Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dear Ms Sarah Hanson-Young, (Aussie Greens Party spokesperson)

Thank you for your recent letter to The Immigration Department expressing your profound concern at the treatment of Islamic boat arrivals to our country. 

As a concerned and compassionate citizen, you will be pleased to know we are creating a new Immigration department called Welcome To Freedom (WTF).

This new and innovative program will, on a trial basis only, place disturbed Islamic immigrants in the homes of concerned citizens such as yourself for personal care. 

Your personal detainee has been selected and is scheduled for transportation to your residence on Monday.

Mustafa Kamel is your nominated detainee and he is to be cared for pursuant to the standards you personally demanded in your letter of complaint. 

You will be pleased to know that we will conduct weekly inspections to ensure the standard of care is commensurate with your recommendations.

Although Mustafa is one of many suspected of destroying detention centres, and prone to incendiary outbursts, we hope that your sensitivity to what you describe as “attitudinal setbacks” will assist him overcome these slight behavioural flaws. 

Mustafa is expert at making a wide variety of explosive devices from common household products, so you may wish to keep those items out of reach unless, in your opinion, this may offend him. 

Your adopted Islamic activist is proficient in hand-to-hand combat and can extinguish human life with such simple items as a pencil or nail clippers. 

We advise that you do not ask him to demonstrate these skills while helping him adjust to life in our wonderful country.

Please be aware Mustafa will need to interact with you and your family members regularly on a sexual basis. We are including a handbook that explains how to comply while wearing a burkah.
(Mustafa does not usually insist that male members of your family wear a burkah.)

Remember to respect his religious belief that females and household pets are a form of property and have no right of sexual refusal. (His needs should only be momentary ones.) 

Mustafa may express some agitation if you fail to comply with the recommended dress code. But I'm sure over time you, and especially your constituents, will come to appreciate the anonymity you offer by wearing the burkah. 

This is all just part of, “respecting the culture and religious belief”, you have so eloquently described in your letter. 

Good luck and God bless your kindness.
Scott Morrison,
Immigration Department, Canberra, ACT

(compiled from an entry submitted by reader TS)

‘The Pickering Post’

In Ore Exports Ban’s Aftermath, No Winners in Current Mining Impasse

Mining exports from Indonesian have ground to a halt, and the projected price tag in lost revenue to the Indonesian economy is alarming even at the most conservative of projections

The Support for Economic Analysis Development in Indonesia, part of USAID, published a study recently that projected the direct loss to the Indonesian economy will be $6.3 billion in 2014, and export earnings will fall by $6 billion per year. The study goes on to point out that “the net welfare effects of the ban will only become operational in 2020, but only after tens of billions of dollars of losses, and even then these total net welfare gains will be modest totaling just $832 million per year.”

American mining companies employ approximately 35,000 people in eastern Indonesia, according to another recent study conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) and the US Chamber of Commerce on US foreign direct investment in the country.

To put this in context — one of the largest US companies contributes up to 96.9 percent to regional gross domestic product in its operational area in eastern Indonesia, and that same company contributed 2.2 percent to national GDP in 2006-11. It also increased national household income by up to 1.7 percent in 2006-11 and regional household income by up to 96.2 percent in the same period.

A ban on mining exports puts the economy and tens of thousands of jobs in the most economically vulnerable areas of Indonesia at risk.

With so much at stake, who stands to gain by the recent mining standoff?

The conventional argument put forward by those who advocate that companies be banned from exporting minerals unless they commit to building smelters here, and pay a penalty export tax until they do, is that foreign companies have been for too long exploiting Indonesia’s minerals at the expense of Indonesia.

The argument follows the logic that Indonesia, by requiring mining companies to process minerals in Indonesia, will reap the economic benefits from the exportation of higher priced minerals and also move up the technological ladder from being a commodity based exporting country to a higher value exporter.

This argument ignores several basic facts.

