Publishing Refugee Photography.

 

Image by Muhammed  Shaker.

The book ‘Life in a Rohingya Refugee Camp’ is finally on sale at Amazon.  There are two more books in the pipeline, one by the award winning Mohammed Salim Khan and another by an equally good photographer Muhammed Shaker.   You might ask, why is it important to record the works of these refugees.? It has come to my attention that very few people actually know what life is like in the refugee camps.  We imagine, or we are told,  these are places of ‘refuge’ from harm. The people in these camps have lost everything, many lost their lives trying to escape the tyranny of unscrupulous leaders and governments. The camps should be a refuge. We might not expect life in the camps to be as comfortable as being in one’s own home, but what is not expected by the general public is the reality that refugee camps are actually a form of imprisonment and they are brutal. They would be better viewed as concentration camps. Refugees face beatings, humiliation, racism and many other forms of abuse.  None of the refugees are given any legal status, they have no freedom of movement, they are displaced persons and, for the most part, they are unwanted and continue to be persecuted for their misfortunes.   Refugees are not criminals, but they are treated as such.  As a consequence the camps frequently become places of rebellion and crime.  It amazes me how many people survive and still strive to gain some achievements, but they do. It is not possible to normalize life in the camps, but residents do their best to focus on positive goals. They have too, otherwise they don’t survive.  This is particularly important for the children.  There are more refugee children than there are adults and the way refugees are treated, regardless of age, has an ongoing impact on later life.  The real affect of this brutality will be felt, not by this generation, but by the next one and for generations to come.  The psychological damage caused by wars and displacement is barely mentioned above the need to know who is winning. No one wins wars.   Children who are born and grow up in the camps suffer the most because they know no other way of living. How are they meant to adapt to the outside world.? Most are not being properly educated, they are not fed a nutritional diet.  Many are sick, undernourished and mentally and physically distraught.  These young people are forced to live a kind of tribal existence, where everyone must fend for themselves or join gangs.   Most will have no idea of life in a truly modern society. Thankfully social media has created some opportunity for contact with outsiders.  Still,  what must be considered is the overall problem of the increasing numbers of refugees across the world. There are over 84, million and still rising.  The United Nations High Commisison for Refugees (UNHCR) is falling apart. donors are lacking and according to an ABC Four Corners report the institution is riddled with corruption.  Who will pay the real price for this?  Refugees?  Actually, we will all be impacted by this bitter and heinous neglect.   The  only humane way to deal with this current problem and the impending disaster, is to get rid of the refugee camps and for countries to open their borders to refugees; give them a home and allow them to work and contribute towards the world’s economies.  WE MUST OPEN ALL BORDERS TO ALL PEOPLE AND PROVIDE THE OPPORTUNITIES THE WEST HAS ENJOYED TO EVERYONE. WE ARE ALL ONE PEOPLE, ONE HUMANITY.

About my forthcoming book.

                                           Coming soon in Kindle and paperback.

The Rohingya.

The Rohingya people are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group who predominantly follow Islam [i]  They come from the Rakhine State in Myanmar (previously known as Burma).  In 2017, an estimated 1.4 million Rohingya lived in Myanmar and over 740,000 fled to Bangladesh due to persecution and genocide. Under the 1982 Myanmar legislation the Rohingya are denied citizenship.[ii]  Restrictions were also were put on freedom of movement, including access to state education and civil service jobs.  The legal conditions faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar have been compared to apartheid[iii]  The most recent mass displacement of Rohingya in 2017 led the International Criminal Court investigating crimes against humanity, and led to the International Court of Justice investigating genocide.[iv]    

The modern term Rohingya emerged from colonial and pre-colonial terms Rooinga and Rwangya. The usage of the term Rohingya has been historically documented prior to the British Raj and the Rohingya were long regarded as one of the native groups of the Arakan. The Rohingya were also called Chittagonians during the British colonial rule, and sometimes they were referred to as Bengalis. In the 1950s the Rohingya appeared to be a political movement living as autonomous Muslims in Arakan (or Rakhine).  In the 2014 census, the Myanmar government forced the Rohingya to identify themselves as Bengali. This was seen as a loss of identity as well as a loss of citizenship and Human Rights.[v]

According to Burmese history the Rohingya have lived in Arakan since 3000 BCE. By the 4th century, Arakan became one of the earliest kingdoms in Southeast Asia to adopt an Indian culture. Sanskrit inscriptions in the region reveal that the founders of the first Arakanese states were culturally Indian. The Burmese did not settle in the region until much later.[vi]

Arakan is located on the Bay of Bengal in a strategic geographical position for maritime trade. Records show that the Arab merchants had been crossing the Bay of Bengal to reach the Rohingya since the ninth century. The Rohingya trace their history to this period. It is believed to be Arab traders who converted the Buddhist population of Arakan to Islam so they could marry Arakan women. Due to marriage and conversion the Muslim population grew. When and how the Rohingya became Muslim is highly contested by Buddhist factions who do not recognise the Rohingya’s claim to their lands and ancestry.   

The British census of 1872 reported 58,255 Muslims in Akyab District. By 1911, the Muslim population had increased to 178,647. The waves of migration were primarily due to the requirement of cheap labour from British India to work in the paddy fields. Immigrants from Bengal, mainly from the Chittagong region, “moved en-masse into western townships of Arakan”. Albeit, Indian immigration to Burma was a nationwide phenomenon, not just restricted to Arakan.[vii] For these reasons historians believed that most Rohingyas arrived with the British colonialists in the 19th and 20th centuries with some tracing their ancestry much earlier.[viii]    

At the beginning of the 20th century, Indians were arriving in Burma at the rate of no less than a quarter million per year. The numbers rose steadily until the peak year of 1927, immigration reached 480,000 people, with Rangoon exceeding New York City as the greatest immigration port in the world. This was out of a total population of only 13 million; it was equivalent to the United Kingdom today taking 2 million people a year. By then, in most of the largest cities in Burma, Rangoon, Akyab, Bassein and Moulmein, had Indian immigrants. [ix]  All of Burma was officially a Province within the British Indian Empire (‘the Raj’) from November 1885 until 1937, when Burma became a separate Crown colony within the British Empire. The impact of immigration was felt mostly in Arakan and the Arakanese bitterly resented the colonials.   According to historian Clive J. Christie, “The issue became a focus for grass-roots Burmese nationalism, and in the years 1930–31 there were serious anti-Indian disturbances in Lower Burma, while 1938 saw riots specifically directed against the Indian Muslim community”. [x]As Burmese nationalism increasingly asserted itself before the Second World War, the ‘alien’ Indian presence inevitably came under attack, along with the religion that the Indian Muslims imported. The Muslims of northern Arakan were to be caught in the middle of the conflict.[xi]

In the 1931 census, the Muslim population of Burma was 584,839, 4% of the total population of 14,647,470 at the time. 396,504 were Indian Muslims and 1,474 Chinese Muslims, while 186,861 were Burmese Muslims. The census found a growth in the number of Indian Muslims born in Burma, primarily due to their permanent settlement in Akyab. 41% of Muslims of Burma lived in Arakan at that time. Due to the terrain of the Arakan Mountains. The Arakan region was mountainous and mostly accessible by sea.   In the British Arakan Division, a ferry in the port of Akyab provided services for trade alongside the ports of Rangoon, Chittagong, Narayanganj, Dacca and Calcutta. Akyab was one of the leading rice ports in the world trading with  Europe and China. Many Indians settled in Akyab and dominated its seaport and hinterland. The 1931 census found 500,000 Indians living in Akyab. [xii]  

      During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) invaded British-controlled Burma. The British forces retreated and inter-communal violence erupted between Arakanese and Muslim villagers. The British armed Muslims in northern Arakan created a buffer zone that would protect the region from a Japanese invasion when they retreated. The period also witnessed violence between groups loyal to the British and the Burmese nationalists. The Arakan massacres in 1942 involved communal violence between British-armed V Force Rohingya recruits and pro-Japanese Rakhines, polarising the region along ethnic lines.  [xiii]Tensions were strong in Arakan before the war erupted, during the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia, Arakan became the frontline in the conflict.[xiv]    Failure of a British counter-offensive, attempted from December 1942 to April 1943, resulted in the abandonment of even more of the Muslim population as well as an increase in inter-communal violence.[xv] Hostility developed between the Muslims and the Buddhists who had brought about a similar hostility in other parts of Burma. This tension increased with the retreat of the British. With the approach of the Japanese into Arakan, the Buddhists instigated cruel measures against the Muslims. Thousands of Muslims were persecuted and killed, the exact number is unknown. Many Muslims fled from the Buddhist-majority regions to eastern Bengal and northern Arakan with many more dying of starvation. The Muslims in response conducted retaliatory raids from British-controlled areas.   As a consequence of acquiring arms from the British during World War II, the Rohingyas tried to destroy the Arakanese villages.[xvi]   Hundreds of Muslims fled to northern Arakan. In March 1942, Rohingyas from northern Arakan killed around 20,000 Arakanese. In return, around 5,000 Muslims in the Minbya and Mrauk-U Townships were killed by Rakhines and Red Karens.  During this period, some 22,000 Muslims in Arakan were believed to have crossed the border into Bengal, then part of British India, to escape the violence.  The exodus was not restricted to Muslims in Arakan. Thousands of Burmese Indians, Anglo-Burmese and British who settled during the colonial period emigrated to India.     

    The Rohingyas who were displaced by World War II and began to return to Arakan after the independence of Burma were rendered as illegal immigrants.  Many were not allowed to return.  Added to this, there were some 17,000 refugees from the Bangladesh liberation war who did return home. Following Burmese independence. On the 25 September 1954, the name Rohingya came into common usage when the then Prime Minister U Nu in his radio address to the nation talked about Rohingya Muslims’.  This use of the term ‘Rohingya’ is important because Myanmar denies the acceptance this name and calls the Rohingya ‘Bengali’. During the same time a separate administrative zone, May Yu was established comprising most of the present North Rakhine State, housing mostly the Rohingya.  As is the case with all borderland communities, there are Muslims on both sides of the borders. Those who are on Pakistan’s side are known as Pakistani while the Muslims on our Burmese side of the borders are referred to as ‘Rohingya’[xvii] took control of the country in 1962, the Rohingya have been systematically deprived of their political rights. [xviii] In 1962 military dictator General Ne Win, took over the government and started implementing a Nationalist agenda, which had its roots in racial division.  In 1978 military government launched operation, “Nagamin” to separate nationals from non-nationals. This was the first concerted large scale violent attack on Rohingya. National Registration Cards (NRC) were taken away by state actors never to be replaced. Violence that followed forced 200,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. Bangladesh denied Rohingya admission into her territory and blocked food rations leading to death of 12,000 refugees. After bilateral negotiations Rohingya were eventually repatriated. [xix]

In the prelude to independence, two Rohingyas were participants in the administration of government. During the 1951 Burmese general election, five Rohingyas were elected to the Parliament of Burma, including one of the country’s first two female MPs, Zura Begum. Six MPs were elected during the 1956 Burmese general election and subsequent by-elections. Sultan Mahmud, a former politician in British India, became Minister of Health in the cabinet of Prime Minister of Burma U Nu. In 1960, Mahmud suggested that either Rohingya-majority northern Arakan remain under the central government or be made a separate province. However, during the 1960 Burmese general election, Prime Minister U Nu’s pledges included making all of Arakan into one province. The 1962 Burmese coup d’état ended the country’s Westminster-style political system. The 1982 Burmese citizenship law stripped most of the Rohingyas of their citizenship.

