2017-10-25 / Editorials

Letters to the Editor

Refugee Crisis In Burma

A copy of this letter was received at the
offices of the Queens Gazette.
October 18, 2017
The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Tillerson,

Recently many of us wrote to urge you to take concrete actions in response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State, Burma. We appreciate the steps that have already been taken, including your statement that attacks must end, provision of humanitarian aid in Bangladesh, and statements by the United States at the United Nations Security Council condemning the atrocities against the Rohingya.

Unfortunately, the crisis is far from over. The situation in Rakhine State has been horrific and many innocent people are suffering. As you know, credible human rights organizations have documented atrocities carried out against Rohingya and other civilians. Due to these actions, over 500,000 people have fled Burma for Bangladesh, including at least 250,000 children. The vast majority of these are Rohingya. Tens of thousands more are internally displaced. Reports of mistreatment continue.

This happens against a backdrop of major displacement elsewhere in the country, including in the Kachin State, where the military has carried out attacks leading to displacement of well over 100,000 persons.

Disturbingly, Burma’s authorities appear to be in denial of what has happened: a completely disproportionate response by Burmese security forces to attacks on some of its outposts. In fact, the response has been so extreme that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says it is an effort to cleanse Burma of the Rohingya people.

In light of the ongoing crisis, we urge you to build on your initial commitment. Initially, we hope that you continue assistance to Burmese refugees in Bangladesh. Furthermore, we urge you to do everything possible to ensure protection and security for those trapped inside Burma or willing to return, as well as oppose forcible returns from neighboring countries.

At the same time, we ask that you take meaningful steps with respect to the Burmese military and other entities engaged in abuses. At a minimum, we trust that you will suspend all waivers of visa ineligibilities pursuant to the Block Burmese Jade Act, until the military allows unfettered humanitarian access to internally displaced persons in northern Rakhine State. We also invite you to work with us to employ existing legal mechanisms such as those under the Block Burmese Jade Act and the Global Magnitsky Act, amongst other laws that allow for targeted action against those responsible for abuses. Additionally, we urge you to encourage other nations to suspend arms sales to Burma.

Finally, the United States should support the implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Commission which are the result of a year-long effort to examine the root causes of conflict in the area. The commission found that in Rakhine State, communities “harbour deep-rooted historical grievances, shaped by the experience of violence, injustice and neglect.” The commission also noted that “a highly militarized response is unlikely to bring peace to the area.” But a highly militarized response is exactly what has happened, and on a stunning scale. A strong response needs to be sent to make it clear that there is no excuse for a cruel, extensive, and grossly disproportionate crackdown on civilians.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman
Joe Crowley
Representative Steve Chabot (R-Ohio)
41 bipartisan Members of Congress

Cosmetic Improvements

To The Editor:

While we appreciate the current renovation’s value to ridership, which emphasizes visual (public art, design and material upgrades) and crowd-control elements on N/W train stations along 31st Street (39th Ave., 36th Ave., Broadway, and 30th Ave.), we feel it extremely important that operational issues be addressed immediately.

These include repair/replacement of tracks and switches, and installation of elevators in each station for our many disabled and senior citizens. At present, none of the stations on the N/W subway line in Astoria meets the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. Even with the planned installation of elevators at the Astoria Blvd station (the only station set to receive elevators), people with mobility issues will be forced to use alternative methods to get there or to Queens or Queensboro Plazas.

We conclude that while the emotional advantage of a cosmetically improved station is a real asset, it should not overshadow the health, safety and efficiency needs of all commuters. We ask that capital improvements to trains, tracks, switches and ADA accessibility be immediately introduced.

