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Special Address on Rohingya issue for Oslo Conferene by OIC Special Envoy to Myanmar, Dr. Syed Hamid Albar

May 26, 2015
Oslo, Norway

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to the organizer of the conference for giving me an opportunity to represent OIC and talk about the Rohingya issue. After undertaking the responsibility as the OIC Special Envoy for Myanmar then I realized how complex and daunting the task is. InshaAllah, with Allah SWT guidance and continuous support from all parties, I am confident there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The Rohingya issue especially the crisis at the sea in South East Asia is so urgent that more must be said, more thought must be given and most importantly, short, mid and long term actions are taken and formulated. 

Those I have interacted or engaged with agree that the situation in Myanmar is serious and needs urgent attention. Let me at the outset say that the ongoing problem is not only about religion or ethnicity but human rights and identity crisis that the government had refused to address or admit.

I like all of us to remember, today we can sleep sheltered and safe tonight without the threat of a mob breaking down our doors or burning our homes. However, the Rohingya who also share this world with us are denied these fundamental rights, and suffer on a scale that no human must be allowed to suffer, especially children, women and elderly people. They are no different from us except for the circumstances of their birth. In these difficult moments it is our shared responsibility to reach our open hands to them.

This intolerance is not irreparable as prior to this the different communities had lived in peace and harmony. It is with patience, tolerance, kindness, that we can break this cycle. In the intelligence as well as diplomatic world we must be able to read the minds of the people we are negotiating with and devise our strategies accordingly. 

The argument that the Rohingyas are not indigenes but illegal immigrants from Bangladesh is unacceptable because who in his or her rightful mind would like to illegally migrate from a third world country to another third world place where they will face persecution as well. 

As we know the Rohingyas are indigenes ethnic community of Myanmar who has been there for generations and were excluded from the list in 1982, thus becoming stateless all of a sudden.

The list of ethnic groups of 1982 is not by an ‘Act of Parliament’ but rather an ‘Executive Order’ by the President of the Union at that time. If the Union Government is sincere in resolving the issue now, they can do it by another ‘Executive Order’. But it will require a strong political will which we feel is lacking at this time. They are adopting the ‘Wait and See’ policy for the time being. Or at least until the next general elections. 

This whole drama of excluding the Rohingya and other Muslim communities form the list is to push the Muslims out of the political scene of Myanmar and make Myanmar purely a Buddhist state, but how an entire population can be exterminated altogether, which according to some estimates is almost one third of the total population of Myanmar. There is hardly any ‘Purist’ state on the entire planet consisting of only one race or religion. 

Besides that, the solution they are considering to segregate the Rohingyas, put them in Camps and get them to agree to register themselves as Bengalis is in in fact not a solution. The problem, though may not be seen as such by Myanmar Government is that it may be the best way for the government to indirectly encourage them to migrate somewhere else. 

Against the background of political and social changes in Myanmar since 2011 and sectarian conflicts in Rakhine in 2012 and other parts of Myanmar in 2013, religious movements which the state tightly controlled in previous decades have become prominent and more vocal against the minorities. Among them, the most prominent one is the Buddhist nationalist movement led by “Ma-Ba-Tha”. Both Ma-Ba-Tha and 969, which is a constituent association of the former, have widely popularized the claim that Buddhism is under threat from Islam and Islamization.

These trends have caused and contributed to human rights crises, gender-based discrimination, statelessness, segregation, refugee flows and other threats to security, posing challenges to Myanmar’s transition to democracy and upcoming elections. Moreover, these trends threaten regional stability and could exacerbate violence and polarisation along religious and ethnic fault-lines. Such pattern could seriously undermine the establishment, sustainability and credibility of the ASEAN Community, including economic integration and regional economic development. This unwanted home environment has forced many Rohingyas flee Myanmar to find a basic living environment elsewhere.

Since then, more than one million Rohingya who remain in Myanmar have seen their situation deteriorate to the point that over the last two years, as many as 100,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine state on unseaworthy boats with hopes of reaching Malaysia or Thailand but often put them in the hands of vicious human traffickers including death. These people are not migrants seeking job or economic opportunity but leaving their motherland due to suppression, fearing abuses and killings. 

Largely unwanted at home and by Bangladesh and faced with increasingly precarious conditions in Rakhine, the Rohingya boat people have changed their destination from Bangladesh to other neighboring countries in the 2000s and have often fallen prey to regional human trafficking networks. However, unfortunately, the Bangladeshi joined the Rohingyas and created immigration threat to those countries. Likewise, the “new boat people” are not really welcomed in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Moreover, whenever those neighboring countries urged the Myanmar Government to take responsible of these boat people, Myanmar officials expediently respond by claiming that those so-called Rohingya who land on the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are not from Myanmar or that their Myanmar citizenship must be scrutinized first before Myanmar take responsibility for them. This has effectively created a dilemma for Myanmar’s neighbors and ASEAN. Increasingly precarious conditions of Rohingya in Rakhine and complete rejection of them as fellow Myanmar citizens by the majority of the people in Myanmar will likely mean an ongoing influx in the number of Rohingya boatpeople seeking asylum in neighboring countries over the coming years. 

The Government of Myanmar should be held responsible and to undertake concrete and positive steps to put an end to all acts of violence, human rights violations and discriminatory policies against the Rohingya, such actions will only tarnish Myanmar’s image and acceptability in the region and internationally. 

The plight of the Rohingya warrants serious attention and action as they continue to suffer under the current circumstances which could pose a security problem for the region.

I also think with cautious optimism, patience and perseverance there is a fair chance of resolving the issue.

To conclude, given the complexities of the ongoing problem in Myanmar, it is only natural that we weigh all options carefully and in a pragmatic manner to achieve the desired outcomes. We need to strategize the best approach to correct negative perceptions through regular contacts and engagements. In this respect, a closer collaboration with state and non-state actors is definitely necessary. We need both “soft” and “constructive” approach to connect all parties for an amicable solution.

I strongly believe that it is a delicate balance that we are searching for: we must continue to respect the principle of sovereignty and at the same time fulfill our responsibility to protect and give the help and support to those thousands who have made pleas to the international community and who are losing hope as they wait on our decisions. 

Thank you.

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Rohingya Exodus