Let’s take the exploitation argument first. The Indonesian mining industry was created and developed through multibillion dollar investments made by US mining companies. All of the capital and all of the risks associated with these investments were borne entirely by these companies, and their investments have been a boon to the Indonesian economy for decades.

The mining industry today contributes approximately 5 percent to the country’s GDP. According to the World Bank, the value of mining exports in 2012 exceeded $10 billion and accounted for 5 percent of the country’s total export revenue. US companies pay a tax rate to the government at a rate approximately 40 percent higher than the nationally mandated corporate tax as part of their existing Contracts of Work.

In the last five years alone, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold has paid $7 billion in taxes, royalties and dividends to the government over a period of five years.

In short, up until the recent crisis, Indonesia has benefited handsomely from foreign mining investments, and the industry, thanks to the investments made by American companies, has been one of the country’s largest and most stable investors, taxpayers and employers.

Some will argue that there is economic value in the government’s stance to further process minerals, as this will increase the value of exports and revenues paid to the government.

At face value, it’s hard to take issue with Indonesia’s desire to move up the economic value added chain by requiring mining companies to process their raw minerals here in Indonesia.

But the levels at which Freeport and Newmont Mining already processed their copper in the form of concentrate, before the ban was implemented, commanded approximately 95 percent of the price of smelted, fully processed copper metal on the global market. The government’s requirement for them to build additional smelters to further process their cooper concentrate will provide no additional revenue to the government, and no added economic value to the companies or any potential investors in smelting operations.

Building a fully operational smelter requires a capital investment of anywhere from $1 billion to $3 billion and three to five years to construct. Assuming an investor were willing to build such a smelter today, it would not realistically come fully online until 2020. And this begs the question why someone would be willing to commit money to an investment guaranteed to lose money.

The marginal cost at which a copper smelter operation would buy the concentrate from mining companies would have to be competitive with global prices. At global prices, the smelting operator would barely cover their marginal costs and would never realize a return on their initial capital investment.

Clearly there must be a benefit that the government sees in moving forward with its policy. But it is hard to fathom.

One thing is certain: There are no winners in the current mining impasse, least of all the Indonesian economy.

Andrew White is the managing director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia

An idiot's guide to this Thailand's election

If you go to the polling booth to cast your ballot this Sunday, you are one of those who believe that the election must proceed as the caretaker government insists. It's part of democracy, and nobody has the right to block you from casting your ballot

Of course, you know in advance that only one major political party - namely the ruling Pheu Thai Party of Premier Yingluck Shinawatra - is in the race. The other big party, the Democrat Party, has boycotted the election. The rest on the ballot are medium-sized and small parties.

This isn't an ordinary election. It's an election under the state of emergency.

Advice has gone out in the social media for those who will be going out to vote: Dress lightly, ready for action. Adopt "camouflage tactics" by wearing a whistle around your neck even if you are totally against Suthep Thaugsuban - to fool some of the hardcore anti-government protesters who might try to get too close to you.

If you decide to stay home, you probably agree with the protesters who demand that "reform must come before election" because you don't think democracy is just about casting ballots. Before you pick your next MP, you want to make sure that the election process undergoes a major reform and that the country is rid of corrupt and bad influences.

If you are somewhere in between, you might visit the nearest polling booth this Sunday and mark the "None of the above" box because none of the parties listed in the ballot represent your interests.

But be warned. Make sure you check the "security situation" at your polling booth before you leave your house this Sunday. The protesters led by Suthep Thaugsuban have vowed to block the ballot-casting nationwide. The caretaker government has advised voters who suffer disruptions or harassment to report to the nearest police station.

Your personal safety is of the utmost importance. So, if you insist on exercising your right to vote, by all means cast your ballot. Your choice of parties might have been limited. You should have decided before you leave home which is your favourite party. You should know which parties are in the race. This time around, you might not have the privilege of weighing the pros and cons of the major parties. But if you go out and vote, it's clear where you stand in the current political situation. It's your right, and everybody else should respect that.

