hunger strike intensifies
Dhaka, 18th March 03: The hunger strike staged by Burmese
refugees at the Refugees’ Counselling Services Unit
(RCSU) of Ahsania Mission, which facilitates refugee
services for the local UNHCR in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, has reached its
11th day today. Three of
the one hundred non-Muslim Burmese refugees who demanded the monthly
subsistence allowance instead of the recent distribution of small lump sum
grants as seed money to start self-employment initiated the strike. On 13th two more Burmese refugees joined the
three hunger strikers.
On inquiry about the present stalemate, the chairman of the Committee for
Burmese Refugees (CBR) said that the Burmese refugees in Dhaka
are facing hardship without proper food and shelter. The hunger strikers
have also been forced out of the RCSU office premises onto the streets.
There they are exposed to rain and sun besides the bite of the swarms of
mosquitoes by night.
“Their physical condition of the strikers is deteriorating. If the
problem should continue and any untoward accident should happen though they
have been given medical shots by the RCSU appointed doctor, we are going for a
bigger and serious confrontation,” said the chairman of CBR.
A refugee woman, Maik Maik
San 22, ID 01099, a woman of Rakhine ethnicity,
hailing from Taung-bwe
Village under Kyauktaw Township
on the western bank of the Kaladan
River, has told Narinjara
how she has been confronting difficulty at home and outside it, till now.
In an informal conversation she said that she had to leave Burma because her
entire family had been subjected to forced labour and
treated as outcast because her father had been an opposition activist whose
whereabouts the family never knew. The members of the Burmese Army would
come and ask for forced labour for days end.
The army did neither give food or medicine to the labourers.
She herself saw how the army personnel would come and demand girls from the
villages as ‘rice cooks’. In an incident she could vividly recall her
elder sister one day brought a ‘small knife’ not fit for jungle clearing.
It was because the family even could not afford to buy a knife big enough for
use in jungle clearing. At that moment she said, ”a
soldier forcefully took the small knife from her and inflicted a deep cut on her
hand with the same, throwing the knife into the nearby Kaladan River.”
For teenager girls there was always the danger of being ‘demanded’ from
respective guardians for ‘forcefully marrying’ the girls. If rejected the soldiers often raped the person. One
teenager, Miss U May Than 18, of the same village was
one day proposed to be given in marriage to a Burmese soldier. When the
father of the girl rejected the proposal the soldier instantly bound the man
with ropes and mercilessly beat him up. The daughter fled the scene, and Maik Maik did not know where she
Shortly after the incident fourteen girls including Maik
Maik left the village with her uncle in the deep of
the night, heading towards the border. Two days and three nights later
they ended up at Parva the village in India
where the borders of Burma,
Bangladesh and India
meet. On the way they crossed a number of villages and all the villagers
helped them by warning them where the Burmese army camps were. There they
stayed by scrapping the jungles for anything to eat, including wild taros and
yams. Many served as housemaids in the villagers’ households.
Slowly the number of Burmese refugees rose to more than one hundred
families. As the village could not offer the subsistence for them they
were later forced to leave and cross into Bangladesh.
While in Bangladesh
they also faced the challenge of survival. Though she has been recognized
as a legal Burmese refugee by the UNHCR, and she has been given monthly
subsistence allowance, at present she is facing another problem: cut down of
the subsistence allowance and offer of seed money in the form of a lump sum
grant to start a small business. “Without proper language skill, and a
society not-so-friendly to women, it is impossible for a woman to struggle for
her subsistence in Bangladesh.
In this situation there is no other way than transferring us to a friendly
democratic country in the free world where we can be given proper training for
earning a livelihood. Without that I see no other solution,” she said.
Worse are the newly arrived refugees who have to wait for months or years to be
recognized as Burmese refugees by the UNHCR. Without proper language
skill and necessary papers they have to hide in the deep jungles of the Chittagong Hills and the border areas. “They even do
not know that there is a UNHCR that takes care of the illegal refugee issues,”
There are now over one thousand old men, women, children and teenager Rakhine Burmese refugees living in the border areas forgotten by the world at large and the country of
exile. “UNHCR has not either recognized the newly arrived refugees or has
taken up a protracted policy of recognition both
of which have made the life of the Rakhine refugees
miserable,” said the chairman of CBR.
“The delay in the process of recognition is rather painful and the NGOs and
philanthropic bodies and Embassies of the free world should have sympathy upon
us. We want to convey to all concerned people that we have come here by
escaping the wreath and inhuman violations of civil rights by one of the
cruelest juntas in the world the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC)”, concluded Paw Lin, chairman CBR. #