Richard Khuzami
President, Old Astoria
Neighborhood Assn. (OANA)

Pathway To Success

To The Editor: New York City’s yellow taxi industry has, for generations, played a crucial role in providing good jobs for immigrants in communities across the five boroughs. I should know – I love my job as a taxi driver because it gives me a path to the middle class. There is no doubt that our industry has been changing and growing even more in recent years, with new technology and ideas at the forefront. That is why I am still proud to be part of a yellow taxi industry that is constantly evolving to meet new challenges while staying true to what really matters – supporting the immigrant drivers who make it all possible. The reality is that, despite what you might hear from big corporations like Uber, driving a taxi provides many great opportunities today, as it did for many others who have settled in this country from all parts of the world for a better life. Today’s yellow taxi drivers have more options than ever before – including easy-to-use e-hail apps like Arro, Curb and Via, which allow us to pick up more passengers throughout all corners of the city. Popular new programs are also allowing taxi drivers to get into “ridesharing,” which enables us to pick up multiple passengers at once. Simply put, we can do anything that Uber and Lyft can do – and because we are part of a truly iconic New York City industry, and because the vast majority of us are full time, professional drivers, we can do it better, and we can do it safer. Just as importantly, the taxi industry looks out for us in ways that multi-billion-dollar corporations like Uber and Lyft don’t. When I am driving my yellow taxi, I feel strongly supported by others in the industry who care about me and my success. I’m proud to know that I am part of an industry – a family – when I drive my taxi. Let’s be real – there is a new story all the time about how companies like Uber are failing their drivers by underpaying them or not supporting them when it really matters. That is not the kind of industry I want to be part of – and it is why I still feel so strongly about being part of a yellow taxi family. That is part of why our industry is still home to so many immigrants from across the world. Around 90 percent of yellow taxi drivers are immigrants, representing more than 160 countries of origin. It is incredible to be part of such a diverse industry that actually recognizes the power of immigrant workers and voices. For me and for many others driving a yellow taxi is a ticket out of poverty. After arriving in America, I worked a number of dead end jobs below minimum wage, like so many other immigrants, but I stayed focused because I want to provide a better future for my family. As a taxi driver, I am making that vision a reality. For me, driving a yellow taxi means staying in the middle class and finding new opportunities for success in this incredible, unpredictable city we call home. It means being part of an evolving, growing industry that is led by the hearts, the minds and the hard work of immigrants.

Amar Kehal

Candidates On Transit

To The Editor:

The following transportation projects and proposals which could benefit Queens residents are competing against each other for city, state, and federal funding. Voters are looking forward to hearing from candidates for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president and City Council on their respective priorities and funding sources to actually make some of these projects a reality. Each may be supported by different advocates including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York State Department of Transportation, New York City Department of Transportation, city Economic Development Corporation, various city, state and federal elected officials, constituents and transit advocates.

The list includes, but is not limited to, the following projects or proposals: (1) The Commuter Rail Fare Equalization Proposal, which would allow city residents to pay the same $2.75 fare on the Long Island Rail Road as riding the NYC Transit Subway and provide a free transfer to the NYC subway for $200 million; (2) half-fare MetroCards for several hundred thousand poor residents earning less than $26,000 per year for $200 million; (3) LaGuardia Airport Train to the Plane for $450 million; (4) Woodhaven Blvd. Select Bus Service for $231 million; (5) Light Rail between Jamaica and Long Island City on the old Lower Montauk LIRR branch for $100 million; (6) Restoration of LIRR service on the old Rockaway LIRR branch for $1 billion; (7) Triboro X Subway Express – a new subway line connecting the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn for $2 billion; (8) Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel for $10 billion; (9) Main Street Flushing Intermodal Bus Terminal for $100 million; (10) Reopening the Woodhaven Blvd. Atlantic Branch LIRR Station for $40 million; (11) The Brooklyn- Queens Connector (BQX) would connect various neighborhoods along the waterfront from Sunset Park, Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens for $2.5 billion. (12) Sunnyside Yards East Side Access LIRR/Metro North Station for $100 million; (13) Introduction of either Select Bus Service (SBS); Bus Rapid Transit (BRT); Limited Stop Bus to Subway or Express Bus Service to Manhattan for costs to be determined. (14) Many of the 78 Queens subway and 21 Long Island Rail Road stations still need to be brought back up to a state of good repair for costs to be determined. (15) Many additional subway and LIRR stations still need to become fully compliant with the Americans for Disability Act (ADA) by construction of elevators for costs to be determined.

How do candidates for public office propose to finance these projects? Everyone has their own preferred priority project or projects. They frequently conflict with each other. What is your priority list of projects to go forward with? Transit riders are all ears waiting for answers.

Larry Penner
Great Neck

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