But if you think the government is being stubborn by proceeding with the election despite warnings from the Election Commission of potential trouble, delays and violence, then you may just stay home. Some of you may decide not to stay home and join the protest. But make sure that you conduct your "civil disobedience" in a civil way. We are all under the emergency decree and as such can be arrested for even mingling in a group of more than four persons.

If you think an election should take place and you want to show your dissatisfaction with the limited choice of parties offering their services, you could cast a "No" vote to register your political stand.

If you harbour really strong feelings against the poll and are tempted to dramatise your disagreement, don't tear up the ballot. It's a legally no-no and you could be fined or even jailed for doing that. I guess it's because although the gesture is supposed to be part of demonstrating "disobedience" against the powers-that-be, the authorities concerned don't consider that "civil".
I have great respect for those on both sides of the political divide - and those caught in the middle.

As for myself, all I ask is: Respect my political privacy. The dilemma of deciding between a "No Vote" and "Vote No" is so daunting I can't tell you just yet what I'm going to do this Sunday.
Suthichai Yoon, The Nation/ANN, Bangkok

Thought of the day - Australia (you and I) pay Indonesia over $600 million p.a. “aid” with no strings attached as to conditions, how money is to be used

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chin Refugees’ Indian Dilemma

They face the same dangers as the Rohingya

Expatriate refugees from the poverty-stricken nation of Myanmar have begun filtering back, partly as their country of origin has democratized and more ominously because they are feeling the heat from host countries like Thailand, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia to leave.

But so far, the Chin, an impoverished Christian minority that has been likened to the persecuted Rohingya, who have been set upon by majority Buddhists unmercifully, have yet to join the exodus. About 100,000 thousand of them are just across the border in India’s Mizoram State, where they fled in the wake of 1998 riots. Chin Province, on the country’s southwestern flank, is one of Burma’s poorest. Nearly 75 percent of its 500,000 population live enmired in poverty, deprived of support from the successive Burmese regimes in Rangoon or the new administrative capital of Naypyidaw.

Initially the refugees were either political activists or student leaders who were targeted by the then military rulers. But even with a quasi-democratic regime in Naypyidaw, the influx to India continues, with people entering India not to escape dictators or authority, but for a better life.
In some cases the Burmese Army may have already confiscated their lands and destroyed their properties. Finding difficulties in surviving inside India as well, the Burmese refugees are now seeking resettlement to a third country.

The majority of the Chin complain about discrimination from the Buddhist-dominated federal government. The 1998 movement against the then military rulers of Burma was crushed, leaving thousands dead across the country.

“Like other ethnic communities in Myanmar, the Chin people bore the brunt of severe poverty and military rule, prompting many to flee across the 1,463 km border into India’s Mizoram State, according to a 2011 report by physicians for human rights.”

The refugees feel somewhat comfortable in Mizoram as it is one of the India’s few Christian-dominated states. The Chin and Mizo people, who share ancestry, share physical appearance, food habits and language accents. In some occasions, the highly influential churches also play an important role in propagating the sense of brotherhood between the two communities. 

Nonetheless, asylum seekers often face the problem of finding livelihoods. Mostly they work as cheap daily wage earners in construction sites, agriculture fields, market areas and also in local Mizo households.

“Our people frequently face rights violations here (Mizoram) even though they are reluctant (read scared) to go back to their native places in Burma. We are actually afraid the situation in Chin province is yet to be favorable us,” said Pu Win, a Chin activist based in the frontier town of Saiha in Mizoram. The activist added that the Chin are worried about medical care and education for their children. So ignoring the troubles in Mizoram, most of the Chin refugees prefer to stay in India until their country develops a little more, he added.

Unlike those in Mizoram, Burmese asylum seekers in Delhi face more trouble as they are physically different, as are their culture, religion and language. As they are not comfortable in Hindi, the primary language, the refugees find it extremely difficult in communicating their short-time employers and authorities.

