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1992: AUSTCARE Report on Burma Refu

Subject: 1992: AUSTCARE Report on Burma Refugees.

/* posted May 1 12:30pm 1995 by uneoo@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx on  igc:soc.culture.burma */
/* ---------" 1992: AUSTCARE report on Burma Refugees "--------- */

[Following June 1992 report on Burmese refugees was prepared by
AUSTCARE, 69-71 Parammatta Road, Camperdown 2050, Sydney Australia.
I  reposted  the part of report concerning the Rohingyas, which may
interest  some of you. -- U Ne Oo.]

AUSTCARE  (Australians  Care  For  Refugees),  a  major  Australian
non-government aid organisation, has programs for refugees throught
the  developing world. In 1987 it inaugurated National Refugee Week
in order to  raise  the  awareness  of  Australians  about  refugee
issues.  As  a  focus  for  Refugeee  Week  1992,  AUSTCARE and the
Australian Section  of  the  International  Commission  of  Jurists
(ASICJ)  invited  the  respected  human  rights  activist and first
President of the Australian  Human  Rights  and  Equal  Opportunity
Commission, the Hon. Justice Marcus Einfeld of the Federal Court of
Australia,   to  visit  three  major  refugee  trouble  spots:  the
so-called Vietnamese  "boat  people"  in  Hong  Kong,  the  Burmese
refugees  in  Bangladesh and the Thai/Burmese border situation. The
ASICJ commissioned this report with  a  view  to  highlighting  the
infractions  of  human rights being inflicted on refugees and other
displaced persons in these places.

The visit was under taken  between  20  March  and  6  April  1992.
Justice Einfeld was accompained in Hong Kong by AUSTCARE's National
Marketing  Manager,  Bobbie  Dart, and in Bangladesh by its Program
Co-ordinator Patricia  Garcia.  He  was  also  accompanied  by  the
Executive  Officer  to NSW Attorney General, the Hon. Peter Collins
QC MP, John Hall, who has assembled  this  report.  The  visit  was
chrinicled  on film by a team from SBS television led by jorunalist
Vivian Schenker who has  since  produced  two  documentary  reports
screened by SBS.

Considerable  assistance and co-operation was rendered by officials
of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)  under
Chief  de  Mission  Darioush Bayandor, who arrived in Bangladesh at
about the same time as Justice Einfeld.

Justice Einfeld expresses his deep appreciation of  the  assistance
rendered  to him by all these persons, by Attorney General Collins,
by  officials  of  the  Hong  Kong,  Bangladeshi   and   Australian
Governments  and  of the UNHCR in Bangladesh, Geneva and Australia,
and by representatives of the many non-government organizations  in
the  countries  visited  who  made  the  mission  and  this  report

SYDNEY, 17 JUNE 1992.

<Page 32 - 59.> BANGLADESH
One of the most serious refugee problems  in  the  world  today  is
situated  in  Bangladesh.  Having started as a trickle of people in
about June 1991, in October 1991 large numbers of Rohingas,  Muslim
people  from a western state of Burma called Arakan, began to cross
the Naf River, which forms the border between Burma and Bangladesh.
The crossing point is near a town called Teknaf. At the time of  my
visit  to  the  area in April 1992, the number of refugees exceeded
200,000. My own observations and information provided by the  UNHCR
and  other  aid agencies established that people were then entering
Bangladesh at the rate of 4,000-5,000 per day.

The number of refugees has since  grown  to  over  268,000  people.
Despite a recent agreement between Bangladesh and Burma to commence
repatriation,  the  people are not only not returning; new refugees
are crossing the Naf river at the rate aof about 2,000 a day.

Burma is today  governed  by  a  military  dictatorship  which  has
conducted  a  series  of  campaigns  against  the  country's ethnic
minorities for many years. The  State  Law  and  Order  Restoration
council (SLORC) , which governs Burma, is widely regarede as one of
the   most   brutal  and  repressive  regimes  in  the  world.  All
fundamental human rights are actively suppressed, including freedom
of religion, movement, speech, political opinion, and  association,
and economic and cultural independence.

The  SLORC's  discrimination against ethnic minorities has resulted
in the growth of insurgencies amongst the Rohingya, Karen,  Kachin,
Karenni,  mon  and  other  groups  of  Burmese  people.  There  are
currently  upheavals  in  virtually  all  border  areas  of  burma,
resulting  in large numbers of refugees seeking refuge in Thailand,
China, India and Bangladesh.

It is mportant to understand the historical  context  within  which
this  crisis has occurred. The plight of the Rohingya people can be
seen primarily as a matter of religious persecution. Arakan  has  a
history  dating  back to the 14th Century. In 1824 there was a mass
migration of Muslims  (Indians)  into  Arakan,  after  the  British
annexed  it  during  the  First  Burmese  war.  The  first  British
Ambassador to Burma in 1924 was Sir Adrian Cox, who encouraged  the
Indians  to  wark  as  labourers  in  Arakan State. In 1936 Britain
declared Burma self governing, thereby separating it from India, of
which it was then part. This  left  the  Muslim  people  of  Arakan
unprotected from Burma as it developed into a Buddhist state.

