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Mohammed Salim, hoping to be able to bring his family to Australia

Unwanted Burma 'Ogres' Now Aim for Australia

Sunday, May 5, 2013
News Analysis

PHUKET: Australia is the new destination of choice for some captive boatpeople in Thailand after the surprise appearance this week of an adventurous young Rohingya refugee from Adelaide.

Mohammed Salim, who carries international travel documents and a UNHCR card, has flown from Australia to be reunited with his mother and three brothers at a Thai government family care centre north of Phuket.

His aim: to bring them back to Adelaide in South Australia, where he is a student, as soon as possible.

Mohammed's ambition is likely to be successful, according to Thailand's Immigration Bureau chief, Major General Panu Kerdlabpon, who told Phuketwan when he was in Phuket this week that Mohammed's application needs to be made at government to government level.

Thailand has been looking for ''third countries'' willing to take Rohingya migrants and remains unsure about what to do with its 1934 captive boatpeople. Australia is an option for some.

Mohammed turned up this week at the refuge centre in Phang Nga, north of Phuket., where his mother and two of his brothers are being detained among 72 women and children, just one of many groups being held indefinitely in Thailand.

Another teenage brother is among mostly adult Rohingya men at the Phang Nga Immigration centre.

Mohammed told Phuketwan that he fled Burma by boat in 2003, spent seven years in Malaysia, then travelled via Indonesia to Australia where he spent 11 months in detention before being granted a refugee visa.

''My father and my older brother were 'lost' in the Buddhist violence in Sittwe last year,'' said Mohammed, 28. ''The rest of my family fled by boat. I want to bring them to Australia. It is better than Malaysia.''

A friend in Malaysia alerted Mohammed to the presence of his mother and brothers in the centre north of Phuket, where the appearance of every smartphone brings requests to make calls to Malaysia, Burma, or other countries.

Hundreds of Rohingya have been detained in Thailand since January when Thai officials realised that women and children were fleeing to sea for the first time with their menfolk because of ethnic cleansing in Burma's Rakhine state.

Their status and eventual fate remain undetermined. But none of them want to return to Burma, where they are treated as outcasts, denied citizenship and in danger of being killed by their Buddhist neighbors.

Chances of the Rohingya ever being recognised became slimmer this week with the release of an official Burmese government report investigating the violence in Rakhine state in which about 200 people were killed and more than 8000 homes burned.

The report referred to Rohingya throughout as ''Bengalis.'' The report added weight to the widening impression that racism, encouraged under the decades-long rule of the military, has been allowed to flourish openly under new freedoms. Long-suppressed intolerance has become violence.

Even democracy icon and Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has been shown to be locked into a racist outlook.

A spokesperson for the once highly-regarded opposition leader said this week: ''She believes, in Burma, there is no Rohingya ethnic group. It is a made-up name of the Bengali. So she can't say anything about Rohingya. But there is international pressure for her to speak about Rohingya. It's a problem.''

Even if the centuries of Rohingya living in Burma is denied by seemingly intelligent people, their treatment remains, as Human Rights Watch concluded days before the contradictory official Burmese government report, ''a crime against humanity.''

Back in 2009, a Burmese envoy spoke about Rohingya being unwanted in Burma because they were ''ugly as ogres.'' ''You will see in the photos that their complexion is 'dark brown,''' he added, noting that the complexion of true Burmese is ''fair and soft, good-looking as well.''

Racism encouraged under the junta is simply expressed more openly these days through murder, rape and ethnic cleansing inside Burma.

So far Phuketwan has yet to find a single ogre among the men, women and children who have sought passage through Thailand to Malaysia because they fear certain death in Burma. We hope some of them make it to Australia.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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not sure why a a Thai government official deems it necessary to comment on a another country's immigration policy ... got little to do with Thailand and their "Pontious Pilot" attitude

Posted by david on May 5, 2013 13:25

Editor Comment:

He was responding to a question from Phuketwan and is under no restrictions on expressing his opinion about this specific case, or any other case.

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HOW CAN MOHAMAD SALIM EASILY REUNION WITH HIS FAMILY IN AUSTRALIA?

The time frame for detention period by Thai government is to be ended in July. I ardently asked Thailand in many occasion to allow UNHCR freely work of Rohingyas detainees.This is the main factor for UNHCR to get clear permission from the respective government.

First UNHCR should get full authority to get permission from the govt to interview the detainees and clarify to be refugee.

Secondly with the reference of UNHCR , Australia Embassy can easily issue travel document for Mohamed Salim family.
Thirdly, it is easy for Thai Authority to allow Immigration clearance for detainees refugees.
The whole process is depend on respective Thai authority . If they agree, all these 2000 Rohingya detanees including Salim's family members problem will be solved so smoothly.
So,this is my sincere request to every NGOs,civil society and Human Rights orgs to work unitedly for seeking permission from Thai Government regarding UNHCR full authority in Refugee determination cases.
This the only solution for Mohamad Salim family and other Rohingya detainees in Thailand.
The detainees gain clear mandate from UNHCR is the SOLUTION.

Let's focus our work to convince the respective Thai government first .
Thanks in advance,

Posted by Maung Kyaw Nu,President,Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand ,BRAT on May 5, 2013 17:35

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Australia has lots of room and is full of lovely tolerant well meaning people who will welcome the large amount of Rohingya Muslim refugees with open arms, will their boats be able to take them or will the Australian government possibly send a couple of ships to pick them and the other Rohingya refugees in the surrounding countries up lets just hope so for the Rohingya sake so they can keep their identity and traditions going from down under.

