More can be done for Rohingya community in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR — “Allah does not charge a soul except (with that within) its capacity.” (Surah al-Baqarah, verse 286)

That was the simple answer given by Ustaz Rafik, leader of the Rohingya community in Selayang, Selangor, when asked how much longer the Rohingya will be tested before they receive the attention of the local and international communities.

For Rafik, the Rohingya from Myanmar have it much better now unlike when they arrived here some 30 years ago following their persecution in Rakhine.

Rafik believes various protests including the recent ones showing solidarity for the Rohingya, which was joined by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, now provide a beacon of hope to the small community.

The immediate action the community wants to see is for the government and authorities to issue identity documents for the ethnic group that allow them to work and support their families, he said.


Nurainie Haziqah Shafi’i, founder of MyWelfare, a non-governmental organisation that cares for the Rohingya refugees in Selayang, said though they did not offer luxuries at least they had been provided with a roof over their heads and basic necessities.

Established three years ago, hundreds of refugees, especially women and children, have benefited from MyWelfare when it comes to education and food aid.

Contributions and collections from the public allowed them to provide for the community, though insufficient at times.

“This is what we can do. Sometimes there are activities with the community where they can mingle, cook, read, play, watch movies and more. As humana, they have the right to their rights and protection even without a card or identification,” said Nurainie Haziqah.


Special Envoy of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for Myanmar Tan Sri Dr Syed Hamid Syed Albar said the Malaysian government had nothing to fear and should find a solution to eradicate the UNHCR card syndicate menace.

Syed Hamid, who is also a former foreign minister, pointed out once the card was issued to eligible individuals the authorities could easily monitor their movements, needs and actions to avoid negative elements like crime.

“If they still have no identity, it could pose a threat as they could be abused by others. Remember, they are treated as outcast back in their own country. The solution is to send them back to Myanmar, but unfortunately they are not recognised as its citizens.

“So they are stateless in their country of origin and here too. According to international laws we cannot force them out. They will get married and give birth here. If things are not organised, there will contribute to crime, social problems and left behind for want of education. We are already seeing this happening now.”

Syed Hamid, who is also president of HUMANiTi Malaysia, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on humanitarian aid and education, said when the UNHCR cards were issued the employment status of refugees was automatically valid and the government did not need to take in foreign workers.

He explained that besides employment, the card would also indirectly helped refugee children obtain education in local religious and non-religious schools hence creating brighter prospects for them to migrate to third countries.

“The refugees and the community will soon be recognised as they will have skills to bring to a third country. When there is demand, there will definitely be offers. Such a scenario is not impossible,” he said.


Meanwhile, sources revealed to Bernama that individuals involved in fake UNHCR card syndicates were former UNHCR staff who claimed they could help expedite applications. The syndicates made quick bucks on the desperation of the refugees.

After the syndicate was uncovered, effective July 20 last year, the Cabinet forbid UNHCR from issuing cards to walk-in applicants.

As the cards were issued following stringent screening, the process of replacing old UNHCR cards took time to weed out the fake UNHCR cards.

The syndicate issuing fake UNHCR cards first came to light several years ago after Malaysian authorities detained foreigners holding fake UNHCR cards after they entered Malaysia illegally.

Malaysia and the UNHCR have worked together for 41 years since the UNHCR office was set up in the country in 1975 following a flood of applications from Vietnamese asylum seekers.

UNHCR’s main role in Malaysia was to process refugee status applications filed by asylum seekers as well as coordinate resettlement for refugees in third countries.

Due to problems faced by UNHCR in expediting resettlement of refugees to third countries, refugees in the country were provided with UNHCR cards.



In July, the government announced a pioneer project to allow 300 Rohingya refugees holding UNHCR cards to work in Malaysia.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said those who were eligible and met government requirements would be allowed to work in the farming and manufacturing sectors.

Though Malaysia is not a member of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and Protocol 1967, the country’s proactive actions in handling immigrants and refugees on humanitarian grounds clearly proves Malaysia has exceeded its obligations at the international level.

Recently, Nur Jazlan said the government and UNHCR were in the process of setting appropriate policies before they could determine the 300 individuals eligible to take part in the pioneer project.

“We cannot start without a plan and guideline for the project. We need to look at the job scope be it the service sector, cleaning and others, according to the industry needs,” he said. — Bernama


Daughter of S. Korea’s ‘Rasputin’ held in Denmark

SEOUL — The daughter of Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the centre of a corruption scandal that led to the impeachment of South Korea’s president, has been arrested in Denmark after months in hiding, Seoul prosecutors said yesterday.

