The Telegraph – Sikh volunteers give aid to Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma

Mark Molloy

16 November 2017

A team of Sikh volunteers are providing aid to some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and violence in Burma (Myanmar).

Khalsa Aid, a UK-based international humanitarian relief organisation, have been helping refugees as they cross into neighbouring Bangladesh, where thousands are already living in overcrowded camps.

They were one of the first international organisations to reach the Bangladesh / Myanmar border in September, where refugees from the stateless minority have been waiting in lines stretching for kilometres across muddy rice fields.

The volunteers are returning next week to progress the project and focus on providing food and sanitation.

Volunteer Jeevanjot Singh, from the Indian branch of the organisation, was pictured sharing his last bottle of water with Rohingya refugees, who are described as the “world’s most persecuted minority”.

“We had come prepared for providing relief to some 50,000 people, but there are more than three lakh (300,000) here,” Amarpreet Singh, director of Khalsa Aid India, previously told The Indian Express.

“They are living without water, food, clothes and shelter. They are sitting wherever they can find a corner.

“It is raining, but people do not have anywhere to go. It is miserable to say the least. We will be providing them langar food (community kitchen) and shelter.

“We are arranging tarpaulins, but since the number of refugees have overwhelmingly exceeded our preparations, it [could take] some time to make arrangements.”

He also spoke of the overcrowded refugee camps, designed to accommodate 50,000 people, which are housing more than double that number.

“The priority is to not let anyone sleep without food,” he said. “Children are roaming without clothes and begging for food. Those who do not get space in camps are sitting along roads in hope of getting food from someone.”

The United Nations has described the treatment of Rohingya Muslims as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, with Human Rights Watch accusing the Myanmar military of widespread rape of women and girls.

Rohingya Muslims are seen as illegal immigrants from the Indian subcontinent in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where the government refuses to grant them citizenship status, effectively making them stateless.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/16/sikh-volunteers-give-aid-rohingya-muslims-fleeing-persecution/

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BBC News – Remembering the last Mughal emperor

Anbarasan Ethirajan

Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma), 8 November 2017. For more than a century the last Mughal emperor was almost forgotten, but a chance finding of his grave helped resurrect the legacy of a man revered as a Sufi saint and one of the finest poets in the Urdu language.

Only a handful of relatives were present when Bahadur Shah Zafar II breathed his last in a shabby wooden house in Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1862.

That very day, his British captors buried him in an unmarked grave in a compound near the famous Shwedagon Pagoda.

Defeated, demoralised and humiliated, it was an inglorious end for a man whose Mughal ancestors had for 300 years ruled a vast territory including modern-day India, Pakistan, large parts of Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Though his rule could not compare with that of illustrious ancestors like Akbar or Aurangzeb, he became the rallying point for the failed “Indian uprising” of 1857, when soldiers from undivided India rose against the British East India Company.

After they lost, the emperor was tried for treason, imprisoned and exiled to other territory under British control, in what is now Myanmar (Burma).

He died in custody on 7 November aged 87 – but his poetry lived on. The pen name he used, Zafar, means victory.

The great Mughal empire had lost much of its influence and territory by the end of the 1700s. When Zafar came to the throne in 1837, his rule extended only to Delhi and its surroundings. But for his subjects, he always remained Badshah, the King.

Like other Mughal emperors he’s said to be a direct descendent of Mongol rulers such as Genghis Khan and Timur. With his death, one of the world’s greatest dynasties came to an end.

The British buried him in an unmarked grave to keep his followers away. News of his death took a fortnight to reach India and almost went unnoticed.

Then, for more than 100 years, Zafar faded from memory. But in recent decades interest in his legacy has been revived.

A 1980s Indian TV serial rekindled memories, and roads bear his name in Delhi and Karachi. Dhaka renamed a park after him.

“Zafar was a remarkable man,” historian William Dalrymple, author of The Last Mughal, told the BBC.

“A calligrapher, notable poet, Sufi pir [spiritual guide], and a man who valued the importance of Hindu-Muslim unity.”

“While Zafar was never cut out to be a heroic or revolutionary leader, he remains, like his ancestor the Emperor Akbar, an attractive symbol of Islamic civilisation at its most tolerant and pluralistic,” writes Mr Dalrymple in his book.

Zafar’s religious tolerance, some suggest, also reflects his mixed parentage. His father, Akbar Shah II, was Muslim while his mother, Lal Bhai, was a Hindu Rajput princess.

Zafar’s unassuming tomb in a quiet avenue in Yangon is a poignant and silent reminder of one of the most tumultuous periods of Indian history.