India’s national capital gives shelter to over 8,000 registered Burmese refugees, but New Delhi is also home to another 10,000 asylum seekers, half of them women and children who have to travel over 2200 km from Mizoram to Delhi to enroll with the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

India, which supports a few hundred thousand refugees from Tibet, Burma, Sri Lanka etc., has yet to adopt a specific refugee protection policy, resulting in persistent confusion about the refugees and their legitimate rights. Moreover, India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN refugee convention or a 1967 refugee status protocol.

“As there is no procedural mechanism for protecting the refugees in India, the Burmese refugee women have to struggle for their basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter in New Delhi,” said M Kim, a Burmese exile based in New Delhi. “In addition to this, they battle with the constant fear of sexual assault and physical abuse.”

Quoting a report titled Doke Kha Bon with the accounts of 20 Chin women refugees in New Delhi, which was sponsored by the Burma Center Delhi and released recently, Kim asserted that the capital city remains universally unsafe for asylum seekers.

According to the UNHCR office in New Delhi, persecution due to minority ethnic race, religion and political opinion are cited as the main reasons for their seeking asylum in neighboring countries. “The most frequent complaints reported to UNHCR include difficulty in communicating with local health & education service providers,” said the BCD sponsored report.

Prepared by the Pann Nu Foundation, the report includes case studies relating to Chin refugee women now living in west Delhi.

“Those women, many of them widows and single mothers, have bared their hearts during the interaction. In fact, every woman has a pathetic story to tell. Originally hailed from some remote areas of Chin, the refugee families were once dependent on Jhum (shifting) cultivation. But due to land confiscation practice adopted by the Burmese Army, the Chin villagers gradually lost their livelihood and left for India,” said Alana Golmei, founder president of Pann Nu Foundation.

Often the women and girls were compelled to serve the Burmese military as porters and laborers, made to serve food, camp in the jungle with no proper shelter without even knowing when they could return home.

“Needless to say, they all lack proper education. The interviewees can only read and write in their local Chin dialect. All these women, who are Christians, had no respite from the Buddhist dominated military personnel, who even barge into their houses and demand food time to time,” Golmei said. “They said the continued sexual assault by the Burmese soldiers is their worst nightmare there.”

But their lives in New Delhi are turning into another nightmare.

“They allege that they become victims of physical abuse, molestation, sexual assault and discrimination everywhere they go, be it at their rented apartments, workplaces, public spaces or even the roads for that matter,” Golmei said, adding that they keep mum about sexual assaults due to the fear of social stigmatization and shame.

Now voices have been raised for reviewing the existing foreign policy of Indian government taking into the consideration of the Burmese refugee women and children in the country. Understanding the refugee women are more vulnerable and are easy targets, the activists appealed to New Delhi to continue supporting the asylum seekers.

“The new difficulty for the Burmese refugees has started with the news of democratization of Burma. Now most conscious people of India argue that the refugees should leave the country, as India has enough problems to deal with,” said Dr Tint Swe, a physician and an exile in India for decades.

Swe however admitted that Indian people in general remain merciful. Of course they are lately starting to believe that if Burma becomes comfortable and safer, they should leave.

“But the question arises here if the changes in Burma have prepared the ground for returning the refugees. In reality it has not. So we have urged the Indian government to review its existing foreign policy with an aim to continue safeguarding the refugees here for some more years,” he added.

Following the call from Thein Sein government to exiles taking shelter in different countries to return, many refugee families had already responded to that and left India. Others, however, remain apprehensive about their future. In some cases it is understood that the Burmese Army might have already confiscated their lands and destroyed their properties. Finding difficulties in surviving inside India as well, the Burmese refugees are now seeking the resettlement in a third country for a dignified life. Nava Thakuria reports regularly for Asia Sentinel from Eastern India.