Chung Yoo-ra, the 20-year-old daughter of the woman dubbed South Korea’s “Rasputin”, is one of the figures in the influence-peddling scandal that sparked massive street protests demanding the removal of President Park Geun-hye.

Danish police arrested Chung on Sunday night for overstaying her visa, Korean prosecutors said, adding they were in talks with Danish authorities to have her deported to Seoul.

Chung is an equestrian rider who trained in Germany and who won a gold medal in the group dressage equestrian event at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.

Choi, a secret confidante of Park, is accused of using her ties with the president to force top firms including Samsung to “donate” nearly US$70 million (RM314 million) to non-profit foundations Choi then used as her personal ATMs.

She is also accused of using her influence to secure her daughter’s admission to an elite Seoul university, with a state probe revealing the school had admitted Chung at the expense of other candidates with better qualifications.

The revelation touched a raw nerve in education-obsessed South Korea and prosecutors sought to question Chung over her admission to Ewha Women’s University in 2014.

Park stands accused of colluding with Choi to extract money from the firms and also of letting her meddle in state affairs including nominations of top officials, but the president denies all charges against her.

Parliament voted on Dec 9 to impeach Park over the scandal and her executive powers have been handed to an acting president, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.

The impeachment case is being considered by the Constitutional Court — which has up to six months to reach a ruling — but hundreds of thousands of South Koreans have joined weekly protests calling for Park’s immediate departure from office.

If the impeachment is confirmed, a presidential election will have to be held within 60 days.

Choi, daughter of a controversial religious figure who was close to Park until his death in 1994, is awaiting trial on charges including coercion and abuse of power.

Several professors at Ewha Women’s University, including a former school president, have been investigated for giving Chung preferential treatment.

One professor was arrested over the weekend for allegedly giving Chung a good grade for a class she never attended and forcing his teaching assistants to forge exam records for her.

Top Samsung managers were also investigated as part of the scandal, following accusations the firm indirectly bankrolled Chung’s equestrian training in Germany in a bid to curry policy favour.

News of Chung’s arrest came a day after Park broke a month-long silence over her alleged role in the corruption scandal, publicly denying charges of wrongdoing and describing the accusations against her as fabricated and false.

Park, who met reporters from domestic media in her first event since being impeached, said she was set up over allegations she ordered the government to support a 2015 merger of two affiliates of Samsung, a deal which has become central to the investigation.

“It’s completely framed,” she was quoted as saying, without elaborating.
— Agencies

Snap! Visitors bitten by croc and snake

BANGKOK — A French tourist was bitten by a crocodile inside a Thai national park as she tried to get close to the fearsome animal to take a selfie.

The incident took place on Sunday afternoon in Khao Yai, a popular national park filled with dense jungle hiking trails and waterfalls three hours north of Bangkok.

“She wanted to take selfie with the crocodile who was lying down near a stream,” a park official said.

“It was startled and bit her on her on
the leg.”

The official said two crocodiles had made their home on that particular section of the park for years with warning signs laid out.

“I guess she wanted to see it for real,” he added.

Local media posted pictures of park rangers dressed in camouflage carrying the 47-year-old victim strapped to a stretcher, a thick bandage wrapped around her knee.

Another shot showed a ranger pointing to a pool of blood close to a sign saying in Thai and English: “Danger. Crocodile. No swimming”.

The victim was taken to hospital for treatment and is expected to recover.

In Queensland, Australia, a young woman was bitten by a wild green snake at a zoo, a year after a keeper was attacked by a tiger at the same popular tourist attraction.

The woman, in her mid-20s, was treated by paramedics at Australia Zoo, which was founded by the family of the late “Crocodile Hunter” star Steve Irwin, and taken to hospital where she was in a stable condition, a spokesman for Queensland Ambulance Service said.

“This afternoon a guest accidentally stood on a wild snake in our Wetlands area,” Australia Zoo, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, said in a Facebook post.

“The snake was identified as a green tree snake, which are a common occurrence in the Wetlands, as it is the perfect environment for their favourite food, frogs.”

The zoo added that the reptile was not venomous and it was the first time a guest had been bitten by a snake there.

“Happy to report guest and snake are both just fine,” Irwin’s wife Terri added on Twitter. — AFP

Suicide bomb blast kills 32 in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — A suicide car bomb attack in a densely-populated neighbourhood of Baghdad yesterday killed at least 32 people and left dozens wounded, police and hospital officials said.

Many of the victims were daily labourers waiting for jobs at an intersection in Sadr City, a sprawling majority Shiite neighbourhood in the northeast of the capital that has been repeatedly targeted.

Pictures posted on social media shortly after the explosion showed a huge plume of black smoke billowing into the sky and seriously injured people being evacuated.

