Narinjara News

Burmese refugees’ 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 had gone.

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,” she said. 

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.  #