Though local people knew Zafar was buried somewhere inside the compound of the local cantonment, where he and his family members were confined, they didn’t find it until 1991.

Workers digging for a drain came across a brick structure which turned out to be the former king’s grave. It was later renovated with the help of public donations.

Compared with his ancestors’ grand mausoleums in India, Zafar’s tomb is modest. An arched iron-grill bears his name and title. The ground floor houses the graves of one of his wives, Zinat Mahal, and his grand-daughter, Raunaq Zamani.

In a crypt beneath, Zafar’s grave is strewn with rose petals and other flowers.

A long chandelier hangs above, while paintings of him hang on the walls. There is a mosque next door.

The dargah or shrine has become a pilgrimage site for Yangon’s Muslim population.

“People from all walks of life come to the dargah because he’s considered a Sufi saint,” says Al-Haj U Aye Lwin, treasurer of the management board of the Bahadur Shah Zafar Mausoleum.

“They come to meditate and pray near his grave. When people’s wishes are fulfilled they donate money and other things.”

Zafar is particularly remembered for his mystical work in Urdu. His ghazals about life and love are famous and often sung or read out in Yangon’s mushairas, gatherings at which Urdu poetry is recited.

Banned from using pen or paper, he is said to have written in charcoal on the walls that confined him. A few of the poems attributed to him have been reproduced in the mausoleum.

As an emperor, Zafar did not command an army but he became the symbolic head of a revolt which united both Muslims and Hindus. Historians point out that thousands of soldiers from both religions came together to rebel against their British officers in support of restoring Mughal rule.

This year, 2017, is the 160th anniversary of the uprising but it is barely being marked, whether in India or elsewhere.

At a time when nationalism and fundamentalism are on the rise, historians say Zafar’s religious tolerance remains relevant to this day.

He may have lost his title and dynasty. But he succeeded in conquering hearts and lives on as a Sufi saint and mystical poet.

To read the full article and to see the interesting pictures :

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41884390

Gentbrugge – Gent ‘City Pavillion’

Gentbrugge Schooldreef
28 October 2017


Gentbrugge Schooldreef
Tram 2 to Zwijnaarde

Gentbrugge Schooldreef
Tram 2 to Zwijnaarde

Gent ‘City Pavillion’
Voem – Rohingya
28 October 2017

Zen Buddhist Frank and Voem’s Ann

Pictures of Rohingya refugees
Turkish delegation

On the left Bangladeshi man who visited the refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar 

To see all my pictures:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/12445197@N05/

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

The Indian Express – Rohingya Muslims crisis: ‘Guru ka langar’ begins at Bangladesh-Myanmar border, target 35,000 meals per day

On the first day of the langar, Sikh volunteers served cooked rice and vegetables

Divya Goyal

Ludhiana, 14 September 2017. Three days after Sikh volunteers from Khalsa Aid (India) arrived at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border to begin relief work for Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, they finally got the go ahead from the Bangladesh government to start ‘Guru ka langar’ (community kitchen preparing and serving fresh hot meals) on Thursday.

The Khalsa Aid team, which is camping in the border town of Teknaf, told The Indian Express that the Bangladesh government finally gave all the clearances and permissions required to serve meals to the refugees. The team was initially distributing packed food items and water to the refugees.

On Thursday, the langar sewa began at a spot on Shahpuri Island where the refugees from Myanmar are landing after traveling for days in rickety boats.

Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone, Amarpreet Singh, managing director, India for Khalsa Aid, said, “We cooked and served the first langar meals here today. We had purchased raw materials like rice, vegetables and big utensils on Wednesday after getting required permissions from the government of Bangladesh.

The initial target is at least 35,000 meals per day. However seeing the increasing number of refugees here, we know it won’t be enough to feed all but we had to start somewhere.”

Seeing the ‘miserable state’ of the refugees, especially children who haven’t eaten for days, it was difficult for the team to decide from where langar should start, he added.

“We feared that there might be a stampede seeing food being served here. There are at least 3 lakh refugees here already. But a beginning had to be made though we cannot feed everyone here in a single day. People are in dire need of food here. Children are roaming and begging on roads for food. The condition continues to be miserable,” he said.

On the first day of the langar, Sikh volunteers served cooked rice and vegetables.

However, starting the community kitchen and making all preparations in the border town of Bangladesh, which continues to be flooded with Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, wasn’t easy as the team initially faced some hiccups.

“We went to local markets to purchase utensils and raw materials. But some shopkeepers inflated the rates and quoted double prices seeing that we are outsiders.

