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RI should encourage Myanmar to become an inclusive democracy

Certified: Rohingya migrants from Myanmar show their asylum-seeker certificates at a temporary shelter in Bayeun village, Rantoe Seulamat district, eastern Aceh, on Monday.(Antara/Syifa)

By Betsy Nolan
July 2, 2015

Indonesia should do all it can to help Rohingya refugees through bilateral and regional mechanisms, and play an active role in assisting Myanmar to become an inclusive, pluralistic democracy, experts say.

In May, thousands of Rohingya made the treacherous journey to neighboring countries to flee persecution in Myanmar. They were rescued or swam to shore in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. While several thousand more are believed to still be trapped on boats with little food or water in a crisis sparked by smugglers abandoning their human cargo after a Thai crackdown on regular human-trafficking routes.

Despite giving temporary shelter to Rohingya already in their territory, Indonesia and other countries in the region should pursue a more comprehensive solution to resolve the issue.

“For humanitarian reasons, Indonesia should do all it can to rescue Rohingya refugees and give them temporary shelter until they can return home or be resettled elsewhere,” said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, political advisor to the Vice President recently.

The Rohingya stranded at sea as a result of persecution in Myanmar are growing in number. Not accepted as citizens in Myanmar and fleeing because of fear of death, the stateless Rohingya have been steadily flowing out of the country since the Rakhine state riots of 2012. 

However, the conflict began much earlier. Violence between the Muslim Rohingya and some Buddhist militias first broke out during British involvement in the former Burma during World War II.

In 1982, the government of Myanmar officially denied the Rohingya legal citizenship. Many of those who fled moved to slums and refugee camps along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh and Thailand. 

Others live in internally displaced person camps within Myanmar, from which the government will not allow them to leave. Now, many are leaving by boat, but wherever they migrate to in the region, poor health and nutrition, continued conflict and fear of persecution seem to follow. 

Dewi also believes that Indonesia should play a part in encouraging Myanmar to deal with the current refugee crisis. “Indonesia should encourage Myanmar bilaterally, through ASEAN, and other regional and multilateral forums, to give full citizenship to the Rohingya and treat them without discrimination. Indonesia should play an active role in assisting Myanmar become a fully inclusive, pluralistic democracy,” she suggested. 

Meanwhile, international relations expert at Paramadina University, Dinna Wisnu, told The Jakarta Post that although Indonesia has started this process, “Indonesia’s encouragement of Myanmar to treat the Rohingya as citizens needs to continue.” 

Indonesia has granted some Rohingya people temporary shelter for up to a year in Aceh province and has reportedly received an additional US$49 million from Qatar to support their stay in the country. Acehnese fishermen were some of the first to help bring the refugees ashore after seeing them stranded at sea. 

However, problems relating to their citizenship still lie with Myanmar, which may be slowly warming to the idea of reassessing its stance on the Rohingya, with Indonesia’s help. 

“This needs to continue,” said Dinna.

“Too much cornering and pressuring without sufficient support and encouragement would do more harm than good. Indonesia can elevate its support to Myanmar by building a network based on peace building. The network provides options for countries to help because Myanmar will need financial as well as technical assistance for quite a few years ahead.” 

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