Mizzima’s Editor In-Chief and Managing Director Soe Myint sat down to conduct an exclusive interview with Union Enterprises for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development (UEHRD) Communications Director U Kyaw Myaing, to discuss the organisation’s work and the situation in Rakhine State.
Union Enterprises for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development (UEHRD), can you tell me how this came about, why it was necessary to be established, and what are the main goals of the body?
Let me explain why we call this a union enterprise. We call this a union enterprise because it is not a government ministry, it is not a government committee, and it is also not a company. It is a new mechanism initiated by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to solve the immediate problem in Rakhine, as well as the mid-term and long-term problems, development problems, in Rakhine.
The main goals, let me explain further, there are three main goals. The first goal is, as you know, humanitarian assistance. We need to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees who went over to Bangladesh and are coming back. And also to the ethnic nationals, Hindus and other local ethnic people living in Rakhine. That’s the first thing. And then resettlement. When the refugees come back, they need to be resettled, and this time they need to be resettled in a better situation, by that I mean the housing, the roads, the water supply, the electricity supply, health care, and education needs should all be included in the plan.
It looks like it is different from what has been tried in dealing in the issues in Rakhine. I noticed the role of the private sector. So how has the private sector responded to this new mechanism, initiative, and what is being done with the private sector?
As you know in development theory, they always say the private sector is the engine of growth. In the past in our country, because we had a socialist form of government for about 26 years, the private sector has been neglected and in fact almost killed off during the socialist era. But after transition of the military governments, the government tried to reform the economy and the role of the private sector has been put to the forefront. And if I were to tell you how the private sector has responded, when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi invited the private sector to help in implementing the UEHRD there was a very eager and energetic response from the private sector. And as you know there is a theory called PPP – public-private-partnership – so this is in a way a partnership between the government and the private sector.
You mention about immediate measures, immediate activities to be done, and also medium and long term for the UEHRD and for the Rakhine. Are you going to separate these development focused activities with other issues like rule of law, the question of citizenship, so how are you going to handle this? Are you going to separate these two and do the development first, and then others later, or you are going to do together at the same time?
In my opinion, I think it will have to be done in tandem, the things together. For example, even as we speak the Ministry for Labour and Immigration and Population, they have already started the process of NVC – National Verification Certificates, and that is one process. But right now, as far as I know, the refugees have not come back as yet. There are some negotiations and adjustments still going on between the two governments, between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
But the process of giving NVC cards to the refugees and the people who didn’t go, who stayed behind, that will have to be ongoing. And after that as announced by the government the question of citizenship will be considered according to the rules of the, according to the citizenship law and the rules and regulations from that law.
In this whole process, reception, repatriation, development and rule of law, what is the role of the United Nations and its agencies and the foreign governments? How can they get involved and how can they cooperate, what can they support to what UEHRD is doing and going to do?
The Myanmar government, as well as the UEHRD, has always welcomed positive assistance from all the countries of the world and especially the neighbouring countries and also the developed countries, and the procedure for providing assistance is to go through the diplomatic channel and that means the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nay Pyi Taw as well as our diplomatic missions abroad and what they wish to offer in the form of assistance will be considered on a case-by-case basis. But of course the Myanmar people and the government would be very thankful for the help.
How about the people of Myanmar, the ordinary citizens, the individuals and civil society groups, for example youth and women, how can they be involved, how do you foresee them to be a part of this process?
Right now, under the arrangement of Dr Win Myat Aye (Vice President of UEHRD), youths are volunteering to give humanitarian assistance to Rakhine and you can see the photographs on our website, the UEHRD website, and the idea is to send these youths in groups, 20 youths at a time. They were sent after careful planning and training. They were trained for three days and then sent to Rakhine. And this is going to be an ongoing process and the unique feature of this programme is because these youths are not under the control of any political party. They are just private citizens who wish to give assistance in Rakhine. And the other thing for the private citizens, those who wish to give donations, they can donate to the accounts given in the banks like Kanbawza, Ayerarwady Bank, and Myanmar Economic Bank. And for the people who are living abroad they can transfer through telegraphic transfer and we are going to make arrangements to put Swiftcodes on the websites so that they can just transfer the money. For example, there was one case where a group of people from Brunei, Myanmar nationals working in Brunei, they got together and donated about one thousand dollars out of their hard-earned money.