Posted by Scunner on May 5, 2013 18:30

Editor Comment:

Australia has been absorbing boatloads of people in need since 1788 and it's a positive economic indicator so there should be no problems.

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The Australian Government may have different ideas he's already entered that country illegally once already gets refugee status by the gracious Australian people this is not carte blanche to bring your whole extended family there, Im sure Thailand are more than pleased to export there problems elsewhere.

Posted by slickmelb on May 5, 2013 18:31

Editor Comment:

Doesn't Australia have unrivaled prosperity, or are its politicians distorting the truth? Certainly, Australia should continue to embrace real refugees. They've accepted this man as a real refugee. Now his family, with two members 'lost' in the violence, are clearly also real refugees. But it's Burma - and Burma alone - that's ''exporting the problem''. What a shame the world ignores it.

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When there is war against muslims, fellow muslims around the world call to arms. Indonesian nutcase Bashir has called for jeehad against Burmese Buddhists so why when there are desperate people like this do muslim countries not open their arms to help?
No it's much easier to send them to a rich country full of infidels that they hate to bludge off. Pathetic.

Posted by Peter on May 5, 2013 19:22

Editor Comment:

Your comment is as extremist and ignorant as anything Bashir has said.
Since when has religion been the determining factor in providing help to those in need?
Are Indonesia and Malaysia fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? really?

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if the thais will let them out for a couple of hours there welcome to state their case at the Australian Embassy its not free for all whom say refugee as thousands do that many tell mistruths
even conceal there true identitys & are refused, every application is a case by case basis on its merit Australia carries a heavy load on refugee entry few other countries seem to be chipping in.

Posted by slickmelb on May 6, 2013 03:40

Editor Comment:

I am not persuaded that Australia ''carries a heavy load'' on refugee entry. As the richest and most prosperous nation in the region, it should lead by example. Australia's best course of action would be to call on Burma to change its racist ways and halt the ethnic cleansing. Very little appears to be being done, so the exodus by people who are being forced out from Burma continues. It's a horror story.

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The last thing Australia needs is more Muslims. What about Indonesia or the Maledives?

The Rohingya language is closely related to Bengali and Bangladesh is where the Rohingyas belong; so there should be international pressure on Bangladesh to give them a secure life there.

Posted by Swami K. on May 6, 2013 15:29

Editor Comment:

Why are so many people content to overlook ethnic cleansing? Burma is the problem, not Bangladesh. The Rohingya home for centuries has been Burma - although living among racists must be like being stuck on a train in Sydney or Melbourne forever. What Australia needs is more tolerance.

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It's staggering to see how many people seem to totally disregard one of the cornerstones of Human Rights Declaration:

Freedom of Religion

Countless people, even from so called civilized nations, seem to advocate religious segregation, as if history was not already littered with examples of horrific consequences resulting from such attempts.

Where someone's ancestors came from centuries ago is utterly irrelevant. Rohingya are citizens of Burma (Myanmar). A passport is not about ethnicity.

Where does all this intolerance and drive for segregation suddenly come from ?

Rohingya need to be provided a safe place to stay and live until pressure, which is desperately lacking, is successfully applied to the Government and people of Burma to ensure a safe home for them to return to.

After the euphoria of Anug San Suu Kui being freed, the ugly racist side of the Burmese majority is coming to light and makes me seriously wonder if the Nobel Peace Price was bestowed on a person quite undeserving.

She's hailed as the hero of the oppressed, of those who can't fight for themselves.

Her silence on the Rohingya issue is deafening.

Posted by Stephen on May 6, 2013 16:35

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Ed how can you not be persuaded that Australia carries a heavy load and doing more than its fair share on refugee issues
heres the aussie news
THE arrivals of almost 900 asylum seekers in the first four days of May have pushed Christmas Island beyond capacity Another eight mainland detention centres are overcrowded, after the occupants of boats which have sailed reached close to the Northern Territory in recent days were taken to Darwin centres.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison claimed the blowout in costs over the forward estimates if arrivals continued at the current rate would be $5 billion.

Posted by slickmelb on May 6, 2013 20:32

Editor Comment:

That sounds like Singapore's argument, slickmelb: 'We're such a smaaaall island, every square foot is full.' Give me a break. Racism is what's driving Australia's politics, just as it's driving Burma's politics.

Taking more immigrants is not popular, but it just happens to be the right thing to do. It's universally true that people who are prosperous become complacent and greedy. Sitting on a sofa watching cooking shows and singing contests is considered to be social awareness these days.

Build it, and they will come. And Australians will be moral instead of mercenary.

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I think it is unfair to talk racism of Australia. It is more like what does Australia need to stay safe and sound with billions of people just some islands away. So they want to stay strong and want to attract the right people. Like millionaires, as the idea goes, who is rich will bring a lot to the table and not eat off it. http://t.co/3iLOebmkkG

And for all, who argue that |fellow| muslim countries should take the refugees, not even the Palestine refugees after 60+ years are welcome in Libanon or Jordan. Still living in makeshift made permanent refugee camps.

Posted by Lena on May 7, 2013 02:08

Editor Comment:

There are probably more non-racists than racists in Australia but several recent incidents filmed on public transport in Melbourne and Sydney have shocked many. Boatpeople are in danger of being repelled by both major parties.


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