Religious  riots  first took place in Arakan in 1939, stemming from
different Buddhist and Muslim religious philosophies in respect  of
killing  of  animals,  principally  the  cow.  Serious  anti-Muslim
violence also occurred in 1942 following the withdrawal of  British
troops  in  the  wake  of  the  Japanese invasion. According to one

     Gangs  of  Buddhist  Arakanese  communalists   raided   Muslim
     villages  in  the southern parts of the province and massacred
     more  than  100,000  unarmed  Muslims  .....[Arakan,  December
     31,1989, p.25]

Many  thousands  fled  north  into  bangladesh  (then  India, later
Pakistan). In 1945 the British proclaimed  North  Arakan  a "Muslim
National  Area"  and  Muslims were appointed to senior posts in the

However, Arakan  is  not  a  Muslim  state  and  other  ethnic  and
religious  groups  live  there.  The  muslims  are considered to be
immigrants by other Arakanese, and  are  discriminated  against  by
these  Arakanese in many walks of life. Marriages of non-Muslims to
Indians result in the persons being  totally  cut  off  from  their
Arakanese  families.  On  the other hand, it is reumoured that vast
monetary rewards are gien by fellow Muslims to  Muslims  who  marry
into  prominent  Arakanese  families,  and the SLORC has apparently
always been eager to produce evidence to this effect to assist  its
anti-Muslim campaign.

In  recent  times,  the mon-Muslim Arakanese have largely put aside
their feelings about the Muslims, and now refuse to be  drawn  into
religious  or  anti-Indian  uprisings being regularly instigated by
the SLORC. This has resulted in the SLORC being  unable  to  incite
riots  and  to  shift  the  blame  for  the  Rohingya exodus to the
Arakanese people. It is widely believed that following  the  demise
of  the  SLORC,  and  in  the absence of its propaganda against the
Muslims, the non-Muslim Arakanese people  would  be  more  tolerant
towards them.

In January 1948 Burma was recognised as an independent state by the
United  Nations.  The  first  prime  minister,  U Nu, governed in a
bi-cameral political system founded on the  Constitution  of  1947.
The  Constitution  was  based  on  a consensus between the majority
Buddhists and the minority  groups,  and  provided  for  a  federal
system  of  government,  with  Union  and  State Governments, and a
separation of power between  the  executive,  the  legislature  and

However,  the  rights  of  ethnic  minorities were not respected in
reality.  In  1948  the  Communist  Party  was  raided   and   went
underground.  This  proved  to  be  a  catalyst for minority groups
throught  the   country.   Discrimination   against   Muslims   was
widespread,  and  included  the  removal of Muslims from Government
positions and their  replacement  by  Buddhists.  Moreover,  Muslim
refugees  in  East  Bengal (now Bangladesh) were denied re-entry to
Burma, whereas what are called Mogh Buddinsts  were  encouraged  to
return  and  were  assisted  to  do  so  by  a  Government program.
Nevertheless, during the U Nu period, Burma boasted a  free  press,
high  educational  standards,  a  developing  economy  and relative
observance of the rule of law.  It  was  said  to  be  the  richest
country in South Asia.

In  1962 General Ne Win seized power in a coup d'etat. Ne Win ruled
through decrees passed by aa Revolutionary Council of which he  was
chairman,  and developed an aggressive and irrational mix of policy
which could loosely be described  as  Marxist.  The  coup  and  its
aftermath  were  summarised  in  a 1991 report by the International
Commission of Jurists (ICJ):

    The President, Prime Minister U Nu and the Chief Justice of the
    Supreme court U Myint Thein as well as  Cabinet  Ministers  and
    other  leaders  were thrown in gaol .......On March 8, 1962 the
    Revolution Council dissolved the Parliament. On 30  March  1962
    the  Supreme  court  and the High Court were abolished and were
    replaced by the Chief court of Myanmar. This new set of  courts
    consisted  of  three  members,  who in most cases were military
    officers.  General  Ne  Win's  Cabinet  consisted  of  15  Army
    officers  and one officer each from the Navy and the Air Force.
    There was not a single civilian in it. [Makhdoon Ali Khan, "The
    Burmese ways to Where", p.18]

The Ne Win junta  pursued  a  number  of  specifically  anti-Muslim
policies. In 1964 the Mayu Frontier Administration, established for
Rohingya  development,  was abolished - as were the United Rohingya
League, the Rohingya Cultural  Association  and  the  Universities'
Rohingya  Student  Association.  The  following  year  the Rohingya
Language Program which was broadcast  twice  weekly  by  the  Burma
Broadcasting   Service   in   Rangoon  was  also  abolished.  Other
impairments  in  the  freedom  of  Muslims  were  also   initiated,
including restricitons on their movement throught the country.