Rohingya community leaders were supportive of the 8888 uprising for democracy. During the 1990 Burmese general election, the Rohingya-led National Democratic Party for Human Rights won four seats in the Burmese parliament. The four Rohingya MPs included Shamsul Anwarul Huq, Chit Lwin Ebrahim, Fazal Ahmed and Nur Ahmed. The election was won by the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was placed under house arrest and not permitted to become prime minister. The Burmese military junta banned the National Democratic Party and Rohingya politicians have been jailed and tortured. After the 2005 Rohingya were barred from elections.[xx] By 2017 the Rohingya had lost all rights.

Burmese military junta began persecuting the political opposition following Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory in the 1990 election.  In the earlier 1988 Uprising, military operations targeted Muslims who strongly favoured the pro-democracy movement which began in Arakan State. The Rohingya-led NDPHR political party was banned and its leaders were jailed. Suu Kyi herself was placed under house arrest by the junta led by General Than Shwe. As the Burmese military increased its operations across the country, the Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships in northern Arakan became centres of persecution. The 23rd and 24th regiments of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) were responsible for promoting forced labour, rape, the confiscation of houses, land and farm animals as well as the destruction of mosques. There was a ban on religious activities and the harassment of the religious priests.[xxi] An estimated 250,000 refugees crossed over into Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, the refugee influx was a challenge for the newly elected government of the country’s first female prime minister Khaleda Zia (who headed the first parliamentary government since 1975). Both Bangladesh and Burma mobilised thousands of troops along the border during a very tense crisis.[xxii]

After diplomatic negotiations, a repatriation agreement was put in place to allow the return of refugees to Burma under a UNHCR-supervised process.  In 1989, the junta officially changed the name of Burma to Myanmar. In the 1990s, the junta changed the name of the province of Arakan to Rakhine State.[xxiii]  The Rohingya were regarded as illegal immigrants”. [xxiv]

      The military junta that ruled Myanmar for half a century relied heavily on mixing   Burmese nationalism and Theravada Buddhism to bolster its rule. Successive Burmese governments have been accused of provoking riots led by Buddhist monks against ethnic minorities like the Rohingyas.  In the 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh. In the early 2000s, all but 20,000 of them were repatriated to Myanmar, some against their will. Under the 2008 constitution, the Myanmar military still control much of the country’s government, including the ministries of home, defence and border affairs, 25% of seats in parliament and one vice-president.

The 2012 Rakhine State riots were a series of conflicts between Rohingya Muslims who form the majority in the northern Rakhine and ethnic Rakhines who form the majority in the south.  There is evidence that the pogroms in 2012 were incited by the government asking the Rakhine men to defend their ‘race and religion’.[xxv] The Economist argued that since the transition to democracy in Burma in 2011, the military has been seeking to retain its privileged position, forming the motivation for it to encourage the riots in 2012 and allowing it to pose as the defender of Buddhism against Muslim Rohingya.[xxvi]  In 2015, to escape violence and persecution, thousands of Rohingyas migrated from Myanmar and Bangladesh, collectively dubbed as ‘boat people’ by international media.   They went to Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in unseaworthy vessels   across the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea.  An estimated 3,000 refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh were rescued or swam to shore and several thousand more were believed to have been trapped on boats at sea with little food or water.[xxvii]

Starting in early August 2017, the Myanmar security forces began moving against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state.    Rohingya militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked against several security forces’ outposts and the confrontation dramatically escalated killing thousands of Rohingya. Hundreds of thousands were driven out of Myanmar and into neighbouring Bangladesh.  The military claimed they were defending themselves in response to the ARSA attack. However, subsequent reports from various international organisations claim that the military carried out widespread and indiscriminate attacks on the Rohingya population that already taking place before the ARSA attacks. It was claimed that the aim was to ethnically cleanse the northern Rakhine state of Rohingya.[xxviii]   It is August 2018, study estimated that more than 24,000+ Rohingya people were killed by the Myanmar military and the local Buddhists during and since the ethnic cleansing began on started on 25 August 2017. The study also estimated that 18,000+ the Rohingya Muslim women and girls were raped, 116,000 Rohingya were beaten, 36,000 Rohingya were thrown into fires. [xxix]

      Rakhine state faced food shortages, and, starting in mid-August, the government cut off all food supply to the area. On 10 August, the military flew in another battalion of the military despite warnings from the resident United Nations Human Rights representative to Myanmar, who urged Myanmar authorities to show restraint. themselves.

The attacks on the Rohingya have been described as “clearance operations” (which, UN investigators and BBC reporters later determined, had actually begun much earlier with the burning of villages throughout northern Rakhine state.  Within the first three weeks, the military reported over 400 dead (whom it described as mostly “militants” and “terrorists”) the U.N. estimated over 1,000 dead (mostly civilians), and other sources initially suggested as many as 3,000—in the first four weeks of the reprisals.  However, in December 2017, following a detailed survey of Rohingya refugees, a humanitarian organisation serving refugees, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calculated that at least 6,700 Rohingya men, women and children were killed in the first month of the major attacks, including at least 750 children (that number later revised to “over 1,000”). MSF estimated that 69% were killed by gunshots, 9% were burnt to death (including 15% of children killed), and 5% beaten to death. However, MSF cautioned, “The numbers of deaths are likely to be an underestimation, as we have not surveyed all refugee settlements in Bangladesh and because the surveys don’t account for the families who never made it out of Myanmar.”

Refugees reported numerous civilians—including women and children—being indiscriminately beaten, raped, tortured, shot, hacked to death or burned alive. and whole villages being burnt down by authorities and Buddhist mobs. Human Rights Watch released satellite photos showing the villages burning, but the Myanmar government insisted the fires were lit by Rohingya, themselves, or specifically Rohingya militants.

The United Nations initially reported in early September 2017 that more than 120,000 Rohingya people had fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, by the 15 September, that number had surpassed 400,000 . The situation was expected to exacerbate the current refugee crisis as more than 400,000 Rohingya without citizenship were trapped in overcrowded camps and in conflict regions in Western Myanmar[xxx]. By the end of September 2017, UN, Bangladesh and other entities were reporting that—in addition to 200,000-300,000 Rohingya refugees already in Bangladesh after fleeing prior attacks in Myanmar, the current conflict, since late August 2017, had driven 500,000 more Rohingya from Myanmar into Bangladesh.[xxxi]  In November 2017 Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding for the return home of Rohingya refugees. In April 2018 the first group of Rohingya refugees returned to Myanmar from Bangladesh.[xxxii] The Myanmar military were subsequently brought before the International Court on charges of Crimes Against Humanity including ethnic cleansing. [xxxiii]

Bringing an end to refugee detention.

Every year the UNHCR hold a day of celebration called World Refugee Day. Every celebration is given a title. In 2021 the celebration was titled, “Together we, heal, learn and shine.” To celebrate the day the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh had a visit from the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Mr. Tahsan Khan who was there to open an intensive care unit and diagnostic services at the Sadar District Hospital, which was created with UNHCR funds. These services are undoubtedly needed, but a problem arises when International AID is provided to counties in exchange for temporary refuge because there is no incentive towards refugee resettlement. Indeed, the arrangement makes refugees the collateral for any future material developments, i.e., progress. As a consequence, some refugees have been in captivity for more than 30 years and their collateral status has simply grown and become more valuable for building a nation’s infrastructure. The bigger the camp, the more need for outside services. The regime is tantamount to human trafficking and slavery. Slavery, because the refugees have to maintain their own infrastructure within the camp.

The theme of the 2021 World Refugee Day was “together we heal, learn and shine”, it was a huge ask in an environment where people have a day-by-day struggle to survive. The aim to “heal, learn and shine” is all well and good, but we need to ask whose interests are really being served? In order to maintain this arrangement, the camp has to grow, this means more refugees are needed. More refugees will always be needed in order to secure funds for more outside infrastructure… This is how it works! It is a trade-off that most people appear to be happy with, except for the fact that refugees are never going to escape this system. Refugees will dwindle out and more will replace them. Refugees will never be truly free to build their own lives under this system.

In 2022, once again, another Refugee Day took place.  This time the public are asked to engage with Refugee Day and its new aspirations. We are asked to remember what has been achieved. What has been achieved? We can reflect of the fact that nothing has changed, refugees are still imprisoned in outrageous conditions. The controls in camps have tightened and the environment has become ever-more dangerous. The mental health of residents has deteriorated. Many health services are not free and most are not afordable. What has changed? No one can leave the camp without a pass. Close associations are watched by guards. Residents have to rely on charities for books and learning. The guards in their posts have nice bright uniforms and up-to-date weaponry while people are dying of treatable diseases and children risk injury from a lack of basic checks for health and safety. In 2022 a four-year-old child was buried alive under a landslide. Just a few weeks later two more children were buried alive during flooding. Remarkably, some people do “shine” because they still have faith in humanity and they are able to develop an extraordinary power of will. However, no one should have to live like this, it is systemic torture and against International Law.   Free refugees!

Apartheid.

Refugee camps are a system of segregation, This is apartheid.  No one in a refugee camp is permitted to move beyond the barbed wire fencing. Residents are faced with a life of entrapment as is revealed in the images contained in this book. There are smiles and tears in the images of residents, but none can fully appreciate the day-by-day hardship that can easily fall to despair. As a consequence, the camp has given rise to a host of very good photographers. The camera captures the life inside because it is the only way daily life can be revealed to the outside world.  What is shown will shock those who care about people and in particular those who care about Human Rights.  The pictures of children are often painful. Yet, at the same time, they will hopefully heighten the sensitivities to the needs of these prisoners.  No one can fail to be moved by the pictures of people clinging to the wire fences.  We are reminded of animals caged in zoos or perhaps a mass social experiment that has gone horribly wrong.

Some of the images show people trying to hurry passed guards for fear of being interrogated. Some are assaulted, beaten.  The fear is written of the faces on innocent bystanders who can neither do or say anything to stop the brutality of their friends. The outcome is one of misery, uncertainty and an inevitable high rate of mental health issues and suicides.

The Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar is mostly inhabited by Rohingya refugees who fled from ethnic cleansing, genocide and religious persecution in Myanmar. Two years ago, more than 730,000, mainly Muslim Rohingya escaped into neighbouring Bangladesh to avoid persecution in Myanmar. They arrived in Kutupalong where they joined 250,000 Rohingya who were already resident in the camp. In 2019 Myanmar agreed to allow 3,450 refugees to return to their homeland, but many refugees feared the ongoing violence and refused to go back. Today, refugees at Kutupalong are in constant fear of being sent back to their homeland to face more violence, but at the same time, they want to go back and are demanding that the international community protect them. The fact remains, these residents should have been resettled in countries where they could start a proper life and expect a good future.  Instead, within the camp, conditions are also becoming more violent. Refugees are facing an ever-more authoritarian regime and difficulties in meeting basic needs. This is resulting in serious mental health problems in some cases it is resulting in suicides.

Suicide and associated behaviours have a profound impact on individuals, families and communities. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 800,000 individuals die by suicide each year – the equivalent to one person every 40 seconds. Globally, the death by suicide rate is estimated to be approximately 11.05 deaths per 100,000 people. It is the second leading cause of death worldwide for young people aged 15‐29.  .  (Reuters Foundation Wednesday, 21 August 2019).

There are a limited number of studies that have examined suicide and related behaviours among displaced populations. A review of suicide in refugee populations found suicide rates to range from 3.4% to 34% of recorded deaths.  Studies done with refugee populations resettled in high income countries have shown increased risk of suicidal behaviours likely due to a combination of socioeconomic disadvantage, exposure to potentially traumatic events, the burden of mental disorders and lack of appropriate care. The disparity between rich and poor increases the likelihood of suicides.

Untreated health problems get transferred to wherever the sufferer goes. Those refugees who are fortunate enough to be resettled abroad incur ongoing mental difficulties. Affluent countries have an average suicide rate of 14.12 per 100,000, while the rate for low‐ and middle‐Income countries have an average suicide rate of 11.09 per 100,000 people. It is harder for refugees who come from poorer countries to assimilate in fast capitalist societies.

