‘Rohingya’ taboo at 17-nation meeting – Nikkei Asian Review

Thai Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn speaks at the refugee crisis meeting in Bangkok on May 29. (Photo by Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK — Deferring to a Myanmar government demand, representatives at a meeting here aimed at resolving southeast Asia’s ongoing maritime migration crisis are sidestepping using the term “Rohingya.” “We are totally against the use of the nomenclature Rohingya, which never [existed] as a race in [this] country,” Htin Lin, Myanmar’s representative at the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean, told the Nikkei Asian Review. Friday’s discussions involve representatives of 17 countries and come after Thailand launched a crackdown on long-established human trafficking syndicates preying on migrants aiming to get to Malaysia from Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Death at sea, death in the jungle – The Edge Review

Harbour at Thay Chaung, inside a Muslim ghetto on the outskirts of Sittwe (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK – “According to the information given to me by those who come back from the boats, there are no more now offshore,” said Kyaw Hla, a Rohingya businessman who paid out of his own pocket for the safe return to Sittwe of 75 trafficked Rohingya. “I paid 200,000 Myanmar kyat (about US$200) for each human person,” Kyaw Hla told The Edge Review. With the annual rainy season about to hit the Bay of Bengal and surrounding countries, the exodus of Rohingya and Bangladeshis will cease, for now, said Kyaw Hla. But unless conditions improve over the coming months, more Rohingya will likely take to the sea again come October, when the clouds break and the wind and rains stop and the boats point south toward Thailand and Malaysia once more.

Bo selected – The Edge Review

Inside St Mary's Cathedral in Yangon (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – “I was in Calcutta, my niece phoned me to say that she saw my name on a list of the names of the cardinals announced by the Holy Father. I thought she was joking at first.” said Charles Maung Bo, Myanmar’s first Catholic cardinal. That was how the 66 year old Archbishop of Yangon found out back on Jan. 4 that he was to be one of 20 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis. “He wants to show the universality of the whole church and he wants to hear the voice from the different people,” said Cardinal Bo, assessing the pope’s motives for naming new cardinals from Vietnam and Thailand, as well as Myanmar, which last year marked 5 centuries of Catholic Church presence in the country.

The kindness of strangers – The Edge Review

Fishing off the Aceh coast, Dec. 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – For the Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees rescued near Aceh, the fishermen’s heroics ended what for some was a four month ordeal at sea. “When they were found by the fishermen they were all incredibly weak and many were barely conscious, especially the women and children. Those who were conscious were crying for help. Some jumped into the sea when they saw the fishermen approach asking to be rescued,” said Nasruddin, Humanitarian Coordinator for The Geutanyoe Foundation, which has been working with the survivors. “We have a wisdom that called in local language as “Pemulia Jamee Adat Geutanyoe” or ‘serving the guest is our ritual,’ said Teuku Youvan, a member of the Aceh Disaster Management Agency’s advisory board.

Southeast Asia passing the buck on refugees – Nikkei Asian Review

Rohingya child at Thay Chaung fish market inside a Rohingya ghetto near Sittwe. The nearby docks are a departure point for Rohingya refugees going by boat to Thailand and Malaysia (Photo; Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK – In recent years, attacks on the Muslim Rohingya by the Buddhist Rakhine have forced almost 150,000 Rohingya into camps after their villages were destroyed. Since then, an estimated 120,000 have run a gauntlet of stormy seas as well as abuse and extortion by traffickers in order to escape to Malaysia. “People do not have any freedom here,” said Myo Win, a Rohingya speaking to the NAR by telephone from Sittwe, the Rakhine regional state capital. “That is why they try to go to Malaysia,” he added.

The depths of desperation – The Edge Review

Rohingya refugees carting rice rations inside camp near Sittwe, April 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – Bodies buried in the jungle, camps hurriedly abandoned, officials arrested, police suspended from duty, thousands of desperate refugees adrift at sea and pushed back into international waters by foreign navies. Muslim Rohingya have been fleeing discrimination in Myanmar by running a gauntlet of extortion, rape, starvation and sometimes execution in the remote jungles of Thailand’s south, a usual way station en route to Malaysia. But after a recent crackdown on traffickers by Thailand, thousands of distressed refugees are being pushed back to sea by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand as they attempt to dock, their boats abandoned by crew.

Jockeying for position – The Edge Review

Burma President Thein Sein pictured at ASEM summit in Vientiane in 2012  (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – Asked about Shwe Mann’s political eyelash-batting, however, the NLD’s Han Tha Myint stressed it was too early to discuss post-election possibilities, much less commit to backing Shwe Mann. “He has to deal with his colleagues in the party first,” said Han Tha Myint, the NLD’s economics point man and now party spokesman. “We don’t have any official stance on [forming a coalition with him].”

Myanmar presidential race heats up – Nikkei Asian Review

Candidates: Aung San Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann at the WEF in Naypyidaw, June 2013. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — In an upbeat tour of China and the U.S. in recent days, Myanmar Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann made every effort to look and sound presidential. Ditching his usual longyi, or sarong, for a sharp Western suit, Shwe Mann told a gathering at a U.S. think tank that “if the USDP nominates me as presidential candidate, I am happy to accept.” Shwe Mann, who also chairs the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, first spoke of his presidential ambitions almost two years ago. Now, six months before national elections, the former No. 3 in Myanmar’s previous military junta is among a handful of contenders jostling for position as the race for the presidency kicks into gear.

Myanmar launches new export strategy – Nikkei Asian Review

MGMA head Myint Soe speaking in Yangon on March 24 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – Aung Soe, deputy director general of the commerce ministry’s trade promotion department, told the Nikkei Asian Review that “we are still mainly exporting primary products, but we hope this is the beginning of an increase in productivity and competitiveness.” But billions of dollars worth of logs, gems and opium have been smuggled out of Myanmar in recent decades, distorting one of the world’s poorest economies but guaranteeing huge wealth for connected elites. Meanwhile, owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, the majority of the country’s businesses, have typically found it difficult to get bank loans due to stringent borrowing requirements, denying them vital funds to grow their businesses or to finance exports.

Time to follow the money – The Edge Review

Student protestor in Yangon, seeking reform of Myanmar's education system (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – In Myanmar, about 1.1 million kids start school each year in Myanmar, but of these only about 10 per cent finish high school, mostly those from cities and better-off families. Only one third of children from rural poor households manage to finish middle school. Such attrition makes it hard for companies who need educated, trained staff. “Businesses say that the second-biggest constraint to working in Myanmar is human resources,” said Christopher Spohr, an Asian Development Bank researcher.