Rohingya Crisis: An Agenda for the Regional and International Communities
By Dibya Shikha (Research Intern, IReS, IPCS)
May 29, 2014
During the 2014 ASEAN Summit in Naypyidaw, the first one to be held in Myanmar, the plight of the Rohingya Muslims was left off the agenda. The failure to discuss the issue and the deliberate attempts by Myanmar to not recognise the Rohingyas in the recently held Census has once again brought the uncertain fate of the Rohingyas to the forefront.
Approximately 1,40,000 Rohingyas have moved away from Rakhine state due to large scale violence over the past two years. Although Rohingyas started fleeing way back in 1978, the Myanmarese government’s decision in March 2014 to expel humanitarian groups and prevent them from providing health care and aid has increased the number of ‘boat people’ moving to countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia.
In this scenario, what can the international community do for a durable solution of the current impasse? What can the region do to pressurise Myanmar to accept these de jure stateless people? What should Myanmar do to solve the Rohingya crisis?
What can the International Community Do?
International law provides three solutions to refugee problems. The first is voluntary repatriation, where refugees can safely and voluntarily return to their country of origin. The International community has repeatedly stated that the solution to the Rohingya refugee issue is their voluntary return to Myanmar. However, without altering the discriminatory policies in the Rakhine region, repatriation will not be an effective and justifiable solution.
The second is local integration wherein through local, economic and political processes refugees become members of the host society. No neighbouring country is ready to accept the Rohingyas because it may overburden their demography and economy.
The third is resettlement which suggests the permanent movement of refugees to a third country. Some Rohingyas were sent to Canada, Australia, Sweden and Norway from countries like Bangladesh. However, these resettlement operations were shelved due to their limited size and role as a ‘pull’ factor.
The international community, rather than focusing on refugee conventions should pressurise the Myanmarese government to act on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle which calls on every State to protect its population, regardless of ethnicity or citizenship, from ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity. R2P also asks the international community to act if the responsible government is unable to do so.
If Myanmar does not taking serious action to improve the situation of the Rohingyas, trade and economic sanctions should be enforced again.
What Can the Region Do?
There should be an inter-regional solution for the forced migration of Rohingyas. The countries affected by the fleeing of the Rohingyas are in South and Southeast Asia; hence the solution should come from a constructive regional engagement. In 2009, an important step was taken by ASEAN countries through the platform of the ‘Bali Process’, which was in tuned with the solutions provided by the international law. This process was originally established in 2002 and involved more than 45 countries committed to taking steps to combat human-trafficking and related trans-national crimes in the Asia and Pacific regions.
At the latest Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the Bali Process held in April 2013, the Rohingya issue was not mentioned. The concept therefore of a ‘regional arrangement for a regional problem’ started with much fanfare but failed to achieve its intended target due to the indifference of the member States. With the changing political culture of the region, the Bali Process can prove to be a constructive platform for solving the Rohingya crisis.
A regional solution is only achievable if states of the region start sharing the burden. Although a permanent solution is voluntary repatriation to Myanmar, for short-term and mid-term solutions, these ‘forced migrants’ should not be ‘pushed back’ or trapped in a vicious cycle of arrest, detention and deportation in the host countries.
Resolving the Rohingya issue is political rather than humanitarian; however, regional groups and the international community have not been able to take a strong political stand against Myanmar. Although Myanmar is undergoing a change after the formation of a semi-democratic government, its attitude towards Rohingya Muslims has not changed at all. Even pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has not made her stance on the issue clear.
Only Myanmar can solve this longstanding crisis by either amending or repealing the 1982 Citizenship Law to recognise Rohingyas as an ethnic group of Myanmar. A recent report by Fortify Rights states that the policies of the Myanmarese government restrict the Rohingyas’ "movement, marriage, childbirth, home repairs and construction of houses of worship." Such discriminatory laws should be immediately withdrawn to stop the further persecution of this minority group.
There is an urgent need for the international and regional communities to remain firm in exerting pressure on the government of Myanmar to meet its obligations under the R2P principle.