Fundamental  human rights in general also suffered under the Ne Win
regime. In particular,  the  rule  of  law  effectively  ceased  to
operate,  except  to  the extent that it suited the purposes of the
regime. Gradually the free press was eradicated  and  in  1966  all
private  newspapers  were  banned and foreign journalists expelled.
All publications were placed under  the  control  of  a  government
board.  Schools  were  nationalised  and  curricula controlled. The
teaching of minority and foreign languages  virtually  ceased.  The
literacy rate plummeted from 67% in 1978 to 18.7% in 1987.

In  an  attempt to legitimise itself, the regime began to develop a
new constitution in 1971, which, after several drafts, was ratified
by a 90.19% vote at a national referendum in 1973. Millions did not
vote, despite the pressure on everyone to participate. In 1974  the
Revolutionary  Council  was  abolished,  and replaced by a People's
Assembly, ehich in turn elected the council of State.  As  chairman
of  the  Council  of  State,  Ne  Win  became  the  President.  The
Constitution was drafted to ensure that the only legal party -  the
Burma  Socialist  Program  Party - maintained complete control over
all tiers of government, in much  the  same  wy  as  the  Communist
Parties in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

In  the  latter  half  of  1974,  a  series  of strikes and student
demonstration was brutally put down by the regime. Ne Win used this
as an excuse to declare martial law, which persisited  until  1988.
In  that  year  there  occurred  a  series  of virtually nationwide
demonstrations which were inspired by a decision in September  1987
so that:

     All  currrency  notes  above  the  value  of  about $2.00 were
     demonetised and virtuallly 70% of all currency in  circulation
     was rendered valueless. [Khan, ibid p.22]

In  June 1988, in the face of a rapidly deteriorating situation, Ne
Win resigned. On 18 September, in an obviously staged coup, General
Saw Maung, the Defence Minister, took power. He established  an  18
member  State  Law  and  Order  Restoration  Council (SLORC)  which
assumed all legislative, executive and judicial power. As  the  ICJ

     Gathering  of  more  than 5 people were prohibited, curfew was
     imposed and demonstrators were shot. The  (army)  cleared  the
     streets  of  all  protesters  and  opposition.  House-to-house
     searches were carried out and a number  of  those  apprehenede
     were summarily executed.[Khan, ibid p.26]

The  SLORC  took,  and  to  this day maintains, absolute power. The
court system  has  been  completely  reorganised,  and  a  tier  of
military  tribunals  established  to deal with all political cases.
'Trials' by these tribunals are a sham, the onus of  proof  resting
upon  the  accused, and sentences range from 3 years hard labour to

Shortly after  its  commencement,  presumably  to  seek  a  popular
mandate for itself and expecting to take advantage of the impotency
of  other  groups  after  years  of  authoritarian  rule, the SLORC
promised free and fair elections to  a  new  constituent  assembly.
However,  in  September  1988,  in  order to concentrate opposition
forces, the three main opposition leaders launched a new  political
party called the National League for Democracy (NLD). It was led by
Aung Gyi as Chairman, Tin Oo as Vice Chairman and Aung San Suuu Kyi
as General Secretary. Suu is the daughter of a popular independence

Aung  Gyi  left  the  NLD  on  the  3 December 1988, and Tin Oo was
elected Chairman on 10 December 1988. Aung Gyi set up his own party
called the United Nationals Democracy Party (UNDP) on  16  December
1988.  It was widely believed that he would merge the UNDP with the
SLORC'S party, the National Unity Party (NUP), if the NUP  won  the

On  27  May  1990 a national election was held, and the NLD won 392
out of 485 seats. The UNDP did not win any seats. To this  day  the
SLORC  has  refused to transfer power to the new party or allow the
parliamentary  assembly  to  meet.  It  has  placed  a  series   of
pre-conditions   on   the   transfer,  and  has  ensured  that  the
pre-conditions cannot be net. Moreover, Suu Kyi  was  placed  under
house  arrest  where  she  has  remained  since the election, and a
number of NLD officials and elected candidates, including  the  now
eldersly U Nu, were imprisoned. Others fled into exile in Thailand.
Suu's  house  arrest meant separation from her husband and childern
and total inaccessibility to anyone other than tradesmen, suppliers
and domestic assistants.

The Citizenship Law of 1982
The Citizenship Law of 1982 allowed the  junta  to  perpetuate  its
anti-minority   policies.   The   law   creates   three  grades  of
citizenship: full, associate and  naturalised.  All  ethnic  groups
which  settled  in  Burma  before  1923  were  categorised  as full
citizens; those who  came  during  British  rule  and  applied  for
citizenship   under   the   Union  Citizenship  Act  of  1948  were
categorised  as   "associate   citizens";   and   all   others   as

However,  there is no legally enforceable right to citizenship, and
the decision in each case is in the discretion of the  SLORC.  This
has allowed the SLORC to renderminorities effectively non-citizens,
and provided further opportunities for anti-minority policies.