However many locals also helped us in making arrangements. We managed somehow. Attitude of the locals towards Rohingyas is varying at individual level. Some are really compassionate and trying to help them. They are even coming from far off areas to help them but then some are not. They are seeing them as burden on their country,” said Singh.

Before serving the meals, an ardaas (a prayer) was performed.

On Monday, The Indian Express first reported that a team of Sikh volunteers from India reached the Bangladesh-Myanmar border town Teknaf to start relief operations and provide food to the Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing Myanmar.

The team told The Indian Express that the “condition at the border was miserable to say the least” and that their first priority would be to “provide food” to as many persons as possible.

Meanwhile, the Khalsa Aid volunteers back home are organizing fundraisers for the langar sewa at Bangladesh border. Gursahib Singh, a volunteer in Ludhiana said, “The langar there can continue only if we have requisite funds.

We request people to donate for the sake of humanity. Please forget about religion barriers and think about the children who are sleeping with empty stomachs. They are also humans.”

Rohingya Muslims crisis: ‘Guru ka langar’ begins at Bangladesh-Myanmar border, target 35,000 meals per day

The Hindu – India for safe return of Myanmar nationals, says Sushma Swaraj

Bangladesh has sought India’s ‘sustained pressures’ on Myanmar for its resolution of the Rohingya crisis

Haroon Habib

Dhaka, 22 October 2017. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday expressed deep concern at the spate of violence in Rakhine State of Myanmar and said India wanted the safe return of Rohingya to their homeland.

Ms Swaraj, who is in Dhaka on a two-day visit, was addressing a joint press conference after meeting Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A H Mahmood Ali.

“India is deeply concerned at the spate of violence in Rakhine State of Myanmar. We have urged that the situation be handled with restraint, keeping in mind the welfare of the population. It is clear that normalcy will only be restored with the return of the displaced persons,” she said.

The Minister, however, did not use the word “Rohingya” and only referred to “displaced persons from the Rakhine State”.

She said India also supports the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, headed by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The Commission has suggested a number of measures for a “peaceful, fair and prosperous future for the people of Rakhine”.

Ms Swaraj said the only long-term solution to the situation in Rakhine is rapid socio-economic and infrastructure development that would have a positive impact on all the communities living in the state.

India, for its part has committed to providing financial and technical assistance for specific projects to be undertaken in Rakhine in conjunction with the local authorities, she added.

Mr Mahmud Ali said Dhaka has urged India “to contribute towards exerting sustained pressure on Myanmar to find a peaceful solution to the crisis including the sustainable return of all Rohingya to their homeland”.

Though the Minister was in Dhaka for the India-Bangladesh Joint Consultative Commission meeting, the Rohingya issue dominated talks as the crisis took a new turn, with more than half a million of them entering Bangladesh since August 25, fleeing ethnic cleansing.

Bangladesh has been seeking international support, including from India, for their safe return.

The Bangladesh Foreign Minister thanked India for its support and said India is “our most important, trusted and friendly neighbour”. He added that the relations now stand on a “historic new height” due to initiatives taken across sectors.

Attaching the “utmost importance” to its relations with Bangladesh, Ms Swaraj said, “Our relations are based on fraternal ties and are reflective of an all-encompassing partnership based on sovereignty, equality, trust and understanding that goes far beyond a strategic partnership”.

“India has always stepped in to assist Bangladesh in times of need,” she said recalling the 1971 war of independence when the Indian army shed blood with Bangladeshis to liberate the country.

The India-Bangladesh meeting, which was co-chaired by Sushma Swaraj and her Bangladesh counterpart, reviewed cooperation in countering terrorism and extremism with both side vowing to maintain zero tolerance to terrorism and extremism.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Ali said both reiterated their commitment “not to allow use of our soils against each other’s interest”.

Teesta sharing

The pending Teesta water sharing issue was also discussed, with Mr Ali recalling the statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April during Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India that the Teesta agreement would be signed during the current tenure of the two Prime Ministers.

Both ministers also witnessed the signing of three bilateral documents which include capacity building in SMEs, sale-purchase agreement between Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation and Numaligarh Refinery of India.

Ms Swaraj also met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Leader of the Opposition Raushan Ershad and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia on Sunday.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/return-of-displaced-persons-can-restore-normalcy-in-myanmar-swaraj/article19901490.ece?homepage=true

BBC News – Myanmar Muslims fear further ‘turning of the tide’

Anbarasan Ethirajan, BBC News

Yangon, 16 October 2017. For Tun Kyi, Myanmar is home. He was born and brought up in the country and, like thousands of other Burmese, he was also protesting in the streets for democracy during the military junta’s rule. He spent 10 years in prison.

