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Drone and Satellites Expose Myanmar’s Pain

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An Oct. 5, 2017 image taken from a video released by Arakan Rohingya National Organization shows villagers preparing to cross a river towards the Maungdaw township in the Rakhine state that borders Bangladesh.

London- The Rohingya refugee crisis is an age-old tale of displacement and suffering, but technology is providing new tools to tackle it, rights groups and charities said on Wednesday.

Powerful drone and satellite images are bringing to life the urgent needs of more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar, while also providing strong evidence of abuses, which could be used to lobby for justice.

“We can describe for hours the large numbers of refugees crossing the border and how quickly existing camps have expanded, but one image captures it all,” said Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since the military in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar launched a counter-insurgency operation after attacks on security posts by Rohingya militants in late August.

The UNHCR is using videos and photographs shot with drones to show the scale of the displacement crisis and bring it to life to spur action from the public and donors.

It is also using satellites to count and identify refugee families by their location in the Bangladesh camps to target assistance to those most in need, Mahecic told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

The use of drone footage of refugees entering Bangladesh has boosted donations for medical care, water and food, according to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an alliance of 13 leading British aid agencies.

Rights monitors also hope satellite images can provide evidence that to help bring perpetrators to justice.

Satellite photos were used in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to prove mass executions in 1995 in Srebrenica.

But the technology has yet to achieve its potential because of limited budgets and a lack of standardised methodologies accepted by courts, experts say.

Human Rights Watch has shared satellite images showing the burning of almost 300 villages in Myanmar, refugees’ mobile phone footage and their testimonies with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We have found the debris field in satellite imagery where people were executed, corroborating multiple eyewitness statements,” said Josh Lyons, a satellite imagery analyst with the U.S.-based rights group.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the violence against Rohingya in Myanmar “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” and his office is working to determine whether it meets the legal definition of genocide.(VOA)

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Report: Conditions in Myanmar Not Safe for Return of Rohingya Refugees

Myanmar has presented Bangladesh with a list of more than 1,200 verified displaced persons who repeatedly expressed their desire to return, he said

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rohingya refugees
FILE - Rohingya Muslims, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait in queues to receive aid at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh, Nov. 15, 2017. VOA

Conditions in Myanmar are far too dangerous for the safe, dignified return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to escape violence and persecution in their home country, according to a report by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

More than 730,000 Rohingya refugees are living in squalid, overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar.  While conditions in Bangladesh remain dire, U.N. officials say the situation in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state is worse and far more threatening.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore presented the report to the U.N. council. She says Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state face serious discrimination, and continuous, systematic violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms.

“We continue to receive and can verify reports from a variety of sources, including reports on sexual and gender-based violence, that human rights violations continue, allegedly committed by members of the security forces,” Gilmore said. “The conditions conducive for refugee return simply do not exist.”

Rohingya refugees
Rohingya Muslims, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wade past a waterlogged path leading to the Jamtoli refugee camp in Ukhiya, Bangladesh. VOA

Security forces attacked and burned Rohingya homes and shops in several townships in May, Gilmore reported. She said her office has received reports of disappearances, and of people being subjected to torture and other forms of abuse in detention.

In addition, she said, Rohingya Muslims are denied basic services to health, education and jobs, and many have been stripped of their property and identity papers, essentially rendering them stateless.

Gilmore called on the Myanmar government to reverse this situation and to end the statelessness of the Rohingya. She said it is unlikely the refugees will return to their place of origin until their citizenship status is recognized.

Reaction in Myanmar

Myanmar’s Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Kyaw Moe Tun, says human rights awareness is promoted throughout his country. He called the U.N. report misleading, incomplete and full of unverified allegations that distort the truth.

Rohingya refugees
Displaced Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. Wikimedia Commons

The repatriation process must begin as soon as possible to resolve the humanitarian situation, he said, adding that Myanmar has been ready to receive people since January 2018, when his country and Bangladesh signed a repatriation agreement.

ALSO READ: Cutoff of Internet Service at Rakhine, Chin States Creates Difficulty for Civilians who Cannot Access Donors Online to Make Aid Requests

Myanmar has presented Bangladesh with a list of more than 1,200 verified displaced persons who repeatedly expressed their desire to return, he said.

Earlier this year, Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told the U.N. Security Council “not a single Rohingya has volunteered to return to Rakhine due to the absence of conducive environment there.” (VOA)