The Rohingyas
There  have  reportedly  been  13 major military operations against
Muslims in Arakan  since  1948.  [Media  release,  Arakan  Rohingya
Islamic  Front,  14  March  1992].  In  1978  the  regime  launched
operation NAGA MIN (Dragon King) wihch left 10,000 dead and  forced
between  200,000  and  300,000  across the border to seek refuge in
Bangladesh. International pressure eventually forced the regime  to
accept  the  refugees  back, though many remained in Bangladesh. It
would appear that the current influx of refugees  is  a  result  of
another  operation of the Dragon King type. A recent report , under
the headline "SLORC launched program against Rohingyas", stated:

     ..... Burmese armed forces have let loose orgies  of  killing,
     looting and raping all over Arakan. The armed forces open fire
     with  heavy  guns  on  the  civilian  population  in  Rohingya
     inhabited areas on the slightest pretext, killing and injuring
     large numbers of  civilian  population.  [Comsumer  Economist,
     Dhaka, 9-16 February 1992]

There  are  literally  hunderds  of reports of atrocities and human
rights violations. My colleagues and I, and UNHCR officials,  spoke
to  a  number  of  people claiming first hand experience of events,
including women who had been assaulted and raped.  Some  showed  us
signs of the brutalities committed upon them.

The  military  operations  have  been  exacerbated  by  the  forced
resettlement of Buddhists into Rohingya  areas,  resulting  in  the
confiscation of Rohingya property, including farms and livestock. A
typical report reads:

     Our  houses and properties including bullocks and ploughs were
     snatched away by police and army and those were  gien  to  the
     Mogh  settlers ....... Rohingya Muslims will not be allowed to
     go back to their ancestral home in Arakan as  Mogh  population
     is given permanent settlement by uprooting Rohingya.
     [The Morning Sun, Khaka, 11 March 1992]

All  reports  reveal  a  pattern  of  violence  by  Burmese troops,
including enforced slave labour to carry supplies  for  troops  and
for construction of roads. Rape occurs on an appalling scale. There
are  hunderds  of reported cases where women have been abducted and
forced  to  carry   heavy   loads   through   mountainous   terrain
("portering"), rape repeatedly every night, and fed almost nothing.
Needless to say, many do not survive the experience.

SLORC  military  activity in Arakan is also directed at a number of
Muslim organisations, which differ substantially in size,  strength
and aims. A recent article summarised the situation:

     The  two  main groups are the moderate Arakan Rohingya Islamic
     Front and the more militant Rohingya  Solidarity  Organisation
     (RSO).  The  smaller  groups  include  the  Rohingya Patriotic
     Front, Rohingya Liberation Army, Arakan People's Freedom Party
     and Harkate Jihadul Islam.  The  armed  strength  and  popular
     following   of   these  groups  are  hard  to  determine.  [S.
     Kamaluddish, "The Arakan Exodus", Far Eastern Econimic Review,
     26 March 1992]

It is alleged that some groups are armed  and  have  jungle  camps.
Moreover,  there are suggestions that the separatist groups - those
fighting for a separate Muslim Arakan State - are being funded  and
armed  by  other  Islamic  nations such as Libya. This is lent some
credence by statements,  attributed  to  Libya's  Colonel  Gaddafi,
critical of the SLORC and supportive of the Muslim cause in Arakan.
However,  from  my  enquiries  it  seems  doubtful  that a separate
Rohingya State will ever  be  acceptable  to  the  Burmese  people,
despite efforts by some groups to promote it as a solution to inter
-religious or cultural tensions.

Business and Military Activity
The  takeover  of  Burma  by  the Ne Win regime saw an almost total
prohibition on foreign business investment in  Burma.  However,  in
1988 the SLORC introduced new foreign investment laws allowing 100%
foreign  -  owned  firms to invest in Burma, permitting 35% or more
foreign   investment   in   joint   ventures,   guaranteeing   that
foreign-owned  assets  would  not be nationalised, allowing foreign
investory  to  repatriate  profits,  and  providing  3   year   tax
exemptions  to them. The consequence has been a series of lucrative
business deals between the SLORC and foreign companies designed  to
frustrate  internationa  efforts  to  deny  the  junta  econ9mic or
military assistance.

Huge  quantities  of  military  hardware  have  been  purchased   -
including  fighter  aircraft,  tanks,  artillery  and  small arms -
principally from China. It has been estimated that  Burma's  recent
arms  deals  with china have exceeded $US 1.2 bullion. [The Nation,
16 April 1992]/ A recent media statement by the SLORC  stated  that
in the 1992/93 financial year Burma would increase defence spending
by  $US  200  million  to  $US  1.26  billion  -  35%  of the total
budget.{Bangkok Post, 23 April 1992]. With not a  semblance  of  an
outside enemy, this is a staggering admission.