As the vast majority of the world’s population live in low -middle incomes countries, suicides in these countries represent 75% of suicide deaths worldwide. The number of refugees and others forcibly displaced worldwide is growing with a record high of 84.4 million people and many suffering mental health problems. With these figures the suicide rate is bound to rise inside and outside the walls of refugee camps.

 

THE INTERNATIONAL PARLIAMENTARY INQUIRY ON MYANMAR.

                                                                      Photo. Anon.

                                                                        A Submission.

                                                                                   By

                          Dr Chris James. Independent Human Rights Advocate.

                                                                     Victoria, Australia.

 

  My submission addresses point No. 1

How can international actors improve the response to the crisis in Myanmar?

I am an independent Human Rights Advocate qualified in International and Community Development, Psychoanalysis and Communications.  I am currently living in Victoria, Australia and working online with the Rohingya residents at the Kutupalong, Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. My submission is focussed on the urgent need to resettle the Rohingya residents (Muslims and Christians) due to the dangerous, unsanitary and inhumane conditions in the Bangladesh camps. I ask the committee to consider the lack of amenities as unacceptable as are and the length of stays in the Bangladesh facility, which for some residents exceeds more than thirty years. I also request that priority be given to resettlement back to the homeland or to another safe place in accordance with the individual wishes of the refugees.

Children have been born and have grown-up in the Bangladesh camps.   They know nothing else and this makes it very difficult to adjust to a world beyond confinement. Notwithstanding, the residents in the camps have maintained a strong connection to the Myanmar homeland, which has been passed on to their children.

In the Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar, there are almost one million people in an area of just 13 square kilometres.  34 camps are crammed into this space. The population density ranges between 40,000 to 70,000 people per square kilometre, which is nine times the national average of Bangladesh.[i]  Currently, a large section of the camp has become flooded due to heavy rains and this is a recuring problem. Added to this, much of the area is scattered with hills containing unstable soils that are very prone to land-slides. Three small children have already been buried alive this year (2022).  Last year (2021) the floods claimed 11 Rohingya lives, including four children and 24 lives were lost to landslides.  Also, last year more than 4,000 shelters were destroyed. This came on top of a deadly fire that spread through part of the camp.   Shelters are made of thin bamboo sticks and plastic sheets, which do not withstand the climatic conditions and they are very prone to fires.  Many shelters are sitting in water contaminated with sewage as the toilets are wells that overflow and there is no means of dealing with toxic wastes. Debris, including poisons, cover vast areas of the landscape and there is no means of safe disposal.  With groups of hundreds of people sharing such a small space, including one toilet per group, the contamination of soils and buildings is significant and it poses ongoing health problems, especially for small children.  Added to this, there is a clean water crisis.  In the heat of summer, drinking water is scarce.  Sickness is rife and medical facilities are inadequate. Many of the children are severely undernourished and in need of schooling.  The schools have been closed due to a lack of books, teachers and proper facilities.  There is no freedom of movement, written permission has to be given before anyone can leave or enter the camp. Armed guards patrol the perimeters and the police who wander the grounds are accused of harassing people with racist remarks and intimidation.  With numerous other restrictions, too many to mention, it would be fair to say the facility is more like a prison than a place of refuge.  It is a sad indictment of the way vulnerable people are treated.

Of late, there has been a rapid deterioration of conditions in the refugee camps and hope for a normal life is waning.  This has led to a lot of hostility. The establishment of local gangs has vastly increased the level of violence.  It has been reported that these groups are heavily involved in human and drug trafficking as well as arms smuggling. Reports between August 2017 and 2020 indicate there have been at least 61 killings, 35 incidents of rape and 16 kidnappings. More than 731 First Information Report (FIRs) were filed against the Rohingya during this period, which led to the imprisonment of more than 600 Rohingya.[ii]  Daily reports of violence are now the norm and the environment is extremely tense and frightening. Clearly, the lack of repatriations, poor living conditions and a lack of services have contributed to this scenario, whereby many innocent families no longer feel safe in their shelters. Importantly, people cannot hide behind locked-doors, everything is open to what is happening and many young people are quickly learning how to become criminals.

Most shelters have been standing for many years and they are falling into complete dereliction.  The reality is, donor funds are dwindling and interest in the plight of refugees does not bode well with mainstream populations who are influenced by the political discourse that states ‘groups of refugees might harbour terrorists’. Sadly, since 9/11 and the terrorist attacks on the United States World Trade Centre, sympathy for refugees has diminished greatly due to fears of terrorism.  As we have seen in the western media, when refugees arrive on shores in large numbers, they spark political controversy. [iii]   Clearly, something needs to be done to change public opinion towards refugees who need to be supported in their resettlement and integration within the global communities.  Moreover, when dealing with refugees we must also keep in mind that we are dealing with highly traumatised people.

The way refugees are processed and housed has to change.

  • Governments, particularly, western governments, must take on more responsibility for refugees, even if it means providing financial incentives.
  • Family re-unifications should be a priority and not prone to a lot of bureaucratic ‘red tape’. Family supports can ease many of the integration problems.
  • Welcoming committees in towns have been a great asset in helping refugees to settle.
  • What refugees need most is ‘cash’, when people have ‘cash’ they spend it and for every dollar spent more is accrued in the national economies. Refugees with ‘cash’ are an asset, not a burden.
  • Refugees must be allowed freedom to work.
  • Governments must provide education and training.
  • Refugees should be allowed tax concessions to allow them to become established.
  • Refugees must be housed within the community, with subsidised housing if there is a need.
  • Support services need to be improved with specialised professionals.

(10) Schools in host counties need to include lessons on basic Human Rights and the plight of refugees.

(11) We need to deal with racism through education and integration. (Many organisations have used storytelling).

(12) We need to abolish refugee camps in favour of complete social integration and we   need to avoid the establishment of ghettos.

For the Rohingya the willingness to return to what might be a very insecure homeland is largely due to the lack of opportunity for refugees to exercise any kind of normal life within the camps.  Segregation is a very negative way of dealing with social issues and it quickly morphs into apartheid.

At the time of the 2017 crisis, the Australian Government’s principal response to the crisis has been to pledge humanitarian support for affected populations in Myanmar and Bangladesh. As at 1 June 2018, the Government had committed $51.5 million in assistance to help address the humanitarian needs of Rohingya and affected communities in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Most of this aid, around $44 million; has been directed to the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar in eastern Bangladesh.[iv] To date, there are only 3,000 Rohingya in Australia.[v] To this end, Australia and others clearly use funds to offload the problem onto the poorest nations and this has to cease.  Further, many refugees who cannot be offloaded elsewhere get processed offshore and locked-up. In Australia, asylum seekers are not considered to be legitimate refugees and other nations are following this lead. With this in mind, the 1951 Refugee Convention has to be strengthened.

More assistance from the international community might change the way refugees are processed. For example, although the UNHCR refers refugees for resettlement the ultimate decision to grant a visa rests with the country’s Immigration Department. Those who are not fully subsidised have to find a huge amount of money to keep themselves for two years in case they cannot work, the sum is roughly $17,000. For most refugees, raising this amount is an impossible task.

If the Rohingya wish to go to western nations then western governments must be encouraged to take them.  Refugees must be permitted to work and support themselves and lead a normal life. The number of refugees Australia accepts has dropped in recent years. Australia accepted and resettled 12,706 refugees in 2018.[vi]  According to the Red Cross, that figure jumped to 18,200 in 2019. During the Morrison Government between 2020-2021 the number fell to 4,558 refugees.[vii] The number of refugees Australia has been willing to take pales against other significantly poor nations.

Repatriation is the ideal. However, if the Rohingya are repatriated, some form of satisfactory policing has to occur and the Human Rights of the Rohingya people need to be restored, including the right to citizenship. What is need here is choice. Refugees must have the right to choose where they wish to be settled. While many refugees will welcome repatriation, this action should not be the only option.

Dr Chris James

Melbourne Australia.

12th July 2022.

 

References.

[i] https://independentaustralia.net/life/life-display/fire-floods-and-felonies-relocation-the-only-option-for-rohingya,15463 Retrieved 5th July 2022.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Conor Friedersdorf Friedersdorf in the The Atlantic: June 12 2019. Retrieved 27th June. 2022.

[iv] Australia Parliament House (https://www.aph.gov.au/About_ Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1718/Quick_Guides/Rohingya ).Retrieved 5th July 2022.

[v] (https://www.sbs.com.au › feature › faces-rohingya).

[vi] (Settlement Services International. https://www.ssi.org.au/faqs/refugee-faqs/141-how-many-refugees-does-australia-settle-each-year Retrieved 20th June 2022).

[vii] (The World Health Organisation. https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/10-things-to-know-about-the-health-of-refugees-and-migrants  Retrieved 25th June 2022.)

 

Rohingya Refugee in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh,
we are humbly request to the world communities, UNHCR, other NGO
to help us.
Good hygiene is critical for preventing the spread of infectious diseases and helping children lead long, healthy lives. It also prevents them from missing school, resulting in better learning outcomes.
For families, good hygiene means avoiding illness and spending less on health care. In some contexts, it can also secure a family’s social status and help individuals maintain self-confidence.
Yet, important hygiene behaviors are difficult to practice without the right knowledge and skills, adequate community support and the belief that one’s own behavior can actually make a difference.
Many children around the world live in conditions that make it difficult to maintain good hygiene. Where homes, schools and health centers have dirty floors; where water for handwashing is unavailable; and even where families share spaces with domestic animals; maintaining hygiene can be a challenge. What’s more, practicing good hygiene is often perceived as a woman’s responsibility, adding to her burden of care.  Hygiene is everyone’s responsibility.
 Rpstudio360

 

CLOSE THE REFUGEE CAMPS.

 

Bring an end to refugee detention.

 

Every year the UNHCR hold a day of celebration called World Refugee Day. Every celebration is given a title. In 2021 the celebration was titled, “Together we, heal, learn and shine.” To celebrate the day the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh had a visit from the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Mr. Tahsan Khan who was there to open an intensive care unit and diagnostic services at the Sadar District Hospital, which was created with UNHCR funds. These services are undoubtedly needed, but a problem arises when International AID is provided to counties in exchange for temporary refuge because there is no incentive towards refugee resettlement. Indeed, the arrangement makes refugees the collateral for any future material developments, i.e., progress. As a consequence, some refugees have been in captivity for more than 30 years and their collateral status has simply grown and become more valuable for building a nation’s infrastructure. The bigger the camp, the more need for outside services. The regime is tantamount to human trafficking and slavery. Slavery, because the refugees have to maintain their own infrastructure within the camp.

The theme of the 2021 World Refugee Day was “together we heal, learn and shine”, it was a huge ask in an environment where people have a day-by-day struggle to survive. The aim to “heal, learn and shine” is all well and good, but we need to ask whose interests are really being served? In order to maintain this arrangement, the camp has to grow, this means more refugees are needed. More refugees will always be needed in order to secure funds for more outside infrastructure… This is how it works! It is a trade-off that most people appear to be happy with, except for the fact that refugees are never going to escape this system. Refugees will dwindle out and more will replace them. Refugees will never be truly free to build their own lives under this system.

In 2022, once again, another Refugee Day took place.  This time  the public are asked to engage with Refugee Day and its new aspirations. We are asked to remember what has been achieved. What has been achieved? We can reflect of the fact that nothing has changed, refugees are still imprisoned in outrageous conditions. The controls in camps have tightened and the environment has become ever-more dangerous. The mental health of residents has deteriorated. Many health services are not free and most are unaffordable. What has changed? No one can leave the camp without a pass. Close associations are watched by guards. Residents have to rely on charities for books and learning. The guards in their posts have nice bright uniforms and up-to-date weaponry while people are dying of treatable diseases and children risk injury from a lack of basic checks for health and safety. In 2022 a four-year-old child was buried alive under a landslide. Just a few weeks later two more children were buried alive during flooding. Remarkably, some people do “shine” because they still have faith in humanity and they are able to develop an extraordinary power of will. However, no one should have to live like this, it is systemic torture and against International Law.

