Geopolitics

After The Rohingya Boat People Get Sent Back To Myanmar

Portrait of Yar Yar Kan, one of the many Rohingya Muslim minority rejected by the Burmese — and shunned by other Asian countries in an attempt to emigrate.

In a refugee camp in Sittwe, Myanmar
In a refugee camp in Sittwe, Myanmar
Phyu Zin Poe

SITTWE — Yar Yar Kan is feeding his baby in a small bamboo shelter in Myanmar (the country also known as Burma), where his family of six has been living in a refugee camp for the past three years. He has no job, no opportunity and can't legally leave the camp's confines, leaving him struggling to find enough food for his wife and children.

He recently returned here after struggling in the sea for three months, a failed voyage to Malaysia, which won't accept these desperate Rohingya Muslims who are among the most persecuted people in the world — rendered stateless by their own government, rounded up and effectively jailed in camps without jobs or schools.

"I knew if I had told my wife, she would have cried, and I was afraid that I wouldn't have been able to go," he recalls of his decision to escape. But he was and is desperate to find a way to support his family. "My family would have a better life if I had reached Malaysia. And I could have sent them some money."

His friend had introduced him to a smuggler. "I told him that I wanted to go to Malaysia," Kan says. "He agreed and asked me to pay $2,000 in advance. But I didn't have the money. He said I could pay him back with my salary for the next six months once I got a job there. After that, I could be a free man."

At midnight several months ago, without telling his wife, he managed to escape the highly guarded camp.

"The boat crew took all of our belongings — mobile phones, food," Kan recalls. "And they pointed guns at us. That's when I realized that I had made a mistake. I thought I might never see my mother again, my wife, my brothers and sisters."

There were 400 people on board, 100 of them women. "They gave us a handful of rice, one or two meals a day. There was also a small portion of curry, not enough drinking water ... They beat us if we asked for more food and water."

Brutal conditions

The women had to deal with bigger dangers. "There was screaming at night, and we asked the women what happened," he recalls. "They said that they had been raped. They refused and shouted for help, but they were beaten. The crew drugged them so that they felt dizzy and could not move."

After two months, the boat finally reached Thai water. Malaysian authorities were inspecting the area, so the smugglers left the refugees and went by another ship.

"The crew ordered me to watch over the boat and taught me how to drive it," he says. "Then they left. We drove the ship back toward Myanmar. It took us a month to arrive in Myanmarese waters."

There is no official record available about how many people have tried to escape from the refugee camp. But an immigration official from Araken state, where Sittwe is located, says nearly 200 people have returned. The government has arrested nine smugglers and charged them with criminal trafficking.

"There are 14 gates that they can use to escape the camp," says Khien Soe, chief immigration officer at Sittwe. "We check everyone who passes through these gates. Our navy checks those who try to go by boat."

But there's not much they can do to stop trafficking, says Arakan State Speaker Hla Thein. "We formed a group and we've started campaigning among those people as much as we can. We can't do anything for those who try to go illegally because we don't know their route."

Tens of thousands of Rohingya live in the Sittwe refugee camp — cramped and without electricity. The Myanmar government moved them there in 2012 after violence broke out between Buddhists and the Muslim minority.

Yar Yar Kan's wife Nu Nar Balcon says she now knows where her husband had been for those few months. She says she wishes that he could have reached Malaysia. "I dreamed that he would make it abroad and escape from the smugglers, then our family would get money," she says. "Now, my dream has vanished."

But Yar Yar Kan is planning another escape — soon. "I'm very disappointed with my life," he says. "I can't live without a job. I want to escape from the camp again."

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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