Burma's  major trading partners are China, Japan, Korea, Singapore,
Taiwan and Thailand. To that list can be added Australia,  Belgium,
Britain, Canada, France, Germeny, Holland, Isreal, Italy, Pakistan,
Singapore, Sweden and the USA. As the ICJ reported:

     The  Government  sold  logging  and  fishing  rights  to  Thai
     companies, logging rights and rights of  jade  exploration  to
     the   Chinese  and  oil-exploration  rights  to  a  number  of
     multi-nationals. Shell Exploration of  Britain,  Petro  Canada
     Resources  owned  by  the  Governemnt of Canada, Indemitsu Oil
     Development of Japan, Yukonglo of South  Korea,  Amoco,  Exxon
     and  Unocol of the United States and Elf of France, signed oil
     exploration and production-sharing contracts with the  Myanmar
     Oil and Gas Enterprises. It is reported that each company paid
     a license fe of $US 5 million. [Khan, ibid p 83]

It   is  obviously  quite  unacceptable  for  countries,  including
Australia, to make high sounding  statements  about  Burms's  human
rights  abuses  whilst  simultaneously  allowing, and in some cases
encouraging, such business relationships. This particularly so with
arms sales.

The growth of business interest  in  Burma  is  also  resulting  in
severe  degradation of the environment. Manay reports indicate that
huge areas of forest - particularly teak - are being clear  felled,
by  Japanese  and  Thai companies among others, without any attempt
whatsoever to control the environmental  side-effects.  This  clear
felling  suits  the  SLORC's purposes in three ways. Apart from the
income that it generates, the clearing of forstss removes the cover
for insurgent groups, and forestry roads allow the Burmese army  to
move more easily into difficult terrain.

The Relief Effort in Bangladesh
>From  the  first crossing into Bangladesh of significant numbers of
refugees until March 1992, the Bangladeshi  governemnt  dealt  with
the   problem   almost  exclusively  internally  -  either  through
governemnt officials or by some mainly  Bangladeshi  non-governemnt
organisations  (NGOs). These were increasingly assisted by a number
of foreign  NGOs.  The  reasons  for  having  kept  control  within
Bangladesh  for  so  long before internationalising it appear to be
partly because it took some time before  tha  true  extent  of  the
problem  became  clear, and partly because the Government preferred
to rely upon its own bilateral diplomatic  contact  with  Burma  to
resolve the problem.

Due  to  its  past  experiences within its won borders and the 1978
Rohingya refugee  crisis,  Bangladesh  has  developed  a  generally
excellent  capacity  for  disaster  relief.  The person principally
responsible in the present case is the  Districy  commissioner  who
has  administrative responsibility for a substantial area including
Cox's Bazar, the nearest large town of Teknaf,  the  scene  of  the
crisis.  Cox's  Bazar  is about 45 minutes by plane south of Dhaka.
Teknaf is more than 3 hours by  road  south  of  Cox's  Bazar.  The
District  Commissioner  told  my  colleagues  and  me  that  he had
controlled the refugee situation personally from October 1991 until
February 1992 without outside assistance. However, at the  rate  of
new  arrivals,  any  real control over the situation was eventually
rendered practically impossible.

With  respect  to  day-to-day  management  of  the  refugees,   the
Government  appointed a senior public servant - known a the Refugee
commissioner - to co-ordinate and control all  camps.  The  Refugee
Commissioner  is  assisted  by  four  staff,  some of whom have had
experience with cyclone relief and other disosters.

In the field,  the  principal  organisation  in  the  Gonoshasthaya
Kendra  (GK),  a  Dhaka-based  NGO. Teh Executive Director of GK in
Cox's Bazar, Dr Ghulam Justafa, conducted my colleagues and me on a
tour of teh camps, and assisted in interviews with  camp  officials
and residents.

GK  grew  out  of  the 1971 war with Pakistan which resulted in the
independence of  Bangladesh.  Two  Bangladeshi  doctors  came  from
Britain   and  established  a  field  hospital.  After  the  war  a
charitable trust was established  to  build  upon  this  pioneering
work,   particularly   in   development   issues.  Since  then  the
organisation has grown  and  has  developed  experience  through  a
number  of  disasters, including the 1974 famine, the 1985 cyclone,
and the 1988,1989 and 1991 floods, cyclones and tidal waves. It  is
headed  by the dynamic Dr Zafrullah Chaudhury. The principal skills
of GK, apart fro being a disaster relief organisation, are  in  the
areas of medicine, nutrition and disaster housing.