 

Free refugees!

My Submission to Agencies and Academia.

The Case for Abolishing Closed Refugee Camps.          

  Dr Chris James (Australia).

Images by Nsrs Rohimullah.

Abstract.

In a world plagued by wars and natural disasters, we need to think about how we deal with the growing number of refugees and displaced persons. Currently these people are incarcerated in closed camps with dangerous, unsanitary and inhumane conditions. The following paper argues in favor of the abolition of all closed refugee camps and the urgent need to resettle the world’s stateless people. We need to re-examine the efficacy of the current refugee system, and look for new options.  For the purpose of this debate the focus is on the world’s largest refugee camp, the Kutupalong Camp in Bangladesh, which houses the Rohingya refugees.

          Introduction.

 

                                                 Shelters at Kutupalong.

         Kutupalong in Context.    

In Kutupalong there is a desperate need for resettlement, or the safe return of its residents to their homeland. Some of the Rohingya refugees have been in the camp for more than 30 years.  For decades now, the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority group in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, have faced institutionalised discrimination, such as the denial of their basic Human Rights and citizenship. The Myanmar government launched a full-blown military campaign in 2017 that forced seven hundred thousand Rohingya to flee. Rights groups have accused the government of a genocide against the Rohingya people, but the government of Myanmar deny the accusations.  Almost a million refugees fleeing the violence are now living in the Bangladesh camp.  With such a large number of people occupying one place, and now a second and third generation in situ, the lives of these refugees are becoming untenable. The shelter is insufficient for keeping warm in winter or cool in the summer months. The buildings are made of plastic sheeting and bamboo sticks that are not strong enough to withstand the rough weather. The camp is over-crowded, which has implications for health. Human waste is left exposed and the landscape, with is soft earth hills is particularly unsafe for residents and their children. In 2022 a small child was buried alive, one of many incidents. Added to these extremities, there are chronic shortages of fresh drinking water.  The annual monsoon rains bring further misery with huge floods and regular landslides making the area an environmental disaster. In essence, the camp is no longer viable as it does not meet the standards set out by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

In the Kutapalong camp, families are undernourished, physically restrained and psychologically tormented with what has been described as consistent racial discrimination. Residents are intimidated, harassed, beaten and deprived of their basic needs. The refugees have no freedom of movement, they are treated like prisoners and they have committed no crime. Humanitarian AID is dwindling and as the cost of living rises worldwide, Kutupalong and other camps like it are becoming untenable.

The Bangladesh Government have made one attempt to relocate the Kutapulong residents to the silt island of Bhasan Char, in the Bay of Bengal. In 2020 the Bangladesh authorities were asked to remove 300 Rohingya refugees, including children and return them to the mainland as they were being held without freedom of movement, adequate access to food and medical care.[i] The refugees in Kutupalong are there because they fled the Rohingya genocide. Now many are feeling as though they are experiencing another form of genocide, the inhumane treatment that diminishes their will to survive. Host countries that take on the responsibility for housing refugees predominately fall into the impoverished or developing world category. Animosity is already present in the population when the poor are asked to make evermore sacrifices. Neither the host nations, nor the refugees can continue to sustain this arrangement.  Another solution is desperately needed.

    Safety Issues in Kutupalong.

The following pictures illustrate the instability of the landscape.  The floods and landslides make the environment particularly unsafe for children and the elderly, they are unpleasant and a health risk for everyone.

 

                                                        Landslide at Kutupalong.

 

                                                    Water at dangerous levels.                                                   

Perceptions:   

          Countless thousands suffer. They drown while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. They die in the Sahara Desert. They die trying to cross into Mexico. They are kidnapped and sold into slavery. They die at home because they are too poor to attempt escape. With no foreseeable end to the flow of refugees determined to reach wealthy countries, where voters are growing less rather than more willing to welcome them, more tragedy is assured. (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic).           

Citizens in some European countries estimate the number of migrants at three or four times more than they actually are. The global volume of refugees and migrants as a percentage of the global population has actually remained relatively stable for several decades, at around 3% of the world’s population. Contrary to some perceptions that refugees rush to wealthy nations, 85% of refugees globally are hosted in developing countries. [ii]

Every few years the issue of refugees and their plight comes to fore and embeds itself into the west’s popular culture where perceptions are often distorted. For example, there is a common fear that among refugee populations there are terrorists able to cause harm when resettled in other host countries. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest this is true. There is also the perception that refugees will stay on welfare payments at the cost of the western taxpayer. This too, is totally untrue. Refugees have been found to be hard working and very enterprising. Refugees do not threaten a nation’s culture, they add to it and the majority of citizens made refugees welcome.  In almost all cases, countries have benefited from refugee settlement. Nonetheless, over the years an anti-refugee movement has taken hold in many western countries, largely fueled by Right-Wing conservative despots with their own political agendas.  There is no foundation to any of the claims made by these groups. The west will not be swamped by Asians or undermined by religious zealots, no one should pander to this scare-mongering.  Fortunately, like everything else in popular culture, claims and counter-claims can fade from public attention.  Notwithstanding, not too many people want their communities flooded with refugees. As journalist Conor Friedersdorf remarks,

 “these refugees spark political controversy wherever they arrive in large numbers. For that reason, governments in Europe, North America, and Oceania have differed on how many refugees they are willing to resettle. Even Germany’s leader Angela Merkel, who helped make Germany the Western country with the biggest population of recent refugees, found that the public’s openness was quickly exhausted.”[iii]

The facts cannot be denied. Public opinion can be negative and it drives the agendas of politicians worldwide who must, in turn appease their voters; so we end up with cruel and inhumane policies that have no real foundation in truth and that benefit no one.  The time has come when we must get to the core of what seems to be an intractable problem. Refugees have Rights under International Law that are being ignored. Moreover, refugees are entitled to a secure and reasonable standard of living.  Currently, refugees  are destitute and living in extreme hardship, a situation that will impact on generations to come. We must act now; the need is urgent.

What can be done?   We may not stop the wars and skirmishes or the natural disasters that give rise to the flow of refugees, but we can change the way the refugee system works.   The current system is broken and it is causing untold misery to all concerned. The refugee system was meant to ease the pain of displacement and keep people safe. Refugee camps are not safe, they are not desirable and they are an added burden to the already impoverished countries that accommodate them.  Refugee camps are overflowing with displaced people with no hope of a normal life unless we act to change the system.

Migration.

Resettlement is one of three solutions UNHCR is mandated to implement in cooperation with countries that have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention. The other two options are the local integration of refugees (in the country of refuge) and voluntary repatriation (return to one’s home country). UNHCR will only consider resettlement if the other two options are not available.  In effect, the UNHCR sponsors very view refugees for resettlement, and most refugees must find the money for visas and be able to support themselves for two years, this adds up to roughly $17,000 US per person. First, they must secure permission from UNHCR and the government of the host nation before they can apply for a visa and leave the camp.

Not every refugee will be eligible for resettlement. The seven categories (or criteria) used by UNHCR to select refugees for resettlement include:

  • Legal and/or Physical Protection Needsof the refugee in the country of refuge (this includes a threat of refoulement/return to danger).
  • Survivors of Torture and/or Violence, where repatriation or the conditions of asylum could result in further traumatization and/or heightened risk, or where appropriate treatment is not available
  • Medical Needs, in particular life-saving treatment that is unavailable in the country of refuge
  • Women and Girls at Risk, who have protection problems particular to their gender
  • Family Reunification, when resettlement is the only means to reunite refugee family members who, owing to refugee flight or displacement, are separated by borders or entire continents
  • Children and Adolescents at Risk, where a best interests determination supports resettlement, and
  • Lack of Foreseeable Alternative Durable Solutions, which generally is relevant only when other solutions are not feasible in the foreseeable future, when resettlement can be used strategically, and/or when it can open possibilities for comprehensive solutions. [iv]

These are undoubtedly admirable goals, but they are not the reality of what is taking place.

      Australia takes very few refugees compared to other countries and it does not always take refugees recommended by the UN agency.

Though the UNHCR recommends or refers people for resettlement, the ultimate decision to grant a visa will rest with Country’s Immigration Department. Australia has four offshore refugee category visas: Refugee (visa subclass 200); In‐Country Special Humanitarian (visa subclass 201); Emergency Rescue (visa subclass 203); and Woman at Risk (visa subclass 204). Applications for an Australian refugee category visa (whether self-referred or referred by UNHCR) must be made on the prescribed form which is available from Australian overseas missions and from the Department’s website. Applicants are expected to provide as much documentation as possible (including certified copies) at the time of application to assist in identity verification. The application must be lodged outside Australia at an Australian diplomatic or trade mission and will be processed at designated Australian missions around the world. Unsuccessful applicants receive a letter indicating that one or more of the legal criteria have not been met. Though there is no mechanism to appeal an adverse decision, unsuccessful applicants may re-apply. [v]

Refugees seeking to enter Australia on a Refugee visa (subclass 200) must satisfy numerous criteria that are more onerous than onshore Protection visas. For instance, in addition to being subject to persecution and meeting health, character and national security requirements, the Minister must be satisfied that there are ‘compelling reasons for giving special consideration to granting the visa’ having regard to:

    the degree or severity of persecution to which they are subject

 the extent of their connection with Australia

 whether another country can provide for the applicant’s settlement and protection   from persecution and

the capacity of the Australian community to provide for their permanent settlement. [vi]

Also, the Minister must be satisfied that their permanent settlement would be the appropriate course for the applicant and would not be contrary to the interests of Australia. Moreover, the visa grant must be consistent with ‘the regional and global priorities of the Commonwealth in relation to the settlement of persons in Australia on humanitarian grounds. In other words, there must be a visa available under the Humanitarian Program for the given program year.[vii] Other Commonwealth countries have similar criteria.

The country that has helped refugees the most is Turkey, home to almost 3.7 million refugees. Other significant host countries for refugees are Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.2 million), Sudan (1.1 million), Iran (979,435) and Lebanon (949,666). (Figures for 2018).[viii]  The number of refugees Australia accepts has varied in recent years. Australia accepted and resettled 12,706 refugees in 2018. [ix]  According to the Red Cross, that figure jumped to 18,200 in 2019.[x]  During the Morrison Government between 2020-2021 the number fell to 4,558 refugees [xi] and the policy of processing asylum seekers offshore and treating them as illegal was tightened. Clearly, the number of refugees Australia has been willing to take pales against other significantly poorer nations.

Around the world in 2020, 1.1 million new claims for asylum were lodged with governments or through UNHCR. Australia reported that during the 2019-2020 financial year, 23,266 claims were made within Australia, and 70,621 from outside of Australia. The 2022 the incoming Labor Government adopted the same cruel policy towards asylum seekers, leaving them housed in draconian conditions and unable to pursue their Rights.  Juxtaposed to this gross violation of Human Rights the Australian population are led to believe that the nation has one of the most generous refugee responses in the world. The UNHCR’s official statistics tell us a different story.

