Archive for June, 2008

Recent Pix from Burma

Posted on June 20, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under International.

Helping survivors of the cyclone that devastated much of Burma six weeks ago is risky business. The junta has arrested celebrities who tried to deliver aid to the Delta region, sending a clear warning that such help wasn’t appreciated. Donors have been harassed and even jailed for their charity.

The country’s rulers have forbidden foreigners as well as Burmese nationals from providing unrestricted assistance in an effort to control knowledge of the cyclone and its aftermath, which means controlling the meaning of the event. The government must show that it has the situation under control. The last thing the regime wants is to have its people travel to the areas worst hit by the storm, take photographs of the land and the people, and then send the images (and the information and stories they contain) to the international community.

A friend living in Burma has done just that. He or she, by merely traveling to Laputta Township in the Irrawadddy Delta to provide relief and then sending photographs of his or her experience abroad, has on some level prevented the junta from controlling the story.

Cross-posted on the Huffington Post here.

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The Iraq War’s Forgotten Side

Posted on June 18, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under International.

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain talk a lot about the Iraq War. They talk about troop withdrawals, permanent bases, legal battles over Guantanamo detainees. But then there’s everything else they rarely if ever mention - for example, the entire humanitarian crisis caused by the war. There are now more than 4 million Iraqis who have fled their homes and are displaced by the ongoing conflict.

Read more in my column on the Huffington Post’s OffTheBus here.

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Refugees in Malaysia

Posted on June 13, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under International.

Check out these powerful photographs by Simon Wheatley of Burmese refugees living in Malaysia.

I spent a week in Malaysia in July 2005, listening to stories from some of the tens of thousands of Burmese who had fled religious or political persecution back home in the hopes of finding safety in Malaysia. They didn’t find it. Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, and it does not recognize the status of refugees - even those carrying UNHCR identification - and treats them as illegal immigrants.

The government arms volunteer civilian groups, called RELA, to go on raids throughout the country, rounding up refugees as if they were cattle. Burmese told me about running from RELA forces. If they get caught, they must either pay a hefty bribe or face time in a detention center and then be deported. I met Burmese political refugees who got caught, sent to a detention center, deported to Thailand, lured by a smuggler, brought back into Malaysia, and then caught and deported all over, again and again and again.

Muslim Rohingya refugees told me they fled Rakkhine State in western Burma because they were denied citizenship on the basis of their religion. They couldn’t marry, get a higher degree or travel freely. They fled to Kuala Lumpur and found more discrimination - taunted by Muslim Malaysians because they came from Burma. They couldn’t get proper jobs and were living a life of poverty, squeezing four or five into one tiny bedroom.

I traveled to a plantation in Malaysia and met with refugees from Chin State in northern Burma. I heard stories about their churches back home being burned down because they weren’t Buddhist. On the plantation, they work hard all day - with no protection from the sun or pesticides - and then hike into the thick forests each night, sleeping in make-shift huts so the RELA forces can’t find them. Each morning, they hike back down to work on the plantation for little pay. They have no rights and told me that if a boss decides he won’t compensate them, their options are to keep working or get sent to a detention center.

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“Responsibilities” in Iraq

Posted on June 3, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under International.

Sen. Barack Obama used his speech in Minnesota tonight to discuss his planned policy towards Iraq, promising that if he becomes president he will end the war and withdrawal the troops. He said it’s now time to bring the troops home and demand more from the Iraqi politicians.

It’s been five years, maybe I’ve forgotten…but wasn’t it the United States that invaded Iraq? Wasn’t it the Bush administration and the U.S. congress - with the support of most of the American people - who thought going to war in Iraq was such a brilliant idea?

The United States started this war, caused the chaos and destruction and daily violence, and the United States should now be held accountable. Not the Iraqis.

Read more of my column here on the Huffington Post.

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