Rohingya refugees arrive by boat at Shah Parir Dwip on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River after fleeing violence in Myanmar. // AFP PHOTO
Rohingya refugees arrive by boat at Shah Parir Dwip on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River after fleeing violence in Myanmar. // AFP PHOTO

United Asean ‘essential’ to prevent ripple effects

politics September 15, 2017 01:00


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A REGIONAL, collective stance was essential regarding the escalating Rohingya crisis, after more than 380,000 refugees have fled Rakhine state in Myanmar to Bangladesh, before the issue becomes a regional problem, an academic seminar has heard.

Asean countries tend to view the centuries-long conflict in the context of religion. While non-Muslim majority countries, including neighbouring Thailand, stand firm on a non-interference principle, Muslim majority states tend to push for more pressure on Myanmar, although little action has materialised.

Countries might want to save face on the issue, because if they speak out loudly about the Rohingya issue, their own domestic humanitarian issues could be also be criticised, said Sunet Chutintharanon, dean of Chulalongkorn University’s graduate school, said at the seminar on Wednesday.

As a result, initiating action collectively under Asean would not only protect individual countries but also help to recognise the issue as humanitarian in nature, rather than religious or ethnic.

“This should be regarded as a universal issue. Assaults and cleansing operations are wrongful, regardless of religion,” he said. “Opening a regional platform should encourage safe cooperation for stakeholders.”

Naruemol Thapchumpol, director of Asian Research Center for Migration, said more of a spotlight should be placed on moderate groups and civil societies to help tone down the tensions at an individual level.

While even pro-democracy groups in Myanmar still refuse to mention the name “Rohingya”, their less hardline approach encourages dialogue, which could help promote peaceful methods of dealing with Rohingya people, Naruemol said. 

Most groups in Myanmar refer to the minority as “Bengali”, a pejorative term that suggests they are not citizens of the country.

Authorities should also have their voices heard regarding the crisis, which each day gains greater prominence in the international spotlight, while remaining careful that Asean stakeholders do not lose face, which could have further ramifications, she said. 

The panel, held at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, discussed the mass migration of Rohingya out of Rakhin state, as violence involving the Myanmar military and the insurgent Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army has raged since August 25. 

More than 1,00 people have been killed, according to a United Nations report, with more than 2,600 houses reported to have been burned down.

While the international community has slammed Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for not taking sufficient action or even recognising the Rohingya ethnic group, Naruemol said her National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government had limited power to act.

“Suu Kyi’s government doesn’t have parliamentary supremacy and can do little to nothing on interior, defence and border control issues,” she said. “All the NLD has is civilian support in a Buddhist-dominated nation, where the anti-Muslim movement leader Ashin Wirathu has been influential.”

Rohingya have been regarded by generations of Myanmar governments as having inhabited Myanmar only since the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824, which by law renders them as non-citizens.