Asean and the Rohingya

July 23, 2019

After fighters attacked security targets in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state on August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military responded by killing and maiming thousands of Rohingya civilians, raping...

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After fighters attacked security targets in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state on August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military responded by killing and maiming thousands of Rohingya civilians, raping hundreds of women and girls, and burning entire villages to the ground.

Almost two years after the military-led “clearance operation” that forced more than 745,000 Rohingya men, women and children to flee and seek refuge in Bangladesh, this humanitarian crisis seems more intractable than ever.

Systematic state discrimination against the Rohingya, making them stateless and without rights, and recurring state-sanctioned violence spurred various influxes of refugees into Bangladesh in the 1970s and 1990s.

Together with more than 300,000 Rohingya who had already taken shelter during these previous waves of violence, Bangladesh now hosts over one million Rohingya refugees - most of whom residing in Cox’s Bazar, now the world’s largest refugee camp. It is a testament to Bangladesh’s historic generosity that it did not turn away any recent arrivals despite hosting large numbers of refugees.

Yet, neither Bangladesh’s patience nor its coffers are infinite, and the strain of caring for the refugees is starting to show. Merely a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in parliament that the country’s resources are nearing their limits and there is growing tension, as Bangladesh grapples with how best to deal with the situation.

To any who have visited the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar as I recently did with national human rights commissioners from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, one thing is clear: conditions in the camps remain abysmal and unsustainable for long-term stay. The overcrowding and lack of planning in many of these camps could lead to the spread of communicable diseases and create fire hazards, while deforestation has made the area prone to landslides and floods during the monsoon rains.

The basic needs for shelter, healthcare, water and sanitation are barely met. The refugees live in sweltering makeshift bamboo structures lined with plastic sheets; they have limited access to formal work and education and are completely reliant on aid handouts to survive. There are virtually no opportunities to advance their lives in the camps. Therefore, it is becoming necessary to urgently work towards the repatriation of these refugees back to their homes in Myanmar.

Against the backdrop of this growing predicament, a recent report on the Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation prepared by the Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was leaked.

Activists and experts have not received well the report and have criticised it for mainly outlining the repatriation procedures and preparedness of the Myanmar authorities in receiving refugees in reception and transit centres while ignoring or glossing over legitimate concerns.

It is here that the division between the Myanmar government and the Rohingya refugees is the starkest. The refugees have repeatedly stated they wish to return home, but in order to do so, they need guarantees of citizenship, freedom of movement, access to basic services, freedom to undertake economic activity and access to markets, and trust in the security and protection arrangements for returnees.

Yet, what is discussed in the report does not reflect these basic expectations. There is no mention of citizenship and any of its constituent rights. It further supports the involuntary relocation of returning refugees, suggesting they will not be allowed to return to their original homes and will have little say in where they finally end up.

Excerpted from: ‘ASEAN can no longer turn a blind-eye to Myanmar’s atrocities’.



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