming that the Rohingya are in fact Bengalis, they have refused to recognize them as citizens. Shortly after General Ne Win and his Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) seized power in 1962, the military government began to dissolve Rohingya social and political organizations. The 1974 Emergency Immigration Act stripped Burmese nationality from the Rohingya. In 1977, Operation Nagamin (Dragon King) constituted a national effort to register citizens and screen out foreigners prior to a national census.

The resulting military campaign led to widespread killings, rape, and destruction of mosques and religious persecution. By 1978, more than 200,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh. The Burmese authorities claimed that their flight served as proof of the Rohingya’s illegal status in Burma.

Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, Rohingya were declared “non-national” or “foreign residents.” This law designated three categories of citizens: (1) full citizens, (2) associate citizens, and (3) naturalized citizens.

Clearly the road to the current troubles has been paved over time with the aggregate of animosity and the concrete of legal fiat.  Changing the direction of the road is going to take significant work — beginning with  rescinding the discriminatory laws, application of the highest moral appeal from Aung San Suu Kyi, and on the ground community organizing by tough international mediators — in all the affected communities — and calling on the best in the Buddhist and Muslim faiths to overcome the worst.

The new de-Gerneraled Myanmar state is in sorry shape, despite the exuberance of recent elections but it has no choice but to build itself into its best self right through the troubles at hand.

The news today is that some 20,000 have been displaced.  Time is slipping by.


News from Turkey

In Istanbul the weather is cold and rain-swept.  After a lunch of delectable meze on the waterfront on the island of Buyukada we are sheltering in the 1908 Hotel Splendid, which despite it off-season emptiness is providing us with warm rooms and wireless internet.

Ankara is being reported as warning Syria that “steps will be taken” if the assault on civilians, especially along the Turkish border do not cease.

Turkey is putting the squeeze on its southern neighbor with strong indications that Ankara is finalizing plans to set up a humanitarian corridor and possibly a buffer zone inside Syria in order to contain the burgeoning refugee crisis and border skirmishes.

Today’s Zaman

More warnings were issued after shells from the Syrian army landed in a refugee camp in Turkey

The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned today the shooting of six people in a Turkish refugee camp by Syrian forces firing across the border.

Warnings Issued

Climate Refugees By the Millions

“There could be 200 million … climate refugees by 2050, according to a new policy paper by the International Organization for Migration, depending on the degree of climate disturbances. Aside from the South Pacific, low-lying areas likely to be battered first include Bangladesh and nations in the Indian Ocean, where the leader of the Maldives has begun seeking a safe haven for his 300,000 people. Landlocked areas may also be affected; some experts call the Darfur region of Sudan, where nomads battle villagers in a war over shrinking natural resources, the first significant conflict linked to climate change.”

“Jennifer Redfearn, a documentary maker, has been filming the gradual disappearance of the Carterets [Islands] for a work called “Sun Come Up.” One clan chief told her he would rather sink with the islands than leave. It now takes only about 15 minutes to walk the length of the largest island, with food and water supplies shrinking all the time.

“It destroys our food gardens, it uproots coconut trees, it even washes over the sea walls that we have built,” Ms. Rakova says on the film. “Most of our culture will have to live in memory.”

Climate Refugees