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Myanmar Refugees, including Muslim Rohingya likely to outpace Syrian Arrivals in US

State Department figures show the number of Rohingya arrivals from Myanmar jumped from just over 650 in fiscal 2014 to 2,573 in 2015

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FILE - Rohingya people pass their time in a damaged shelter in a Rohingya displaced-persons camp outside Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar, Aug. 4, 2015. VOA

But refugees from Myanmar, whose leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, visited Washington last week, have quietly outpaced Syrian arrivals in recent years, even as Syria’s civil war intensifies, with an increasing number coming from the marginalised Rohingya Muslim community, according to State Department figures.

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From October 1, 2015, to September 15 of this year, 11,902 Myanmar nationals were resettled in the United States, according to figures from the Refugee Processing Center, operated by the State Department, compared with 11,598 arrivals from Syria over the same period.

That was out of a total of nearly 79,600 refugees who arrived in the United States in that period. The largest group, numbering just over 15,000, was from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Arrivals from Syria, where Islamic State and other radical groups are active, are subject to additional screening processes, according to the White House.

State Department figures show the number of Rohingya arrivals from Myanmar jumped from just over 650 in fiscal 2014 to 2,573 last year. This year, 2,173 had arrived as of September 15.

During a meeting with Suu Kyi in the Oval Office last Wednesday, Obama announced that the United States would remove sanctions originally imposed on the country in 1997 when it was ruled by a military junta that brutally suppressed pro-democracy movements and showed little regard for human rights.

The decision raised alarm among rights groups, who are concerned about the plight of the stateless Rohingya among other ethnic minorities.

FILE - A boy searches for useful items among the ashes of burned-down dwellings at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's western Rakhine state near Sittwe, May 3, 2016.
FILE – A boy searches for useful items among the ashes of burned-down dwellings at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state near Sittwe, May 3, 2016. VOA

Long-persecuted minority

The Rohingya have long been persecuted in Myanmar, where they are viewed largely as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many have lived in the country for generations.

Increased freedom of speech since the military stepped back from the direct rule in 2011 has allowed for the unleashing of long-held anti-Muslim sentiment.

Around 125,000 remain confined to temporary camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine state following waves of deadly violence in 2012 between Buddhists and Muslims. Most were stripped of their ability to vote in last year’s election.

Most Rohingya tend to come to the United States after spending years in Muslim-majority Malaysia and being granted refugee status by the United Nations.

Nasir Bin Zakaria, who founded the Rohingya Culture Center in Chicago — home to one of the largest populations of Rohingya in the United States — estimates that there are just over 1,000 Rohingya in the city. He fled Myanmar after being forced to work as a porter when he was 16, he said.

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Nasir Bin Zakaria said that the ability to move around freely and legally made life in Chicago far better than in Myanmar and Malaysia, but it is not without its own challenges for refugees. The city of 2.7 million is struggling with a surge of killings, with 509 killings this year, according to the Chicago Police Department.

Newly arrived children from refugee families, unfamiliar to the United States, are an enticing target for gangs looking to recruit, said Melineh Kano, executive director of RefugeeOne, a resettlement agency in Chicago.

“When we are selecting neighbourhoods, we have to be very careful about the crime rate and gang recruitment, because the majority of refugees come with kids,” she said. “You either join or you get beaten up.” (VOA)

Next Story

WHO Runs Out of Funds to Tackle Ebola in Congo

WHO Warns It is Running Out of Money to Tackle Ebola Epidemic in DRC

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Congolese Ebola
Congolese and the World Health Organization officials wear protective suits as they prepare equipment before the launch of vaccination campaign against the deadly Ebola virus near Mangina village, near the town of Beni in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

By Lisa Schlein

The World Health Organization is urgently appealing for $40 million to salvage its operation to bring the Ebola epidemic to an end in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the latest health news.

The Ebola operation in eastern DR Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces is on financial life-support.  The World Health Organization reports its coffers will be empty at the end of this month.  It is urging donors to step up immediately and contribute the money needed to tackle this virulent disease.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says failure to support this operation would be tragic as good progress is being made in containing the Ebola virus.  Over the past two months, he says between three and 15 cases of Ebola have been reported each week.   This is compared to 120 reported cases of Ebola in April 2019.

Congolese Ebola
A person dressed in Ebola protective apparel is seen inside an Ebola care facility at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda. VOA

“Last week there was only one case reported and we are down to only two health zones in eastern DRC where we have Ebola cases.  But again, if we do not receive this funding, we risk obviously to have more spread of the virus.  So, therefore, there is this appeal to get more funding,” he said.

WHO reports 3433 cases of Ebola, including 2253 deaths, for an overall case fatality rate of 66 percent.  Jasarevic says money from the $40 million appeal also will be used for preparedness activities in neighboring countries.

He notes a modest WHO investment of $18 million in helping Uganda set up screening, monitoring and other systems succeeded in stopping Ebola from taking root in that country last year. He tells VOA it is crucial that the Ebola operation not be interrupted because as long as there is one case of the disease, there will be a risk of further spread.

“So, we have to really get down to zero.  We are making progress, but again, whether you have one case, or you have more cases, the activities that you have to put in place are the same.  So, we need to make sure that activities are funded,” said Jasarevic.

Also Read- Higher Intake of Fruits and Dairy Products Reduces Risk of Stroke: Study

There have been eight confirmed cases of Ebola reported from Beni and Mabalako in North Kivu Province in the past 21 days.  But WHO reports there have been no new cases reported for more than 42 days from Butembo and Mambasa Health Zones.  WHO calls the reduction of geographic spread of the Ebola virus and the declining number of cases encouraging. (VOA)