[Bài bình luận] The Responsibility from ASEAN in Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Trung tâm SCIS giới thiệu bài bình luận "The Responsibility from ASEAN in Rohingya Refugee Crisis" của ThS. Đoàn Ngọc Anh Khoa (NCV cộng tác của SCIS) về trách nhiệm của tổ chức ASEAN trong việc hỗ trợ giải quyết cuộc khủng hoảng người tỵ nạn Rohingya ở Myanmar. Bài bình luận thể hiện quan điểm riêng của tác giả, không đại diện cho quan điểm của Trung tâm SCIS.




The Responsibility from ASEAN in Rohingya Refugee Crisis

In Majority-Buddhist Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslim minority, comprising of approximately one-million people, reside mainly in the Rakhine State on the west coast. The country has a long history of the repression and persecution of the Rohingya, to whom it denies basic rights to citizenship, to marry, to worship, to travel, and to education. The U.S. President Obama lifted sanctions against Myanmar, citing “substantial progress in improving human rights” following the historic election victory of the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party in 2015. This praise proves to be disappointed and premature because the State Counsellor of Myanmar did not overcome her strongest criticism and at last become a voice for the people that she claims to represent. But whether it is Suu Kyi’s place to take on that role? Her position is not that of a leader of a regular Western Democracy, nor is she necessarily in the place of an ignorant dictator. Suu Kyi’s situation is incredibly complex and the plight of the Rohingya and Suu Kyi’s relationship is both futile and superficial.

Although the Rohingya minority claim to have lived in Myanmar from “time immemorial”, they have long since been persecuted by the country’s military for being a disloyal and unwanted “other”. Most Rohingya are Muslims, although a small number are Hindus, which has led many within Myanmar’s reigning Buddhist majority to claim that the Rohingyas are illegal Bengali foreigners who do not “deserve” Myanmar citizenship. This division became especially prominent during Myanmar’s plight for independence during the mid-20th century wherein the British colonial powers promised the Rohingya a “National Muslim Area”, in exchange for their support. The Rohingya accepted this offer, thereby siding against their own government, which further strained relations.

The ethno-religious tensions between the Rohingya and certain government factions, notably the military, increased following the military coup in 1962, in which the military instated themselves as the country’s de-facto government and passed a law that formally stripped the Rohingya of their Myanmar citizenship thereby leaving them unprotected and open to further persecution. They have been widely identified as illegal Bengali immigrants although the minority has been in the country for centuries. The community has been effectively rendered stateless by the Myanmar government. The military junta introduced a 1982 citizenship law, which stripped the Rohingya of access to full citizenship. Then in the 1990s, the minority were given "white cards," held no legal value, but representing some minimal recognition of temporary stay in Myanmar.

The Rohingya live in contemptible conditions when the Naypyidaw regime has implemented several restrictions on education, employment, family planning, freedom of movement, marriage, religious choice, and freedom of movement. Also, the Rakhine is the least developed state in Myanmar when more than 78 percent of the households live below the poverty threshold. There is immense systematic, institutionalised discrimination against the community due to the tensions between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya.

It is important to address that the Rohingya refugee crisis is one of the largest displacement issue occurring in the world today. A United Nations report revealed that since a military “crackdown” on October 9, 2016, more than 90,000 Rohingya had fled or been driven out of their homes, most fleeing to Bangladesh. Several activists, including 11 Nobel Laureates, have already warned Aung San Suu Kyi about a human tragedy with serious crimes of ethnic cleansing and against humanity in Myanmar. Despite several warnings of violations of international human rights conventions, the international community’s response has been feeble. The reaction from the international community has been mixed at best. The plight of a helpless minority group is being overshadowed by the likes of Donald Trump, Brexit, and Syria. The Obama administration significantly improved the situation when lifting the sanctions on Myanmar in his last tenure's months. Additionally, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), including former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, together with other Islamic nations' leaders, has been actively supporting the Rohingya refugee crisis by criticising the senseless genocide.  It is noteworthy that the situation might be worse if only Muslims supported the Rohingya due to the fear of Islam.

Bangladesh has often been the first destination which the Rohingya migrants reached because it shares not only borders but also the common religion with Myanmar. Most importantly, the Bangladeshi government supports the Rohingya minority with the much-needed but struggling to find a reliable solution because the Dhaka regime is among the least developed and most overcrowded nations in the world. Hence, it is likely to concentrate on internal issues. Since 2015, the Bangladeshi leadership has decided to refuse the new migration from the Rohingya.

The most troublesome aspect is the Suu Kyi administration does not consider Rohingya as the top priority. It has become difficult for the international community to support the Rohingya ethnic with any humanitarian aid since it was completely neglected by the government. The Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should play a prominent role in solving the Rohingya issue by implementing economic sanctions on Myanmar to reduce the outright discrimination and harassment toward the Rohingya. However, this could be a problem because of the association's  non-interference principle which requires the political will of all members.

Moreover, the ASEAN could build upon the Bali Process and work to establish a universal policy framework, concerning illegal migrants and refugees, perhaps the UN model would be valuable in this regard. The association could get help from the European Union, which is dealing with a similar problem. The Union has already had a framework for regional cooperation, which might allow the ASEAN to replicate with a comprehensive framework for addressing the refugee and migrant issue.

In the short term, the ASEAN should solely concentrate on improving the Rohingya's living conditions and produce the community a safe place to live. In the long-term plan, the ASEAN needs to get more support from the international community to get resources to deal with the refugee crisis and establish a legal framework to enforce the members to follow whenever any refugee crisis would occur.




Ngoc Anh Khoa Doan is a lecturer at Faculty of International Relations, University of Social Sciences and Humanities Ho Chi Minh City. He achieved his Master in Asian Politics from University of London, London, UK and has always been interested in East Asian security affairs. He got his Bachelor’s degree from Canada.





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