According to a police colonel, at least 32 people were killed and 39 wounded in the blast, the second major attack in Baghdad

in three days.

At least 27 people were killed by twin explosions in a busy market area in central Baghdad on Saturday, in what was the deadliest such attack in the Iraqi capital in two months.

There was no immediate claim for yesterday’s suicide blast but the Islamic State militant group has claimed all such attacks recently, including the double bombing on New Year’s Eve.

The caliphate IS proclaimed in 2014 is shrinking steadily and jihadist fighters are defending Mosul, their last


Tourist boat captain held after deadly fire

JAKARTA — Indonesian police said yesterday they had detained the captain of a tourist boat that burst into flames en route to a holiday island, leaving 23 people dead, amid reports he was the first to jump ship.

The Zahro Express became engulfed by fire on Sunday shortly after it set off from Jakarta carrying about 250 local holidaymakers to celebrate the New Year on the nearby resort island of Tidung.

Panicked passengers fought over life jackets and jumped into the sea as the huge blaze tore through the ferry after starting in the engine room, with authorities blaming an electrical fault for the accident.

Most were rescued, but 23 were killed and 50 suffered injuries, according to the official disaster agency.

Police said the captain, named in local reports as Muhammad Nali, had been detained on Sunday and was being questioned over suspected negligence in relation to the fire which reduced the boat to a blackened wreck.

“We are still investigating the case and questioning the captain,” Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said, without giving further details.

Several local media outlets reported the captain jumped ship first, abandoning the tourists as the fire erupted, and was found floating in the sea with other passengers before being rescued.

Tonny Budiono, a senior official at the transport ministry, vowed that the captain would be punished if the allegations turned out to be true.

Search teams continued to scour the waters yesterday as a precaution but officials said they believed that all passengers were now accounted for.

It was just the latest fatal maritime accident in the vast Indonesian archipelago, which relies heavily on boats to ferry people round its 17,000 islands but has a patchy safety record.

In September a tourist boat on the resort island of Bali exploded, killing two foreigners and injuring about 20 others.

No more coups, pledges Thai military chief

BANGKOK — They may have successfully seized power 12 times in the last eight decades but Thailand’s army chief has said military coups are officially a thing of the past.

The comments caused much merriment on social media given the military’s long track record of toppling elected governments — the latest a 2014 putsch that brought the current junta to power.

The military has promised to hold elections once a new constitution is in place, although the date for polls keeps slipping.

In an interview with Thai media outlets published yesterday, General Chalermchai Sitthisat was asked whether the military would intervene if civilian politicians disliked by the army brass were voted back in.

“I can confirm that there won’t be a coup. What would be a reason for having to have the coup? There won’t be a coup. We have already learned from what happened (in the past),” he said.

The remarks were soon seized upon in Thai social media, one of the few sites where dissent still flourishes given the junta’s ban on political gatherings and protests.

“If the army says something like that it means they will do the opposite for sure,” joked Eakapong Leesinla on Facebook.

“Why ask such a question,” added Pim Pongchandr on Facebook. “We all know what he was going to answer, who would say yes?”

Chalermchai, a former head of Thailand’s special forces, was appointed by coup leader and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha in September.

In 2014, then army chief Prayut famously declared there would be no coup days before his military toppled the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra.

His predecessors removed her brother Thaksin in 2006 and have a raft of previous successful putsches to their name including three takeovers each in both the 1950s and 1970s.

Prayut says he was forced to seize power to curb political corruption and bring much-needed stability to the country after a decade of political turmoil between Shinawatra supporters and their opponents.

But critics say the putsch was an attempt by the military and its allies within Bangkok’s elite to ensure the Shinawatras, who are seen as champions of the downtrodden by large swathes of the rural and urban poor, are never in power again. — AFP

25 die in Thai road crash

BANGKOK — A minivan and a pickup truck both packed with passengers collided in eastern Thailand yesterday, killing 25 people in a harrowing reminder of the country’s notoriously dangerous roads.

Police said the minivan driver lost control and ploughed through a central reservation into oncoming traffic in the eastern province of Chonburi. Both vehicles burst into flames.

“Twenty-five people were killed in the road accident,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Wiroj Jamjamras at Ban Bueng provincial police station said, adding two toddlers were among the dead.

“The victims were killed by fire or the impact.”

Wiroj said 15 people were inside the minivan while 12 passengers were packed into the pickup truck.

Two were injured but expected to survive.

Footage broadcast on Channel 3 showed firefighters tackling the burning, twisted wreckage of the two vehicles.

Despite relatively good infrastructure, Thailand has the world’s second most dangerous roads in terms of per capita deaths, according to data collected by the World Health Organisation in a 2015 report.