Two of Dr Choudhury's particular achievements are worth mentioning.
GK  employs  a  majority  of  women  and  pursues equal opportunity
policies that put most western nations to shame. It has  also  been
instrumental  in  developing  a national drug manufacturing program
which  now  supplies  all  or  most   of   Bangladesh's   principal
pharmaceutical  requirements,  and  has freed the country from what
was formerly total reliance upon multi-national drug companies.

The Camps
The Rohingya  regfugees  are  housed  or  are  squatting  in  camps
situated  along  the road between Cox's Bazar and Teknaf. This is a
low lying area wiht  significant  quantities  of  unclean  stagnant
surface  water. It is extremely vulnerable to rain which causes the
river level to rise and swamp the plain.

At the time of my visit there were 11 camps, providing shelter  for
just  under  100,000  refugees - leaving a further 100,000 refugees
requiring shelter. My colleagues and I visited all of the camps, in
particular spending a considerable time  at  Dechuapalong  II,  the
largest and most organised camp.

Under  the  administration  of  experienced  government  employees,
assisted by officers of GK, the camp had some 23,000  residents  in
late  March.  The  people were housed in 153 thatched 'log houses'.
These  buildings  are  relatively  solid  but  some  of  them  have
corrugated  iron  roofs  which,  if  dislodged during a cyclone - a
quite likely event - would cause immense danger as they flew around
this heavily populated area. The  "apartments"  allocated  to  each
familiy  group  inside  the buildings were small. I could not stand
fully upright in them. 155 pit latrines were provided but some were
in  high  positions  so  that  if  they become flooded by rain, the
overflow will almost certainly cause widespread disease.  71  wells
provide  drinking  water but again the survivability of this supply
in a monsoon is problematic. 4 health teams were in operation and a
program was under way to vaccinate all childern  between  6  months
and  2  years  of  age  for  measles.  Childern's  classes  in  the
particular dialect of the Rohingyas are provided daily. I witnessed
one such class  in progress.

For the remainder of the camps,  the  type  of  'shelter'  in  most
instances   consists  of  flimsy  grass  huts,  all  of  which  are
shockingly overcrowded. There was little water on site and  minimal
toilet  facilities. Plans were in place to use plastic sheeting for
new  shelters,  and  the  Refugee  commissioner  informed  me  that
sheeting  for 65,000 people was on order. Tens of thousands of very
recent arrivals had no shelter at all  and  merely  squatted  under
large trees. There was a massive need for potable drinking water.

Health  services were being provided by GK, Medicins Sans Frontiers
and UNHCR. The refugees suffer, and some die,  from  a  variety  of
health   problems   including   malnutrition,  diarrhoea,  measles,
tetanus, gastro-intestinal disorders, malaria and dysentery,  among
others.  There  is  a special diarrhoea clinic to try to reduce the
deaths. The childern were  particularly  vulnerable.  Most  of  the
refugees  had  apparently  never  seen  a  doctor or been medically
treated in Burma. They  certainly  had  not  had  any  professional
dental  treatment  in their lives. The provision of truly effective
health services under such conditions  is,  of  course,  impossible
except on a very basic level.

I  also  saw the distribution and some preparation of food. Until 1
April 1992, food  was  provided  by  the  Bangladesh  Red  Crescent
Society,  under  a program financed by the EEC andthe Red Cross. It
was repleced on 1 April by supplies from the  World  Food  Program.
Food  is  distributed  via  stores  in  each  camp, supplied form a
central repository in Cox's Bazar. Family packs of food are used  (
a  concept  developed by GK), based on the number of people in each
family. The calorific value of the parcles is  2,200  calories  per
person  per  day, and packages are issued weekly. The diet does not
change from week to week (mainly rice, soya bean oil and salt), and
the ration  is  extremely  meagre.  It  requires  supplementing  by
hunting,   fishing   or  searching  for  locally  grown  fruit  and

Most of the refugees  arrive  with  minimal  possessions  -  a  fer
cooking  pots and very basic clothing. Some report having travelled
many hundreds of miles through difficult terrain,  often  on  foot,
prior  to  getting into the boats to cross the river to Bangladesh.
Consequently many people, especially the childern and the  elderly,
are  in  poor condition and often very malnourished. Some are quite
ill or diseased and may not survive.

Some 45% of the refugees are under 12 years of age.  Families  tend
to  be  large with childern close together in age. Birth control or
family planning is virtually unknown in Rohingya
culture Many women are already pregnant upon  arrrival,  and  there
are,  therefore,  a  large  number  of births in the camps. This in
itself has created major difficulties. There are no  facilities  to
undertake  a  caesarean  section  in  the  camps, nor even in cox's
Bazar, where the district hospital operates under the most stressed
and distressing conditions. The  nearest  hospital  for  operations
under  general  anaesthetic  is  about 120 kms away, many haours by
car. Baby care facilities in the camps are minimal and  babies  are
susceptible to fatal diseases from the moment of their birth.