While the world is facing a refugee crisis, there are distinct actions that could be taken to ease the burden:

  1. Give the refugees money in cash: Refugees have lost everything and they cannot start a life without money. It has been shown time and time again that when people have money they spend it, they invest in the economy, whereby one dollar spent in the marketplace can multiply to two dollars or more in the community.
  2. Education: Close to half of all refugee children, 48 per cent remain out of school. At primary level, the average gross enrollment rate for the year from March 2019 to March 2020 for reporting countries was 68%.[xii]
  3. Most refugee camps do not allow work. If families can support themselves then the burden on host countries and donors is significantly eased.
  4. Resettlement into communities. Refugees make active community members and add to a nation’s social capital.
  5. Keeping people healthy insures a healthy economy and a healthy community.
  6. When needs are met, both in the community and with respect to new arrivals there is no need for dissent.

Why have these initiatives not happened?  Refugee issues are driven by politics and vested interests and there has been no political will to move forward with humanitarian solutions.

 Refugees helping themselves.

While schools in the Kutupalong camp are officially closed, one of the initiatives taken by refugees in the camp is the creation of a Photography Studio. The camp has a very talented collection of photographers, some wanting to become professional. The photographers use social media to connect with the outside world and the outside world is finally getting a glimpse of how refugees are forced to live out their lives.  Work from this studio has already drawn international attention.[xiii]

                                                   Children playing in the camp.

 

                                                         Holding back the land.                                                  

Those who manage to leave the camps never lose their identity as a refugee, they are damaged and stigmatized and generally in need of counseling or therapy. They face multiple difficulties, including discrimination. The Human Rights Council reports many complaints of racism.

Between 2016-2017 a report noted:     

Discrimination is the practical expression of prejudice. Prejudice, that is, beliefs and attitudes that rank some people as inferior to others or as inherently different from others, produces discriminatory actions. The two are intimately and inextricably connected.” [xiv]

We have seen discrimination against refugees played out in many ways. There are particular difficulties in housing refugees, sometimes due to ethnicity and sometimes due to large numbers.  Recall the race riots in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. Recall also the heated debates over the inclusion of Sharia Law into the British system. In this period, there were constant fears of an immigrant take-over of British culture.  There were even more hostilities when Muslims wanted to build Islamic mosques and schools.  The community protests often got ugly.

In 2005 there were a series of race riots on the beach front in the Sydney suburb of Cronella. The clashes started with a small number of agitators and then escalated over several suburbs. Riots in Europe were much worse. Australia, Britain and other western countries have a long history of racial prejudice so governments are reluctant to open borders.  Even although there has not been a serious incident in Australia since 2005, borders remain closed to all but a very few.

In 2022 little has changed, discrimination against refugees is a major problem: The Human Rights Council point out just how damaging discrimination can be to a person’s health and well-being.

“The connection between personal identity and the proscribed grounds of discrimination is what makes discrimination so utterly unacceptable”.[xv]

The Council’s description goes on to suggest that

“it is not merely that a person is treated differently. It is that the basis for the detrimental treatment is the very nature of that person as a human being – who he or she is… It is not a matter of mere personal dislike. It is that the person suffering the discrimination is considered fundamentally different from, fundamentally inferior to the person imposing the discrimination. Discrimination involves one person’s rejection of another person as a full human being who is equal in dignity and rights to all other human beings. That is what makes discrimination a great evil. [xvi]

Added to this there has been a burgeoning Right-Wing movement connected to the One Nation Party and its stand against immigration. Mr Roland Jabbour who was the chairman of the Australian Arabic Council in 2005, a position he still holds, told the TV Channel SBS, “he wasn’t surprised” at the prevailing attitudes.

“There are many lessons (from the riots) and unfortunately, we have not really learned them and have not put them into practice. We tend to forget about these sorts of events and pretend that all is good…”Racism is well-entrenched (in Australia) … It’s an underlying issue in our community and all it takes is an incident, a certain trigger to bring this to the surface.” [xvii]

Attitudes have a profound effect of the resettlement of refugees.

In bringing about change, we must consider public reaction. There should be more education and further incentives put into the community to encourage multiculturalism.  In addition:

  1. Discrimination laws should be tightened.
  2. Whole populations must stop glorifying wars.
  3. Governments must bring a halt to the arms race.

There is actually very little accurate knowledge about the history of refugees or the operations of refugee camps; their costs and their conditions would probably shock most people.

Segregation and Apartheid.

Once established, refugee camps divide their communities into systems of segregation, otherwise called apartheid. These systems are driven by fear and unwarranted constraints. Under apartheid people are closely scrutinized and life is strictly regulated with severe punishments for non-compliance. This has a deep psychological impact on the human psyche.  The world has condemned apartheid in South Africa and in Israel’s hold over Palestine. It has been condemned in the treatment of African Americans as well as American Indians and Australia’s Aborigines, but few have been prepared to call out refugee camps as being a cruel and unforgiving system of apartheid.

Kutupalong covers 13 square kilometers in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh and it houses roughly one million people in a series of smaller locations (camps), each location is given a number. The camp is overseen by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and administered by local authorities, some of whom work in the camp.  No one from outside is permitted to visit the camp unless they are visiting family or have special permission.  No refugees are allowed to leave the camp unless they have a permit. Police constantly monitor the whereabouts of individuals and the behavior or the residents. People build their own shelters and infrastructure and they receive no payment for their work.  Some refugees say they are made to carry out the jobs that staff are supposed to do and these are usually the dirtiest of tasks, like cleaning the overflowing toilets. Residents view this as a form of punishment.

Areas are fenced off with barbed wire and there are watch towers around the perimeter occupied by guards with rifles. The atmosphere in the camp is very intimidating and not unlike a high security prison, it is frightening and inhuman, but for refugees this is home. People die in these camps with no comfort and no dignity. Children live in these camps believing this is a normal way of life.

The UNHCR are committed to refugee self-reliance and advocate for some form of inclusion into the society of the host country, but this is not happening in closed refugee camps like Kutpulong.  Preventing association among people or groups is psychologically damaging.   The inability to acquire resources such as food, clean water, proper sanitation and more can fall under the unlawful act of genocide.    Closure behind barbed wire fences constitutes imprisonment and is a violation of Human Rights.  People are being held in arbitrary detention when these people have committed no offence.

Refugee camps were built for temporary stays not for a lifetime of punishment.   The scenes are very disturbing, what is more disparaging is that people can advance in these groups, but only in as much as the constraints allow them to… and it needs to be said, that where there is institutionalized restraint there is usually some form of bribery and corruption.

Various reports have alleged that the refugees in Kutupalong have been harassed, intimated and put down due to their racial origins, but this is also played out in the distribution of services.  Many medical needs have to be met by supporters outside. Health is a huge problem due to the conditions.

                                          A flooding toilet next to a home shelter.

In Kutupalong the ablutions are a particular point of contention.  Not only are they generally inadequate, they are made worse by deliberate neglect. (The structure of the toilets is basically that of a well, which is conducive to flooding).  Refugees see this neglect as part of their punishment. Residents are judged inferior so they are left to do the dirty work.

As one resident commented, “These are the Rohingya shelters beside the toilet. The families who are sheltered beside the toilet have been facing a super challenge from these toilets for a long time. The toilets are dirty and faeces are getting out of the toilets. Can you imagine how the Rohingya are surviving refugee life?

 

                                 An old woman attempting to clean the drains.

 Ethnic tensions.

According to the UNHCR there are at least 89.3 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes, almost all of them are Muslims.  Among them are nearly 27.1 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic services such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement. Currently, 1 in every 88 people on this plant has been forced to flee their homeland.[xviii] 21.3 million people are under the United Nations Mandate. 53.2 million are internally displaced, 4.6 million are asylum seekers (who are also refugees) Children represent 30 per cent of the world’s population, but 41 per cent of all forcibly displaced people.  More than two thirds (69 per cent) of all refugees and displaced abroad came from just five countries.  6.8 million come from the Syrian Arab Republic, 4.6 from Venezuela, 2,7 million from Afghanistan, 2.4 from South Sudan and 1.2 million from Myanmar.[xix]

Muslims make up the majority of refugees.

Why is it that almost all of the refugees are Muslims?  Most recent civil wars have taken place in Muslim countries, and a large majority of the victims are Muslims. Most of these wars are also civil wars, which have attracted participation from the west.  Undoubtedly, there is a battle within the Muslim world.  However, the west has been greatly implicated in these wars, past and present, as all of these skirmishes have their roots in colonization. As a result, most of the Muslim countries continue to struggle with the arbitrary borders imposed during and after the colonial era.  In addition, the Middle East is significant to the western economies, due to its location and the abundance of oil. Hence, the western nations have intervened in the wars to protect their own interests. This has scaled-up the levels of aggression and ultimately it has prolonged the fighting.

The United States (US) dominate roughly 15 percent of the world and the US economy is the largest and most productive in the world. The US accounts for one-fifth of global GDP with only 4 percent of the world’s population. America’s economy is nearly twice the size of China’s in nominal dollars. In addition, the US is one of just a few developed countries with a GDP that can bounce back after a crisis, this is largely due to its manufacturing and its export of goods and services. It is this trade that dominates the globe and leads the US to ensure that other nation’s leaders are US friendly.  As a consequence, over the past 15 years, several military interventions have replaced relatively stable dictatorships with unstable semi-democracies where civil war still rages.[xx]     As it happens, most Muslims do not live in war zones, yet Muslims carry the weight of blame for the world’s dilemmas.

Modern genocide in context.

After the European Holocaust, the international community vowed, “never again,” but despite this pledge, genocides and mass killings have continued to take place. The Early Warning Project at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum tracks mass killings occurring today and attempts to predict where they might occur in the future. According to the project, an event is a mass killing.

“when the deliberate actions of armed groups, including, but not limited to, state security forces, rebel armies, and other militias, result in the deaths of at least 1,000 non-combatant civilians targeted as part of a specific group over a period of one year or less.”

Clearly, a lot of countries have been getting away with genocide. Under international law, a genocide occurs when the perpetrators intend to eradicate the group they are targeting. A mass killing does not require this intent. Thus, mass killing is a broader term than genocide, but acts of genocide also fall within this definition.[xxi] In fact, the world has taken a very soft approach to genocide because it is more likely to happen to poorer people who are often viewed as a burden to progress.  The west failed to rescue the people of Barundi or Rwanda because they were not crucial to the capitalist order. Because people are poor, it does not mean they are unproductive or uneducated. The Rohingya people have had many great achievers, today and in history. The Rohingya were attacked because they are Muslims (albeit, a small number of Christians lived among them).

While confinement and genocides have their roots in ancient history, what we are seeing today is a distinctly modern problem with its origins in Europe.  European history gives impetus to the existence of a rich and powerful Christian society, but in reality, there was a long history of Islam in Europe that dates back to the eighth century which has been largely forgotten.

Islam was established in the Balkans with the Ottoman conquest. In the 19th century many Muslims emigrated to Turkey from Europe. The Balkan Wars 1912-1913 displaced 800,000 people and at the start of the First World War they were officially called refugees.  The modern definition of the international refugee status came about under the League of Nations in 1921 and the Commission for Refugees. Following World War II, a large number of people fled Eastern Europe and in 1951 the United Nations created the Refugee Convention and officially defined the term “refugee” (in Article 1.A.2). [xxii]   This Article describes a refugee as any person…

     Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. [xxiii]

Sadly, the western world has conveniently put the historical events aside, as a result, the world has become distinctly divided between Christians and Muslims. The divide is not just about religion, it is also about knowledge… Knowledge is power.

Islam was a highly advanced society during what has been called The Golden Age, and much of what Europeans lay claim to today, was allegedly borrowed from ancient Islamic teachers and scientists. We know this from the scientific details in the Qur’an and its additional scholarship.  Historically, Islam created a great deal of fear in the minds of Europeans, especially in the European royal courts and grand houses. Much of that fear still exists today.  Recall the disdain of the British Royal Family when Princess Diana wanted to marry a Muslim.  Added to this, the Muslim countries have gathered renewed strength in recent years, they sit on assets the world needs for ongoing production, and the fears of a Muslim conquest have escalated to the degree that whole populations in countries like Australia are afraid of being, in the words of the One Nation Party, “swamped by Muslims” This discourse of fear is exacerbated by a lack of education as well as a lack of empathy for people in need.   We can see some evidence of this fear and discrimination in the fact in the western world, people are willing to allow refugees from the Ukrainian war to stay in their homes, but others from Middle Eastern countries, Africa or Asia and the rest must suffer the indignity of unlivable and dangerous refugee camps.     