Fatalities tend to rise in the New Year week and during Songkran, when millions of low-paid workers return to the countryside from their city jobs to see family. — AFP

US warns Pyongyang against provocation

WASHINGTON — The United States has sharply condemned a North Korean plan to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile and warned Pyongyang against “provocative actions”.

The toughly worded US statement on Sunday called on “all states” to show the North that any unlawful actions would have “consequences”.

It was issued by the Pentagon at a sensitive time — just weeks before President Barack Obama is due to hand power over to his successor, Donald Trump.

The statement came hours after Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, said his country was close to testing such a missile, which would be capable of reaching American shores.

“We are in the final stages of test-launching the intercontinental ballistic missile,” Kim said in a televised New Year’s speech, pointing to a string of nuclear and missile tests last year.

He said Pyongyang was now a “military power of the East that cannot be touched by even the strongest enemy”.

The Pentagon statement noted that “multiple UN Security Council resolutions explicitly prohibit North Korea’s launches using ballistic missile technology”.

It urged Pyongyang to “refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric that threaten international peace and stability”.

The statement reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to defend its allies, using “the full spectrum of US extended deterrence capabilities”.

Pyongyang has never successfully test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and analysts are divided over how close it is to doing so.

But all agree it has made enormous strides in that direction since Kim took over as leader from his father Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011.

North Korea tested ballistic missiles at an unprecedented rate during 2016, although some experts have said it is years away from developing an ICBM fitted with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the United States.

The country has been under UN sanctions since 2006. The sanctions were tightened last month after Pyongyang conducted its fifth and largest nuclear test on Sept 9.
— Agencies


Plane with expelled diplomats returns to Moscow

MOSCOW — A plane carrying 35 diplomats expelled from the United States over Russia’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election arrived in Moscow early yesterday.

The Russian Il-96 plane carrying the diplomats and their families landed at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport at 2.05am after having taken off from Washington on Sunday.

State television showed the diplomats and their families gathering their luggage on the tarmac in the rain before heading inside the terminal.

The expulsions were part of a package of sanctions ordered by President Barack Obama on Thursday in the final weeks of his administration.

“We can confirm that the 35 Russian diplomats declared persona non grata have, along with their family members, departed the United States,” a State Department spokesman said in Washington earlier.

The diplomats, described as intelligence operatives based at the Russian embassy in Washington and the consulate in San Francisco, had been given 72 hours on Thursday to leave the country.

US intelligence says the Kremlin ordered a hack-and-release of Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign staff emails in a bid to put Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

Obama also ordered the closure of two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland that the United States says were used “for intelligence-related purposes”.

Economic sanctions were also announced against Russia’s FSB and GRU intelligence agencies. Four GRU officers including agency chief Igor Korobov also face sanctions.

Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations.

President Vladimir Putin has ruled out sending home US diplomats in retaliation — a move interpreted as a sign he is looking to Trump to rebuild US-Russian ties after the US inauguration on Jan 20.

Trump has cast doubt on the US intelligence findings, saying he knows “things that other people don’t know” about the situation. The populist billionaire is seeking closer ties with Putin. — AFP


in brief

From ‘Hollywood’ to

WASHINGTON — The famed Hollywood sign high in the hills over Los Angeles got a little higher on Sunday, when someone altered two of its letters to make it read “Hollyweed”. Police said unidentified thrill-seekers had climbed up and arranged tarps over the two letter “Os” to make them look like “Es”. Each letter is 13.7m high, so the feat would have required not just bravado but considerable athleticism. The daring act may have been taken in celebration of a measure approved in November, when California voters passed an amendment legalising recreational use of marijuana. Police said the act was being treated as a case of misdemeanor trespassing. The sign was put up in 1923. — AFP

Nine die in Kazakhstan

building collapse

MOSCOW —At least nine people were killed after part of an apartment building collapsed in central Kazakhstan on Sunday. The emergencies committee of the interior ministry in the central Asian nation said the victims included three men, three women and three children. A 32-year-old man had been pulled alive from the rubble. The ministry said it had dispatched 70 emergency workers to take part in the rescue operation. The remaining residents of the building have been evacuated. — AFP

Migrants try to storm

border into Spain

MADRID — At least 800 sub-Saharan African migrants tried to cross into Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta from Morocco on Sunday by storming a border fence. Most were eventually turned back, the Spanish and Moroccan governments said. Dozens of migrants made it to the top of the 6m barbed wire fence before being lifted down by cranes, footage from local TV station Faro TV showed. Spain said about 1,100 migrants attempted the crossing. Only two were allowed into Ceuta to be taken to hospital while the rest were returned to Morocco, the Spanish government said. — Reuters

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