Today, he is playing an active role in the Former Political Prisoners Society of Myanmar. He was one of those Muslims who hoped the community would get its rightful place in society after the end of military rule in 2010.

“The situation changed after the violence in Rakhine state in 2012,” he said. “The tide is not just against Rohingya Muslims but also against the Muslim community as a whole.”

Mr Kyi’s ancestors migrated from India to Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma, generations ago.

The clashes between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in western Rakhine state in 2012 drove 140,000 people out of their homes. Most of those displaced, particularly Rohingya Muslims, ended up seeking refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

I was invited to a mosque in Yangon during Friday prayers. Hundreds of men, many wearing their Islamic caps, were streaming in and getting ready for prayers.

The discussions I had with some of the worshippers reflected a sense of uneasiness among the community following the latest round of violence in Rakhine.

The violence was triggered after Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa), a Rohingya Muslim militant group, launched simultaneous attacks on Myanmar security check posts in the region on 25 August. The Myanmar military swiftly launched what it described as counter-terrorism operations.

More than half-a-million Rohingya Muslims have since fled the violence, bringing with them reports of rape and extra-judicial killings.

Senior UN officials and human rights groups have described the exodus of Rohingya Muslims as “ethnic cleansing”- a charge vehemently denied by the government of Myanmar.

“The problem there in Rakhine state is terrible,” says worshipper Muhammad Yunus. “There are concerns that the violence may spill over to Yangon and other places.”

He says that Muslims in other parts of the country are very careful about what they say and do in their day-to-day affairs.

“There are people who were born and raised in Rakhine state now living in Yangon,” says Mr Yunus. “They are worried about their family members and relatives back home.”

Senior UN officials and human rights groups have described the exodus of Rohingya Muslims as “ethnic cleansing”- a charge vehemently denied by the government of Myanmar.

“The problem there in Rakhine state is terrible,” says worshipper Muhammad Yunus. “There are concerns that the violence may spill over to Yangon and other places.”

He says that Muslims in other parts of the country are very careful about what they say and do in their day-to-day affairs.

“There are people who were born and raised in Rakhine state now living in Yangon,” says Mr Yunus. “They are worried about their family members and relatives back home.”

The elections in 2015 brought Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power, but even the NLD did not field any Muslim candidates.

“We feel that we are being discriminated against in every way, you name it,” says Al-Haj U Aye Lwin, the chief convener of the Islamic Centre of Myanmar.

He says that has been the case since 1962 – when the military seized power – and Muslims have been weeded out from important government positions.

“Now you don’t find even one junior [Muslim] officer in the police force, let alone the army,” says Mr Lwin. He argues that the discrimination mainly emanates from the government and is not so widespread at grassroots level.

Mr Lwin is one of the members of an Independent Advisory Commission, headed by the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to find solutions to the conflict in Rakhine state.

The commission was set up by Ms Suu Kyi in 2016. It submitted its recommendations on 24 August – a day before the latest round of violence started.

Mr Lwin says Ms Suu Kyi may not be perfect, but “she is our only hope”. He argues that the state counsellor has done whatever she could to solve the Rohingya issue.

“If she comes out openly and started to speak for the Muslims, it will be a political suicide for her,” he says. “We don’t want that to happen.”

He warns that the West should understand that if she is discredited and removed from power, Myanmar risks a return to authoritarian rule.

“Only the dictators will come back,” he cautions.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41587478

The Hindustan Times – Supreme Court says human rights of Rohingya refugees cannot be ignored

The top court set the next date of hearing for November 21, and asked petitioners to approach it in case the government begins any deportation exercise.

New Delhi, 13 October 2017. The Supreme Court on Friday said that problem of Rohingya refugees is of a “great magnitude”. However, there is a need to strike a “right balance” to address concerns of national security that might arise due to their stay, it said.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was about to issue a directive to the Centre not to deport Rohingya refugees but was stopped by additional solicitor general, Tushar Mehta, who said an order of this kind would embarrass the government on international fora.

The bench fixed November 21 to give a detailed and a holistic hearing on the petitions filed against the government’s decision to deport Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar.

At the request of senior counsel, appearing for representatives from the community, social activists and NGOs, the bench gave them liberty to approach it in case any contingency arose during the intervening period.

“It is a large issue. An issue of great magnitude. Therefore, the state has a big role. The role of the state in such a situation has to be multipronged,” the bench said.

Mehta was told that the government should not be oblivious to the plight of children and women. “They do not know anything. We expect the executive will not be oblivious to their condition. Do not deport them. You take action if something wrong is found,” the bench said.