Creating change.

The extremities of the refugee crisis are hard to fathom as the numbers grow exponentially, yet every year, the status and difficulties of these unfortunate people never changes because the UNHCR justifies the existence of camps using the rising costs of living in the outside world. Here is an example:

     Reporting about refugees frequently shows aerial photos of tent cities, makeshift settlements and overcrowded camps.  While this is the difficult reality for more than 6.2 million refugees, approximately 75 percent of refugees live outside of camps. Refugees living in cities, suburban and rural environments struggle to find safety and adequate shelter. Living conditions can be harsh, and lack basic services like electricity or heating.  In addition to sub-standard housing, urban dwellings are often extremely expensive for refugees who left their home countries with little or no money and face difficult job prospects in their host nations. It’s easy to think that most refugees live in camps.[xxiv]

In light of the shocking conditions at Kutupalong, this argument just does not stand the test of credibility.        

The political scientist Eric Kaufmann argues for a controversial alternative to camps in his recently published book, Whiteshift, a researched inquiry into how migration and demographic changes are affecting politics and culture in Western societies. Kaufmann argues that rather than settling refugees in western countries to live alongside citizens, who will not welcome them, he favours building permanent, closed refugee camps on western soil that accommodate anyone who wants to live there. Refugees would have the right to move to another refugee camp or to return to their home country, but would not have the right to enter the host country. Governments would draw a bright line distinguishing refugees from migrants.

There are two possibilities that could arise from Kaufmann’s proposition. One is this, if enough people chose to move into the new buildings, they would render the rest of the native population as the odd ones’ out… Alternatively, the new buildings could become a ghetto or another example of segregation and apartheid. My guess is, if the building were salubrious enough, and life was better for the refugees than their hosts, there would be a distinct shift in the dynamics, whereby those who vilified refugees might move to the new buildings and have a change of heart. Conversely, the natives might still resent the refugees.

The crucial message here is the need to build good standard housing for refugees and to work towards equality of opportunity. Also, camps should be situated in western countries, rather than in the developing world. My view is, they should be open not closed.   People should have liberty regardless of any threats from dissenters, it is the task of the authorities to protect all people.  In addition, the west needs to own its mistakes in the treatment of the developing world and stop exploiting people who are living in unstable nations. The west has an obligation to make up for its past and the harm it has caused generations of innocent people.

Asylum seekers.

Refugees are also called asylum seekers, but this group tend to arrive on shores undocumented and uninvited. Nations are still obligated to give asylum seekers refuge, but they have mostly ended up in detention centres offshore or deported back to where they came from.  Kaufmann argues that widening the rights of asylum seekers is not a good option.

“Paradoxically, pressure to widen the rights of asylum seekers inside Europe makes it harder to fulfill the mission of getting people to safety. Why? Because if countries believe admitting refugees is the first step to granting permanent settlement, they will be more reluctant to allow them in. Claimants in the West have their cases judged increasingly harshly due to domestic political pressure to limit the number accepted for settlement. Those whose cases fail and cannot escape lack the option to remain safely in a high-quality facility. It’s estimated that thousands of genuine refugees are returned to countries where they risk being persecuted or killed.”[xxv]

Kaufmann believes nations should eliminate the incentive to provide refuge.

     “Western publics are more likely to accept the financial burden of housing refugees on a long-term basis than accepting them as permanent settlers because they care more about the cultural impact of refugee settlement than the economic costs,” he argues. Absent cultural fears, burden-sharing among rich nations will be easier, he writes, as “countries will not be asked to alter their ethnic composition against their inhabitants’ wishes, only to contribute funds and build facilities.”

Kaufmann states:

  “…to absorb any number of refugees without discriminating on the basis of wealth, fitness to travel and risk appetite,” as effectively happens now. “Nobody dies in transit or gets attacked or enslaved en-route.” And Western governments would have less need for gatekeeping bureaucrats. “This will offer refuge, but not settlement,” he notes, “so only those genuinely fearing for their lives will remain. There would be no need to engage in the impossible task of sorting genuine refugees from economic migrants”[xxvi]

     Kaufmann concludes that hosting refugees in the West is a good litmus test of whether liberals are more interested in helping those in need or

“making the symbolic gesture of calling for more settlement, which is guaranteed to result in doors being closed.”

He writes,

“agitate to have camp residents resettled and call for facilities to be closed … We’ll revert to the status quo, in which many who flee war are sent back to die, unlucky migrants drown at sea or are preyed upon by criminals, the majority languish in underfunded camps and a small group of better-off risk-takers get lucky.”

He goes on to describe what he sees as the best version of the approach he favors:

“spacious permanent migrant centres across the full range of EU countries, alongside free transportation from conflict areas,” cutting deaths at sea, expanding refuge, and improving overall conditions among migrant facilities. “The optimal scenario is one in which every refugee can flee a conflict zone and be protected, housed, clothed, educated, and fed, receiving proper medical care,”

he writes.

“There should be recreational facilities and, ideally, an opportunity to work … This should be paid for by the international community, through either charities or contributions from wealthier countries.”

 In Search of Dignity.

In 2016 the British General Secretary and Member of Parliament David Milbrand suggested closing all refugee camps. He said “they were designed for yesterday, not for today.” He thinks refugee camps should close in favour of wealthy nations accepting the most vulnerable 10% of the world’s 60 million refugees. Miliband thinks wealthy nations should also economically support poorer countries to help integrate new arrivals as full-time residents. If people need to move to a host country, then they should do so under a completely new deal. He states

     “The new bargain is that a small number of people – probably up to 10% of refugees, the most vulnerable – are relocated to the richer countries to the west and elsewhere because of their medical needs because they’re orphans etc… [for] the large majority of people, the only real hope for them is to become productive residents of the countries that they’ve fled to.” [xxvii]

Miliband, who has led the US NGO the International Rescue Committee since 2013, said that the British public must accept refugees or suffer the consequences.

“Either refugees come to Europe in a disorderly, illegal and dangerous way, or they come to Europe in an orderly, legal and organized fashion.”  [xxviii]

Miliband backed Angela Merkel’s policy of opening Germany’s doors to migrants.  Miliband reiterates a common view that refugees need to get back to work, they need their lives back and they should be entitled to a happy future.

        Kenya.

Kenya set the date for closing its Dadaab refugee camps in June 2022.  The Dadaab camps were established 30 years ago to accommodate Somalis fleeing their country’s civil war. Now the government claims the camps are a home for terrorists, whereby donors have withdrawn their assistance.

According to MSF

“The planned closure of the camps in June 2022 should be an opportunity to accelerate the process of finding lasting solutions for refugees.” Ms Dana Krause, MSF’s country director in Kenya said “At present, the mostly Somali refugees in Dadaab, many of whom have been trapped in the camps for three decades, face dwindling humanitarian assistance and limited options for leading safe and dignified lives.[xxix]

While Dadaab is no longer the largest refugee camp in the world, it is still home to approximately 232,903 refugees, many of whom were born in the camps and have known nothing else. Refugees in Dadaab are currently barred from working, traveling, or studying outside the camps, leaving them heavily dependent on humanitarian assistance.   The Kenyan Government must now commit to giving these refugees the opportunity to study, work and re-train. These refugees have had their lives taken away and now they should be entitled to compensation; at least they need to get their freedom back with all the assistance they need to move forward.

Here is the reality, funding is likely to reduce regardless of whether camps close or not. In a world sitting on the prospect of more wars, famines and natural disasters, is it not more feasible to have a working, refugee population rather than keeping desperate people locked away and suffering?  With the right will from the international community we could close the camps and use the available labour to boost economies and at the same time allow refugees to build their futures and those of their children.  As Jeroen Matthys, project coordinator in Dagahaley, one of the three camps that make up Dadaab, said

“It is vital that refugees have uninterrupted access to humanitarian assistance throughout the camp closure process and until they have certainty about their future and can become self-reliant.”[xxx]

     Giulia McPherson of Global News Migration and Displacement states:  

     In a recent visit to Kakuma, I saw clearly that refugees and partners are working together to find sustainable pathways for independence and inclusion. But many of these efforts have hit a critical roadblock. For example, access to primary and secondary education is readily available in Kenya, with 99% of refugees enrolled in primary school and 51% enrolled in secondary school. Yet many refugees who were able to graduate from secondary school remain idle, with no prospect for further education or employment. During my visit, I met dozens of young refugees with hopes of becoming entrepreneurs and teachers — like John, a 22-year-old from South Sudan who arrived in Kakuma when he was 4 years old. After completing secondary school, he searched for months for an opportunity to continue his studies. Finally, he enrolled in a Jesuit Refugee Service-sponsored digital literacy program that helped him master Adobe Photoshop. While John has dreams of becoming a graphic designer, he still lacks a computer, reliable access to the internet, and any job prospects… Investments in post-secondary and livelihoods programs are critical in helping refugees develop the skills they want and need to be independent, so that camps are no longer islands of solitude but instead thriving contributors to Kenyan society. These programs must not only provide access to training, but refugees deserve sustained mentoring and career counseling as they seek ways to put their skills to use.[xxxi]

It is a long road to making a difference, but we must make a start and never give up on the goals of bringing about equality of opportunity. We must close the camps and give refugees the opportunity to build a  better life.

Conclusion.

In this paper I have attempted to make the case for abolishing all closed refugee camps.  While this will not happen over-night, it is possible to begin the task of freeing refugees from their imprisonment. The outcome of the Kenya camp closure will be interesting to watch and it might surprise us.

There are many elements to this debate and I have only covered a few of them. The fundamental reasons for closing the camps are writ large in the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the camps are not providing protection, in fact, they are very dangerous places for adults and children. These are people who have lost everything and yet, they are being punished for their misfortune. There is no absolute solution, there have been many ideas, whereby everyone agrees there has to be a shift.   All it takes is the first step on the path to take us to our destination.

Politicians have abrogated their responsibility in respect of the refugee crisis.    Now is the time for change as public opinion is going against those who continue to promulgate the cruelty. As far as Australia is concerned, a new Labor government have simply adopted the untenable policies of the previous government, but their electorates could work against them. More people are rallying to the cause of freedom for refugees. More are becoming aware of the shocking conditions in the camps.  Generally speaking, I believe most people are humanitarian in nature and they would like to see a humane solution to the refugee problem. I hope this paper will contribute to the debate and I pray for a better life for all refugees.

I wish to thank those people who have shared their refugee experiences with me. I wish to thank Nsr Rohimullah for allowing me to use his photographs.  I wish good fortune to the Photography Studio at Kutupalong and I congratulate Mr Ziaul Haque for his constant hard work to bring the splendid talents of refugees to a wider audience.

I am finding my own engagement with refugees very rewarding. I have gained a lot of knowledge and insight into life in the camps and I thank everyone who has helped me. Thank you for giving me the privilege of representing you in this paper.

Dr Chris James June 2022.

 _____________________________________________________

References:

[i] 300 people removed from Bhasan Char island; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rohingya_people – cite_note-303 Retrieved 25th June 2022.

[ii] The World Health Organisation. https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/10-things-to-know-about-the-health-of-refugees-and-migrants  Retrieved 25th June 2022.

[iii] Conor Friedersdorf in the The Atlantic: June 12 2019. Retrieved 27th June. 2022.