Recent Developments
Shortly  after  my  visit,  General  Saw  Maung  resigned  from the
leadership  of  the  SLORC  and  his  successor  made  some  public
pronouncements  of a change of attitude in the leadership. A number
of political prisoners have reportedly been released,  including  U
Nu,  teh  attacks  on  towns, camps and people near the thai border
were supposedly stopped, Aung San Suu Kyi was allowee  to  see  her
husband  and  childern  for  the  first time in four years, and the
Rohingyas were invited to return. Few if any have done so.

The announcement concerning the rugrgees was that those  who  could
prove  their  citizenship  could  return. This appears to be a most
dubious "concession". Firstly of course, it provides  no  guarantee
of  freedom from harassment and mistreatment. As a number of people
I met had also crossed into Bangladesh at  the  time  of  the  last
forced  exodus  in 1978, it is unlikely that many will be persuaded
to return without at least international guarantees of  protection.
As the junta's new policy announcement expressly forbade protection
by  the UNHCR, no such guarantee can be given. An invitation by the
SLORC  to one or more countries to perform the task, of which there
is absolutely no sign, would not provide an answer because it would
be impossible for such countries to  stay  if  the  invitation  was
withdrawn  or  to  perform  any  functionwhich  was  not  expressly

Secondly,  the refugees I spoke to had few or no papers to prove or
disprove citizenship. The people and their  forbears  have  clearly
been  living  in  Arakan  for generations. As Muslims in Arakan are
ethnically Bangali  rather  than  of  oriental  origin,  and  their
language   apparently  approximates  the  dialect  spoken  only  in
southern Bangladesh, though they are not Bangladeshi,  there  seems
no doubt of their entitlement to Burmese citizenship. The fact that
the  people  I  spoke  to  said  that  they  had  voted in the 1990
elections conducted by the SLORC merely acknowledges and emphasises
their long held entitlement to live in Burma. The  fact  that  they
voted  for Suu Kyi may be a reason for the qualification now put on
their right to return, or the danger they may face if they do.

Although Suu herself has reportedly called for the leaders  of  the
SLORC  to  be given the benefit of the doubt about their bona fides
in the regard, the consensus view of democratic forces as  conveyed
to  me is that the junta has no intention of relaxing its iron grip
on the country and the people, or its devastation  of  the  economy
and  the  environment. This view is that the SLORC's recent actions
are merely a response to the embarrassing public revelations of its
savagery and to some pressure from other countries, probably to try
to ward off economic and political sanctions.

There seems no early likelihood of a revolt from within  the  armed
forces  themselves.  I  was  advised  that  the leadership has been
careful to involve everyone, even lowly officers, in brutality  and
mistreatment of ordinary people. Young officers are even encouraged
to  rape  village women while on patrol in rural areas. The word is
spread throughout the military that if the SLORC is overthrown,  no
mercy  will  be shown by the incoming administration and the people
to all those who participated in oppression and criminal misconduct
during the years of military dictatorship. As  a  consequence,  the
possibility  of a breakaway or dissident group of officers making a
move is thought to be remote.

I am not in a position to do  other  than  record  experience  that
fascism  rarely  cedes  power  to democracy voluntarily, especially
where power is exercised diffusely and  not  centred  on  a  single
dictator. Unless the SLORC is an unexpected exception, it will have
to  be  prised from power. Whichever way it moves, the early return
of the Rohingyas to Burma should not be anticipated. If they merely
remain in Bangladesh for 6 or 12 months, their needs and  the  cost
of their survival and maintenance will be prodigious. their numbers
will, of course, continue to grow.

Moreover, social problems are deepening. The most recent edition of
the Jesuit Refugee Service's publication BURMA UPDATE (6 June 1992)

     There  have  been  outbreaks of violence in some of the camps,
     now housing over 268,000 refugees. And wiht the  rainy  season
     now  under  way, the temporary housing is showing itself to be
     very inadequate. So is the sanitation system. It will now be a
     struggle for UNHCR to  maintain  adequate  food  and  medicine
     supplies.  And  a  temporary  situation  may be turning into a
     long-term   problem.   Because   of    the    anxiety    about
     'trouble-makers'  coming  to  the  camps,  new  rules  require
     foreigners and others visiting the camps to get a permit  from

It  is  unthinkable that the world could opt not to respond to this

1. The ultimate solution of the Rohingya crisis  in  Bangladesh  is
the return of the refugees to Burma.

2.  They  will  not  go willingly until there is an assurance or at
least a reasonable likelihood of a  cessation  of  the  atrocities.
Many  told me that they would not return until Suu Kyi was released
and in charge of the government.