Apart from donating to the friends of UHERD what else can be done by people outside of the country especially those from Myanmar? For example, are they encouraged to come and invest in programs and development related projects?
You mean Investment in Rakhine? That is part of the program under the private sector group. They have a program to make a trade zone. The will be many opportunities for investors to invest especially vocational training all these investments should be geared towards export good that suitable for export to Bangladesh because it is the nearest country from Rakhine. And then investment that will create jobs for local people regardless of race or ethnicity.
Since the whole program started what do you see as the challenges for the UEHRD not only for Rakhine but also whole of Myanmar, what are the challenges and opportunities?
The first challenge is security. We don’t want the situation in Rakhine to escalate into a very bad situation where terrorists are free to roam about and where ARSA terrorists would bring in their friends from the middle east or from Pakistan or from Indonesia we don’t want this to happen. So, the first thing is security. For security to be established properly there is a need for understanding. First of all, for the Rakhine people. The other national living in other region whether Myanmars, Shans, Kachins, all the other union nationals are mobilising their energy and resources to make Rakhine development and security – to improve the security situation and to make this a success. So that is one security.
The other challenge is for the communities to live in peace and easier said than done. It is easy to say oh you must live in peace. But for that to happens a lot of other things have to be done in proper sequence by the right people. We don’t want people to incite we don’t want people to spread hate speech, all these negative things need to be cleared away. We need real positive leaders to go to that region, inter-faith groups and also when we draw up the curriculum all of these things should be included in the curriculum. So, education is another big challenge, security is a big challenge. And of course, the third challenge is for the Union nationals to learn and live in peace like in Malaysia. In Malaysia we have three races, the Chinese, the Tamil Indians, and the Malay Muslims – they live in peace. But unfortunately, sometimes foreign countries want to create problems in our country forgetting they too have to live in peace.
As I mentioned earlier investment opportunities, there will be a lot of investment opportunities for private sector companies and when these companies go there, human resources from other regions will be sent there and they can work and they can also teach people there.
A very important point. Media access, when you implement these activities, programs, projects as part of UEHRD how will you facilitate media access?
I have been briefed by the State Counsellor that my job is to make sure that all the activities being done under UEHRD are disseminated to the Myanmar people as well as to people in other countries all over the world. Especially the people in America. So, for that to happen first of all I have to have a very collaborative arrangement with the media here and for that I will welcome the media in the office, the phones will be accessible, and right now I am inclined to have arrangements for at least two meeting with the media in my office to talk about the challenges, whatever difficulties they are having, lines of communication, standard operating procedures and for the safety of media personnel when they go there. All these have to be discussed, planned and properly arranged.
The have been negative reports in some international media and on what has happened in Rakhine. What is your message to the international community about UEHRD?
The message I would like to give the media, the global media at large is the UEHRD is a union enterprise with very good intentions but with very firm resolution and conviction to show to the world that whatever they have been saying is not true. For example, if we didn’t have any good feeling for all these people who went over to Bangladesh why would we accept them back? That is the first thing and the other thing is those who are propagating or disseminating or spreading false new about the Myanmar Tatmadaw or the Myanmar Government or the Myanmar leaders what I would like to say is if something is not true and false you cannot cover it for long. At one point the truth will come out. That is why I would like to say that we are doing our best to have this website which is updated every night and we also have Facebook, more than that we are spreading the message through Myanmar communities who are living abroad. So, to recap if something is not true, the truth will come out, eventually.
Those who have doubt, who have negative images about what is happening in Rakhine, can they witness with their own eyes what is happening in Rakhine?
Do you mean the citizens or the press?
I mean anyone, media, individuals, citizens. Especially the media.
I think travel to Rakhine is not possible right now. But it will have to begin with the media people. And for the media people I think it is the responsibility of the government to ensure their safety and to ensure that they get adequate access to the new that they need.