[iv] Australian Parliament House. https://www.aph.gov.au/about_parliament/parliamentary_departments/parliamentary_library/pubs/rp/rp1617/refugeeresettlement#_Toc461022106 Retrieved 20th June 2022

[v] Ibid

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid

[viii] Refugee Action Org. https://www.refugee-action.org.uk/about/facts-about-refugees/ Retrieved 20th June 2022.

[ix] Settlement Services International. https://www.ssi.org.au/faqs/refugee-faqs/141-how-many-refugees-does-australia-settle-each-year  Retrieved 20th June 2022.

[x]The Red Cross  https://www.redcross.org.au/act/help-refugees/refugee- Retrieved 20th June 2022 Refacts/#:~:text=In%202019%2C%20Australia%20resettled%2018%2C200%20refugees%20from%20overseas.

[xi] The Refugee Council.   https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/2018-global-trends/  Retrieved 20th June 2022.

[xii] UNHCR https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/education.html#:~:text=Close%20to%20half%20of%20all,

countries%20was%2068%20per%20cent. Retrieved 20th June 2022.

[xiii] Al Jazeera

[xiv] Ibid

[xv]  Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid.

Nick Baker All it took was a trigger. Published 10 December 2020 at 5:57am Retrieved 20th June 2022.

SBS  https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/all-it-took-was-a-trigger-the-racism-of-the-cronulla-riots-15-years-on/rp4k54qfw Retrieved 21st June 2022.

[xviii] United Nations High Commission for Refugees UNHCR   https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/figures-at-a-glance.html Retrieved 25th June 2022.

[xix] https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/  Retrieved 2022.

[xx] Nils Petter Gleditsch and Ida Rudolfsen. Are Muslim  countries more violent. Washington Post May 16, 2016,  Retrieved 29th June 2022.

Washington Post.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/05/16/are-muslim-countries-more-violent/  Retrieved 29th June 2022.

[xxi] Facing History Org. https://www.facinghistory.org/educator-resources/current-events/genocide-still-happens  Retrieved 29th June 2022.

[xxii] FAQ: Who is a refugee? www.unhcr.org., Retrieved 22 June 2021.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] https://www.unrefugees.org/news/myths-facts-where-do-refugees-live/ Retrieved 29th June 2022.

[xxv] Eric Kaufman (2019) Whiteshift and https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/06/eric-kaufmann-closed-refugee-camp/589663/ Retrieved 29th June 2022.

[xxvi] Ibid

[xxvii] Steven Hopkins  David Milbrand wants to close the world’s refugee camps. Huffington Post.  Milbrand 14th May 2016. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/david-miliband-wants-to-close-the-worlds-refugee-camps_uk_57370134e4b0f0f53e36389e Retrieved 29th June 2022.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] Doctors Without Borders. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/latest/kenya-urgent-solutions-needed-refugees-dadaab-camps-close  Retrieved 29th June 2022.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi]      Giulia McPherson of Global News Migration and Displacement states:   Doctors Without Borders. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/latest/kenya-urgent-solutions-needed-refugees-dadaab-camps-close  Retrieved 29th June 2022

 

 

 

 

 

FROM MY DESK.

 

It is interesting how being a humble artist and expressing my views about what is happening in the world can lead one into other areas.  I seem to have become an independent advocate for refugees. There needs to be more of us because the refugee crisis has to be resolved soon and humanely. At the moment the situations under which refugees are existing is deplorable.

We should all be concerned by what is taking place across the planet.  There is the major war between Ukraine and Russia, but there are also many smaller forgotten wars that are having a dreadful impact on peoples’ lives. Added to this, we have governments that are leaning heavily towards right wing extremism, another form of  racism and oppression.

When one examines the finer details of the European chaos, it is clear that NATO has been moving closer to Russian borders in a threatening manner. This does not justify war, but war could have been averted had Ukraine made the decision not to join NATO and instead to remain neutral. Now innocent people are paying the price.

I was shocked when I heard that Ukrainians were able to jump the refugee queue  and Afghans were to be left behind.  Yet again, the powerful nations have abrogated their responsibilities.  This is blatant white supremacist policy, but no one is willing to call it out.   Of course we should help Ukrainians, but while the country’s citizens are being transported out of danger, more weapons are moving in and more destruction is occurring.  These wars are not about lands or people anymore they are about making billions of dollars for arms manufacturers.  The result is clear in the images that cross our screens daily.

 

Images from the refugee camps!

Bangladesh. Police attempt to stop people leaving the camp to shop for food  at the market… Picture Anon.

Afghans still experiencing pain and oppression.

 

 

East-West Crisis.

Here is my take on the current stand-off between Russia and the west. First, there is no justification for war! There is also no justification for provocation, that is building a force that is likely to threaten another nation into starting a war. When you have a force like NATO moving towards a perceived enemy, then you are inviting a conflict.  There are no winners here, only hypocrisy and the failure of leaders to create peaceful societies.   After the Second World War, the world had a prime opportunity to give peace a chance. However, the western allies redefined the boundaries with a view to their own nationalist gains.  At the same time, much of the world was rejecting their imperial rulers and decolonizing.  Rather than seeing the pitfalls of nationalism, many countries became independent and formed nation states. The result was a vast capitalist expansion and immigrants heading to the lands of their powerful rulers and taking up residence.  The acceleration of capitalism led to the need for cheap labour and new forms of colonization (neo-colonization), but instead of helping to develop poorer countries the west’s neo-colonialism used foreign capital for the exploitation of countries, especially in the less developed parts of the world, this increased the gap between the rich and the poorer countries and it served to heighten competition between the major powers.  It became known as the struggle between capitalism and communism and it developed into the Cold War.    The Cold War took place in the 1960s but it had its beginnings much earlier. Leaders of the big powers, especially the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain met several times during the last years of the Second World War to try to put together a picture of the post-war world.   The last meeting between the Allied powers during the war was held in Yalta, Russia in February 1945 between the US, the UK and Russia. There was a prime opportunity at this time to invoke a cooperative agreement towards world peace, but money, power and ambition curtailed any hope of lasting world peace. Capitalism and communism were viewed as ideological opposites and therefore always in conflict, but in fact both the capitalist and socialist ideologies stem from the same foundations, the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which gave rise to the new mercantile class and eventually fast capitalism.  (It also gave rise to the modern social movements). The post war world became divided into two sides, the capitalist west and the communist Soviet dominated regions.  The term used to describe this divide was the “Iron Curtain”. As time moved on each side moved to secure more territory, Stalin in Eastern Europe and America’s President Truman in his commitment to fight against all anti-communist countries. What resulted was a series of confrontations. It started with the Soviet blockade in Berlin in 1949. The victory of the communists in China in 1949 gave rise to the spread of this conflict to Asia, resulting in the Korean War of the 1950s. Around the same time, in 1953, the US supported the overthrow of the Iranian regime who were said to be supporting the communists.   In early 1959, communist rebels in Cuba overthrew a US-backed government and this led to the conflicts in Central America and the Caribbean.  By the 1960s the east and west had entered a new paradigm with the threat of a global nuclear war. Also, in the 1960s conflict spread to Southeast Asia with US forces supporting southern Vietnam and communist China and the Soviets supporting northern Vietnam. In the late 1970s, the Cold War confrontations moved into southern Africa and also into the Americas. Both of these regional conflicts continued into the 1980s and some morphed into religious wars fought in the middle east.  The communist governments of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union collapsed between 1989 and 1991, however the battle was never over and the bad blood still exists, hence the current fight in the Ukraine. There is no solution in wars only pain and hardship.  The world must find new ways to avert the dynamics of war.  We must begin a new age of freedom without fighting.  That men are forced to fight for their country is abhorrent.  If leaders wish to fight among themselves then the population must be free to leave and other countries should welcome them.

 

Rest in Peace: Keith Simons.

Easing the pain of losing someone you love is never easy.  I have tried to focus my energy on creativity. It is what my dear friend Keith Simons would have wanted.  Above is the memorial painting completed in his honour and in the memory of a truly remarkable man.  I hope it will serve to remind us all of the goodness and wisdom that Keith carried throughout his earthly  journey.

Below is the Obituary, due to be published shortly in the Upper Yarra press.

Keith Simons:  1949-2022.

An Obituary

by Dr Chris James.

Keith Simons has been my closest and most treasured friend for more than thirty-four years. We were born and grew up in the same local in East London and shared may of the same experiences. There are no words to express the loss of this kind, gentle and loving man who managed to bring so much joy, peace and harmony to the lives of all those who knew him.

Keith was born in 1949 and started life in London’s squalid inner east. His grandparents were Jews originally from the Ukraine and only spoke Yiddish and Russian. Later Keith’s parents and their two children, Keith and his sister Marcia, moved to a double story, semi-detached house in the outer London suburb of Upton Manor where he lived and went to school.

Life in England was hard in the post-war years, but it was especially difficult for children with an ethnically different background.  England was a predominantly Christian country and schools in those days had compulsive religious studies.  Keith and a few others were given exemptions, but this only accentuated the difference. Non-Christian children were segregated and treated as inferior. Like many Jews in Britain, Keith grew up being bullied and beaten by local thugs and it would be those many terrifying experiences that would serve to shape his adult life of compassion and understanding for others, especially those of difference.   In his book “Quest”, Keith describes how he was made to feel like an outcast and how it impacted on his relationships.  Keith was never afraid to tell the truth and his writings have helped many who have encountered similar difficulties.

From an early age Keith had what he called mystical experiences. He wanted more from life than pure existence.  He saw the many problems in the world and wanted to fix them.  After leaving school he started an apprenticeship at a Jewelers in London’s famous Hatton Garden, but he left to travel Europe in a search for the meaning of life. He moved across Europe and finally settled in Australia.

Keith explored many esoteric religions and beliefs. He became a follower of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo and their philosophies formed the basis for much of his early writing.  He also became adept in the art of astrology.  Keith attended ashrams and took lessons from renowned spiritual teachers then finally devoted his life to Buddhism and the works of Rudolf Steiner. Keith was also a great supporter of Aboriginal culture and he actively worked to promote the drawings of Aboriginal artist Lisa Kennedy and others through his role as Director of the Harmony Festivals.

Most people will remember Keith Simons as the friendly soul who had a bookshop in the main street of Warburton. The shop was a gathering place for lovers of all things spiritual and offered weekly mediation sessions in the rooms upstairs. Keith excelled as a meditation teacher.  He finally found purpose and meaning in scholarship, leadership and meditation.

Keith Simons wrote several books relating to his studies including the popular Biography of a Russian Yogi. Other works include, Poetica Esoterica, a work that explores consciousness and sensory experience.  Elucia, a book based on incarnations as they have occurred in ancient and modern history and Parelsitus, an experiment in interdimensional communication. Out of all his many experiences, Keith rated the Harmony Festivals as one of his greatest achievements.

Of the Harmony Festival Keith wrote:

     The 2014 Warburton Harmony Festival was a highlight event of my life…   It represented a model and archetype of universal harmony, tolerance, empathy, friendship, dialogue, honesty and love. My involvement in bringing this to fruition is something I feel proud and satisfied about. I feel grateful to all those who believed in it and contributed to its manifestation. For me it also fulfilled a prophetic dream I’d had many years before. I am aware that this model is being taken up by many others across the globe. This archetype will now live on within my soul and await it’s re-emergence in whatever new form when the time beckons. Keith S

Keith has left his mark on history and in the hearts and minds of many people who knew him and others who simply read his works.

 

About the writer.

Dr Chris James was a resident of Warburton for fifteen years.

She now resides in Gippsland where she is a writer artist and teacher.

Contact:

 Mobile: 0411 494396

Email: doctorchrisjames@gmail.com

Website: www.doctorchrisjames.com

Is there a War on Islam?

The War on Islam?

                                         Google image.