On behalf of the petitioners, senior advocate Fali S Nariman said that all Rohingyas, be they Muslims or Hindus, are not terrorists as the government has stamped them to be. “It (Centre) cannot pass a blanket order like this,” he submitted.

The bench felt the government’s concern over national security, too, cannot be ignored. “There is no iota of doubt that a humanitarian issue is involved but national interest has to be kept in mind,” said the judges.

They also emphasised that the court will go by the letter of the law and not get swayed by the “emotional arguments” offered by the two sides.

Centre should deal with migration: MHA

The ministry of home affairs (MHA) said the issue of Rohingya migration had to be “dealt with only by the Central government” as it is an executive function of the government.

“The central government is of the opinion that deportation of illegal immigrants has to be dealt with only by the central government because it is essentially an executive function of the government,” said an MHA spokesperson after the hearing.

The spokesperson added that the apex court had not stayed the deportation of Rohingyas.

“No interim order has been granted. The SC has merely recorded the statement of the learned counsel for the petitioner to the effect that in case of any contingency he can move the court for appropriate interim order.”

http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/human-rights-of-rohingya-refugees-cannot-be-ignored-says-supreme-court/story-P1QnPPLgdQdzsQPOWkwH9M.html

The Statesman – Aung San Suu Kyi calls for speedy rehabilitation measures in Rakhine

Yangon, 12 October 2017.

Myanmar’s de factor leader Aung San Suu Kyi has called for speeding up measures for humanitarian aid, rehabilitation, resettlement and development in the conflict-torn Rakhine state.

Citing Myanmar News Agency, Xinhua reported on Thursday that at a coordination meeting held at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center in Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday, Suu Kyi laid down the priorities for the government for effective implementation of the measures.

The move came one day after the government organised a trip of ambassadors of five neighbouring countries to conflicted areas of Rakhine state, led by Minister for the Office of the State Counselor U Kyaw Tint Swe.

Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu also said the government is pushing for the implementation of the tasks of rehabilitation in three areas, compilation of list, food supply for refugees and improvement of communication and transport.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched fresh attacks on police outposts in Rakhine on August 25, displacing residents from a number of areas in Maungdaw district.

http://www.thestatesman.com/world/suu-kyi-calls-speedy-rehabilitation-measures-rakhine-1502509693.html

The Hindu – Doklam, Rohingya issue to be examined by parliamentary panel

New Delhi-India, 11 October 2017. The 73-day Doklam standoff and the Rohingya issue will be examined by the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. The panel, which also includes Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, will deliberate on a number of key foreign policy issues next month, one of its members said.

Sino-Indian relations, including the border situation and the Doklam stand-off, relations with Myanmar and the Rohingya issue are among subjects selected by the panel for deliberations, according to the Lok Sabha bulletin.

Voting rights to NRIs, the crisis of the European Union in the wake of Brexit and its implications for India and performance of passport issuance system including issuance of e-passport are topics for discussions shortlisted by the panel for its year—long agenda.

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar had in July briefed the panel on the Doklam stand-off.

India and China had in August struck a deal to pull back from their most serious face-off in two decades. The development had come a week before the BRICS summit in China which was attended by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dokalam-rohingya-issue-to-be-examined-by-parliamentary-panel/article19835629.ece

The Statesman – Deport Rohingya Muslims, save Hindus: VHP

New Delhi, 27 September 2017. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on Wednesday urged the Narendra Modi government to deport Rohingya Muslims but grant refugee status to Rohingya Hindus and provide them a “secure and blissful life in India”.

The VHP’s International Joint General Secretary Surendra Kumar Jain said in a statement that Rohingya Hindus need to be seen in a different light from the Rohingya Muslims, who he alleged were “indulging in terrorist activities”.

“To handle the Muslim Rohingyas, the policy of ‘no more newcomers, oust the existing ones’ needs to be implemented,” he said.

He claimed that Rakhine’s Rohingya Hindus don’t want Indian citizenship but are ready to relocate to any Hindu or Buddhist majority area in Myanmar.

“It is the government’s moral and constitutional responsibility to grant them refugee status and provide a secure and blissful life in India,” he said.

“VHP also appeals to the central government to pressurise the Bangladesh government to provide security to the Rakhine Rohingya Hindus. The central government should appeal to the Myanmar government to relocate and settle the Rohingya Hindus to a safe place,” the statement added.

Jain said that a VHP delegation will meet the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as well as the envoys of Myanmar and Bangladesh to request them to take quick action for the security of Rohingya Hindus.

http://www.thestatesman.com/india/deport-rohingya-muslims-save-hindus-vhp-1502500812.html