3. This means that the United Nations multilaterally, or its member
countries individually, must bring pressure on the SLORC  first  to
cease  atrocities  and  the oppression of the people, and second to
transfer power to the elected parliament. this is only likely to be
achievable in the near future by isolating the SLORC and persuading
its military  suppliers  and  financial  props  to  withdraw  their
backing  for  the  regime  and their involvement in Burma while the
junta remains. The point might be made that  the  SLORC's  eventual
overthrow  is  inevitable  and  its  supporters  are unlikely to be
favoured by its democratic successors.

4. The main countries in this regard are China which supplies  arms
and  ammunition  to  the  regime,  Japan  which has much commercial
activity in Burma including the logging and export' of timber  form
Arakan,  Thailand  said  to  be  the largest overall investors, and
major western trading countries.

5. Some aid donor countries have stopped their  programs,  but  oil
and  mineral  explorations  are  bieng  carried on, and exploration
concessions for such purposes bought from the regime, by  at  least
one  Australian,  one British, one Canadian, one Dutch, one French,
one Japanese, one South Korean, and three U.S. companies.  Some  of
these  companies  are  government-owned  or influenced. AUSTRADE is
still operating in Rangoon where  most  free  countries,  including
Australia,  maintain  embassies. The Rangoon consultancy firm which
the regime likes foreigners to use when making an approach is  said
to be controlled by Ne Win's son-in-law.

6.  Thus far the UNHCR has not asked other countries to assist with
anything  other  than  money  and  perhaps  plastic  sheeting.  Its
attitude  is  that  clothing,  blankets, foodstuffs and other items
which  ordinary  citizens  of  other  countries  could,  and  would
undoubtedly be willing to, donate would cause more trouble and cost
in assembling, sorting and transporting than they were worth.

7.  the  problem  is  that  governments of the democratic developed
world are under stress at present, economically and eletorally.  In
view  of  the  moneys  being  provided  for the returning Cambodian
refugees and other refugee and international problems,  a  generous
official  response for the Rohingya fund seems remote, without much
pressure from the would's people and non-government  organisations.
The  currency of the monsoon season in Bangladesh and the dialy and
continuing vulnerability of the Rohingyas to physical harm, disease
and worse do not seem to be  sufficient  present  catasysts  for  a
change of heart in this respect.

8.   In   addition  to  insisting  that  governments  respond  more
generously and constructively, there is a need to  appeal  to,  and
seek a response from, the private sector, firstly for money.

9. There are also other ways the private sector can assist. In view
of  the poor condition of the only road from Cox's Bazar to Teknaf,
good transportation is needed urgently, especially in  the  monsoon
season,  to  carry supplies and personnel. There may also be a need
to evacuate large numbers of people at short notice  and  transport
ill  people  to hospitals. Approprate corporations should therefore
be asked to provide,  either  by  gift  or  loan,  helicopters  and
four-wheel drive vehicles.

10.  Drugs,  food, clothing, building materials and tools could all
be  collected  in  substantial  quantities  from  corporations  and
individuals.  If  endorsement  or  sponsorship  is need, it seems a
small price to pay for saving lives.  There  are  many  NGOs  which
could,  and  would  undoubtedly be willing to, assist in collection
and handling of such items. Transportation could be solicited  from
airlines,  the  armed forces of participating countries, and people
with private aircraft of sufficient size. All of  this  would  free
donated money for other purposes.

11.  There  is  of  course  an  urgent  need for more land on which
suitable camps can be built. The problem can best  be  demonstrated
by  reporting  the  view  of  the  UN  experts I met that the ideal
population for any one camp should not  exceed  10,000  people.  To
build such a camp takes about two weeks if conditions are giood and
water  is  available.  If  the  current  influx rate is up to 2,000
refugees a day continues, it can be seen that  a  very  substantial
camp  construction  program  is  needed,  to  take p the aacklog of
people already waiting for shelter and to keep up with the  influx.
Meanwhile almost 200,000 lightly clad people are sitting out in the
rain  every minute of every day. The Bangladeshi government says it
is planning for upwards of 2 million refugees.

12. Land supply is of course primarily a matter for Bangladesh.  As
the  nation  takes very seriously its responsibility to receive the
refugees and not force them back across the river,  the  Bangladesh
authorities can be relied on to search anxiously for suitable land.
The  main  difficulties  are  that  Bangladesh  is  small  and over
populated (about 120 million people in an area a little  over  half
the  size of Victoria), and the Bangladeshi quthorities do not want
the refugees to mix with the local population. The possible need to
deforest available land and the absence of potable waer thus emerge
as serious hindrance to the availability of more  land  for  camps.
the  takeover  of  private  land,  temporarily  and  on terms as to
compensation,  is  also  an  option  being  investigated,   despite
resistance  from  local  landholders.  The  world's  people, it not
governments, out to be able to assist to resolve these problems.

13. Although Bangladesh has many technically trained people,  there
appear  to  be  areas  where the skills which they can produce need
supplementation. These include people experienced in camp  planning
and  construction, water research and supply, childern's education,
care and recreation, and some areas of healthe servicing.<pp.59>