Labelled as a conspiracy theory, the War on Islam has been perpetrated by a number of political and social theorists. The term can refer to any acts that involve military, economic, social, cultural harm or any discursive means to undermine sovereignty and/or authority, like creating a negative public image, swaying public opinion with propaganda or fabricating stories about individuals and events.  In particular, the term is said to have come from Islam and pertains to accusations that the west is imposing its modern secularized ideas onto the traditional Islamic way of life. However, the War on Islam is much more than an idea or a political discourse, it has led to real wars, genocides, massacres, immense poverty and human displacements.    Juxtaposed is the western point of view, whereby The War on Islam has been converted into the western declaration of a War on Terrorism. This syllogism has been used mainly to identify key Islamic insurgents such as Sayyid Qutb, Ayatollah Khomeini, Anwar al-Awlaki and Osama bin Laden, all of whom are said to have raged a War of Terror on the capitalist west.  Sadly, there is little public knowledge on the history that cause these key figures to turn to terrorism.  By definition, terrorism is about inflicting terror, but it is also about having been terrorized. In order to understand these dynamics, we must go back to the source of terror that has been imposed on Islam in the past.

When we think about terrorism our minds hark back to the events of September 11th and the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre.    Since 9/11, hundreds of Americans and people residing inside the United States have been charged with jihadist terrorism or related crimes, or have died before being charged, but were widely reported to have engaged in jihadist terrorism. The rise of ISIS brought a surge in terrorism across the world, although there have been cases every year since 9/11 that were not so widely acknowledged.  As the years have passed and since the peak of ISIS, the group’s influence has greatly diminished and the number of terrorism cases has actually declined.[1]  What has not declined is the targeting of innocent Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism and just want to get on with their lives.

Today, Muslims live in many parts of the world and there is a view that they should assimilate into the western culture. Those who are charged with trying to make this happen seem not to understand that Islam is very different in its social order and requirements to that of the west.  Added to this, some aspects of the western culture have found their way into the Islamic countries and caused a split between the ideas of the establishments and the new generations, this in turn has added to the tension between east and west.

The west has rejected the idea that power should rest in the hands of religious leaders, European history has already had this experience at the time of the reformation.  Islam is also having a reformation, but it is not one major event, rather the reforming of Islam has been constant.  Within its own religious context Muslims have probably been subject to more reforms that any of nation. Reform is an integral part of Islams history. The greatest of all reformers was the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The early community attempted to improve their life-world by establishing Islam, which is in effect a reform movement in its own right. This was supported by Hadith claims that in every century, God would send a leader who would renew the religion. The concepts of reform (islah) and renewal (tajdid)[2] are taken directly from the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet and both involve a return to the fundamentals of Islam.[3]  However, the idea was not to move away from the ideas of Islam, but to appropriate modern ideas within the Islamic framework.

The problem incurred from the west lies in the inception of modernism, which has its roots in nineteenth century colonialism. This caused a dramatic decline in the Islamic economies. Muslims became totally subordinate to western domination.  Europe was deeply embedded in the new sciences, which were actually not new at all they were implicitly lifted from the historical contributions made by Muslims.  The fact is, Islamic science was robust  when Europe was still in the Dark Ages. These sciences included mathematics, geometry, algebra, medicine astronomy and religious life.  Reforms gave power to women long before the west’s suffragette movement.

It is true that many Muslims cannot support the idea of a secular society and the most radical of groups such as Hisb al-Tahrir are hoping to reinstate a Caliphate and gain global dominance. Some countries have installed Islamic States and/or theocratic republics that range from the monarchy of Saudi Arabia to the religiously dominated governments of Pakistan, Iran Afghanistan, Turky, Bangladesh, Maylasia, Indonesia and Sudan, most with autocratic regimes propped up by the military. The west has played a crucial part in the birth of these regimes through years of colonialism. Yet, today, this has seen the west entering into new crusades based on the notion of turning these states into democracies. Indeed, there is an ongoing assumption that democracies are the ideal system for any country wishing to join the New World Order,  but realistically,  most democracies are plagued with self-interests, corruption and failure to serve those who vote them in.

In studies on conflict the philosopher Charles Peirce uses semiology (the theory of signs) to understand and to clarify the problems of conflict.   Peirce draws on a theory of signs to identify the dynamics of hostile engagement. Hitherto, I shall apply Charles Peirce’s theory of signs to simplify and re-frame the Western and Middle Eastern problem.

First let us look at some of the characters already mentioned in their historical context. Sayyid Qutb was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamic organization founded in Egypt by the Islamic scholar Hassan al-Banna in 1928. Sheikh Hassan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Muhammed al-Banna was an Egyptian schoolteacher and imam, and one of the most influential Islamic revivalists.[4]  He published his treatise “On Jihad” in the late 1930s and it “became a required part of the Muslim Brothers’ curriculum.” [5] The main translation can be found in Wendell’s 1977 collection, Five Tracts of Hasan Al-Banna (1906-1949).[6] Al-Banna’s writings marked a dramatic shift in Islamic intellectual thought by presenting a modern Islamic ideology.  He designated the Qur’an to be the only acceptable guide to life and he promulgated the total Islamization of the state, the economy, and society. He declared that establishing a just society required development of institutions and progressive taxation, and elaborated an Islamic fiscal theory where zakat (taxes) would be reserved for social expenditure in order to reduce inequality.  Al-Banna strongly criticized Western materialism, consumption and rigorous competitiveness.   He condemned British imperialism, and the traditionalism of the Egyptian ulema (a body of Muslim scholars who are said to have specialist knowledge of Islamic sacred law and theology). Al-Banna’s ideas appealed to Egyptian and pan-Arab patriotism, but he rejected Arab nationalism and regarded all Muslims as members of a single community.[7]

Al-Banna’s work and that of his contemporary Sayyid Qutb need to be viewed in the context of an Arab Middle Eastern struggle for independence. The rule of Ottoman Albanian commander Muhammad Ali established a dynasty in 1805 that went on to reign until 1953. It was informally part of the Ottoman Empire.  In 1859-69 the Suez Canal was built, but it and other infrastructure projects ruined the economy of Egypt and lead to a gradual occupation by the British. In 1882 the British troops defeated the Egyptian army and took complete control of country. Egypt then became a British protectorate in 1914 at the start of the First World War. During the war Britain mustered its forces to guard the Suez Canal against invasion. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) was a British Empire military formation, formed to accomplish that role, It was established on 10 March 1916 under the command of General Archibald Murray from the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and the Force in Egypt (1914–15), at the beginning of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.[8] Fierce battles ensued before the defeat of the German and Turkish forces further crippling the Egyptian economy and the peoples’ spirit. After the 1914 Egyptian independence was restored, but the British influence remained strong until the 1950s. Importantly, at this time there were many changes occurring in Britain and the United States and Qutb believed the western influence was having an impact on the Egyptian monarchy. Sayyid Qutb visited America to see what was happening and what he witnessed disturbed him.  What he saw was America’s materialist and violent society, obsessed with sexual pleasures. Qutb spent two years pursing studies in educational administration.   Over two years, he worked and studied at Wilson Teachers’ College in Washington, D.C.   He visited the major cities of the United States and spent time in Europe.

America had a profound influence on Qutb’s thoughts and  he wrote about it.  Qutb noted with disapproval the openly displayed sexuality of American women:  He showed how the American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. “She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs – and she shows all this and does not hide it”. [9] He also commented on the American taste in arts and disapproved of them.

Before visiting America Qutb had enjoyed the western classics, but the realities of a changing western world were too much for him. On his return to Egypt, Qutb published “The America that I Have Seen”, where he became explicitly critical of things he had observed, materialism, individual freedoms, the economic system, racism, divorce, sports such as boxing and the interaction between men and women. He also objected to the strong support the United States gave to the new State of Israel. [10]

On the 29th August 1966, Sayyid Qutb, was executed for his role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government of President Nasser, but he has remained a hero to those Muslims America refers to as Jihadists and he is said to be the father of Islamic fundamentalism. He is believed to have been the inspiration behind the fight in Syria and the massacres in European cities. His book, known in English either as Milestones or Signposts, is described as being to militant Islam what Das Kapital was to communism or Mein Kampf was to Nazism. It has certainly influenced generations of Islamic fundamentalists, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.[11] However, author James Nolan, who writes about Qutb in his book What They Saw in America, says the Egyptian struck him as an unlikely candidate to be an Islamic terrorist. He was educated, a consumer of classical music, an intellectual.[12]  In Nolan’s book the story of Qubt is one of an existential crisis. while trying to determine whether he was going to be a true Muslim or if he was going to give way to what he called jahiliyyah—a departure from true Islam,’ Nolan explains. “This was tested one night in his cabin on a ship when a woman came to his door  semi-naked.  She asks if she can spend the night with him.

“True to his resolutions, he says no and he shuts the door. Then he hears her collapse outside the door in a drunken state”. Qutb sees this as an example of him keeping to his determination to stay true and not get into western sexual mores. This was believed to have radicalized Qutb.  Nolan goes on to suggest there were already seeds of discontent due to the Egyptian complacency with British colonization.

 When Qutb went back to Egypt, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and helped in the overthrow of the monarchy. Later, under the government of the secular nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser, he was thrown in jail for his extremist activities.

At 3:00am on 29 August 1966, Sayyid Qutb was hanged in Egypt for his part in a conspiracy to assassinate Nasser, though Nolan says the trial was really based on his book.

Al Qaeda and Islamic activists have been very much influenced by Qutb’s writings and his life.   Nolan states, .’I think we need to understand him. You don’t have to agree with him to understand him.’[13]

 

In this last and final part of this study, Al-Banna wraps up his essay by addressing contemporary arguments against the obligation for violent jihad.  In a passage that could have been written by any online jihadi today, Al-Banna dismisses the “greater” vs” lesser” jihad argument.  In a fascinating reversal of tactics, it’s Brotherhood members themselves who use the “greater vs lesser” argument to deflect criticism from non-Muslims. [14]

Al-Banna’s teachings spread far beyond Egypt, influencing today various Islamist movements from charitable organizations to political parties. The English-language political neologism of “War on Islam” was coined in Islamist discourse in the 1990s and popularized as a conspiracy theory only after 2001.[12] Jonathan Schanzer has argued that the historical Muslim indifference to the West turned to “alarmed dislike” with the beginning of Western military superiority in the 17th century. This is  when Europe was coming into its own intellectually and scientifically.  There was fierce competition between beliefs with Islam being perceived as threatening to both the monarchy and the Christian hierarchy. However, with the end of the era of Western colonialism, rage against non-Muslims and the governments of Muslim-majority countries stemmed, not from alleged non-Muslim aggression and enmity, but allegedly from frustration over the unrelenting encroachment from Western culture.   This encroachment has never ceased.  [13]

[1] https://www.newamerica.org/international-security/reports/terrorism-in-america/terrorism-cases-2001-today

[2] Ibid p 90

[3] Qur’an 7. 170;  11. 117; 28.19.

[4] Making Sense of Jihad. https://web.archive.org/web/20090902105703/http://www.makingsenseofjihad.com/albannas_on_jihad/

[5] Iibid.

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8]

[9]“‘Qutb: Between Terror And Tragedy’ by Hisham Sabrin”. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 17 June 2006. quoting Hourani, A. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798–1939. Cambridge University Press, 1962. and Mitchell, Richard S. The Society of The Muslim Brotherhood. Oxford University Press, 1969.

[10]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sayyid_Qutb#Two_years_in_the_United_States

[11] https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/how-living-in-america-changed-islamic-fundamentalist-sayyid-qutb/7800676

[12] Ibid

[13] James Nolan What They Saw in America,  Williams College, Massachusetts. Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Online publication date: April 2016; Print publication year: 2016​ …