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ASEAN must intervene

'Rohingya issue' is regional refugee crisis

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21st-Mar-2017       
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Huffington Post :
In June 2012, communal riots between Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists first erupted in the state of Rakhine. After the subsequent government crackdown and "persecution" of the area's Rohingya, state-sponsored violence induced forced displacements of this Muslim minority.
What followed has become what we know today as Myanmar's "Rohingya issue".
Nearly five years later, this issue is now a full-blown humanitarian crisis and it's time for the Association of South-East Asian nations (ASEAN) to present a regional response.
By the end of October 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had registered some 55,000 Rohingyas in Malaysia, most of whom had fled by boat. Some 33,000 Rohingyas are living in refugee camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara in Bangladesh, while another 300,000 to 500,000 unregistered refugees are estimated to have settled elsewhere in the country. Rohingya refugees have also been temporarily situated in Thailand, Indonesia and India. Thousands of others have kept roaming and, in 2014 and 2015, they spent up to a month in overcrowded ships on the seas off the coast of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
This massive refugee crisis has raised security concerns in the ASEAN region and drawn global attention partly because so many
Rohingyas are falling victim to organised human trafficking rings.
The Rohingya issue has thus become a local problem with regional consequences. Resolving this problem in the long term will require local solutions, but, in the meantime, preventing further Rohingya subjugation should be a major human rights concern for ASEAN member states and the international community.
Refugee management in the ASEAN region is always contentious because refugees are seen as non-traditional security threats, and many countries lack effective refugee protection instruments and mechanisms. Apart from the Philippines, Timor Leste and Cambodia, no other ASEAN members have signed the Geneva Convention of Refugees and its protocols. In Myanmar, even the term Rohingya is highly contested. To the government, they are illegal Bangladeshi migrants, prohibited from acquiring Myanmar citizenship or nationality under the 1882 Burma Citizenship Law. Even though the Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar since before it became independent from the British.
The Rohingyas are minority Muslim groups in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Of the country's total population of 51 million, only about 1.2 million are Rohingyas. But in the country's northern Rakhine state, where most Rohingyas live in townships, they are more numerous than Buddhists.
Violence at the hands of Myanmar's security forces has begun to radicalise some sectors of this population. And there are reportedly emerging links between the Rohingya insurgent group (the HaY) and extremist outfits in the Middle East. This should be a concern for all ASEAN countries. However, emerging radicalisation should not be used as an explanation to justify state-sponsored violence and undermined peaceful solutions to the humanitarian crisis. Local solutions to Myanmar's Rohingya issue can come in different forms. First and foremost, state-sponsored violence must end, accompanied by respect for human rights. For starters, aid agencies should be allowed to get aid to the Rohingyas (aid agencies' access to northern Rakhine state has long been denied).
Inclusive dialogue and the promotion of mutual respect and cooperation would also help address the problem. But lasting solutions to the problem will be impossible without addressing prevailing structural violence.
Because the Rohingyas are not officially considered as citizens, they are deprived of basic services such as public health, education and jobs. Only policy reforms that review and recognise the citizenship of the Rohingyas and provide them with social justice will resolve this sociopolitical problem in the long term.
That seems unlikely to happen any time soon. In December 2016, Myanmar's government appointed a commission to investigate the violence that erupted in Rakhine state in October 2016. The commission evidently found no evidence of genocide and religious persecution of the Rohingyas there, in sharp contrast with other reports.
Support from the Burmese military will also be a key. Ever since the country's recent democratic transition, the military holds great power in the country, with 25% of the seats in the national and state parliaments reserved for unelected military representatives. The three most powerful ministries - Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs - can only be headed by serving military officers, according to the 2008 constitution.

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