ASEAN and Myanmar Action on Rohingya Refugee Crisis Now Imminent

Jun 8, 2019 | Asia, Myanmar, News

Will there ever be peace for Myanmar’s stateless Rohingya minority?

Compounded by years of international pressure and criticism, it appears that the embattled Burmese state is now opening up to the possibility of mediation with regard to the 2017 Rohingya crisis. Only two years ago, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine State as Burmese military cracked down on hapless Rohingya communities, citing terrorist activities and the need to defend sovereign soil.

With firebrands like Wirathu still spreading hate speech against Muslims, both Bangladesh and Myanmar face a continuing crisis that can no longer be addressed by simply refusing to acknowledge the problem in the first place.

ASEAN’s role

Recently an ASEAN-ERAT team was deployed to Myanmar to assess the current conditions at the Rakhine State, to pave the way for the eventual repatriation of the stateless Rohingya. However, the current clashes between the insurgent Arakan Army and Myanmar security forces have frozen repatriation efforts, and have made it doubly harder to accomplish a lot on the ground.

Kutupalong Refugee Camp - Bangladesh - DFID UK Department for International Development

Kutupalong Refugee Camp – Bangladesh | DFID UK Department for International Development

It is becoming a fortunate reality in Myanmar that an increasingly large portion of the public is acknowledging that something has to be done about the problem now, and the previous non-interference stance of the surrounding ASEAN community is no longer helping the crisis.

Rakhine and Kachin states under siege

Diplomatic measures, as well as a closer look on the more practical, domestic dimensions of the crisis are seen as areas where the ASEAN can help Myanmar. According to a combined statement by INGOs operating in Myanmar, including Action Contre La Faim and Relief International, up 95,000 people in the Rakhine State have been cut off from essential and basic services due to the on-going clashes between the Arakan Army and Myanmar’s military.

The northern Kachin State is also suffering from increased military operations, and the government has set negotiations with insurgents on April 30.

According to the Kachin Independence Organization, all the residents want now is peace, and to be able to return to their homes. On the Bangladeshi side, the government’s initial plan to relocate more than 100,000 Rohingyas to the island of Bhasan Char has fallen apart, as international groups insisted that the relocation should be completely voluntary on the part of the Rohingyas. Bangladesh is host to around 1.2 million Rohingyas, and now faces an uncertain political future because of the Myanmar exodus.

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