Asia’s Refugee Crisis: The Grievous Human Tragedy


International attention is now centered on the plight of the thousands of Rohingya refugees from the Rakhine State of Myanmar. The various dimensions of this complex issue are not understood properly in the popular perception.

The refugee flow is continuing around the Bay of Bengal. In August 2017, the military undertook a crackdown, responding to some attacks on border guard posts in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. This caused mass displacement with more than 480,000 Rohingya — fleeing to Bangladesh.

Last year also, in October 2016, a refugee influx of an estimated 87,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine due to the so-called “security operations.” Within Rakhine state in Myanmar, around 120,000 people were already internally displaced due to the outbreaks of violence in 2012.

The images of the overcrowded boats full of scary and hungry people are haunting the Asian people. In 2015, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that Southeast Asia had more than 500,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. About 12 of every 1,000 people venturing on maritime movements from the Bay of Bengal do not survive the boat journey. More than 2,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya died before reaching the land between 2012 and 2015.

The Rohingya have long been viewed by the majority of Myanmarese as “Bengali intruders.” But they had been living in Rakhine state for centuries They were oppressed by the Burmese government through violent immigration crackdowns, citizenship laws and census measures. They were denied basic rights, faced with human abuses and frequently affected by communal violence. Since 2012, they have to flee to neighboring countries.

In February 2017, UNHCHR, the UN refugee agency, reported the level of violence against the Rohingya: “The killing of babies, toddlers, children, women, and [the] elderly; opening fire at people fleeing; burning of entire villages; massive detention; massive and systematic rape and sexual violence; [and] deliberate destruction of food and sources of food sources” were some of the horrors perpetrated by “either Myanmar security forces or Rakhine villagers.” Mark Lowcock, Under Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said in his tweet: “The suffering, trauma and deprivation of Rohingya refugees that I’m meeting is a stain on our collective humanity. We must urgently scale up.”

Being the largest mass refugee movement in the region in decades, it required a huge amount of humanitarian aid. Humanitarian agencies have demanded $77 million to meet the basic needs of refugees until the end of 2017. With all its serious economic difficulties, the government in Bangladesh under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been trying to cope up with refugee crisis. The government allotted thousands of acres for new camps to accommodate the nearly 400,000 Rohingya refugees.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries are apathetic on this grave violence on Rohingya and continue to observe “non-interference”. in intra-ASEAN relations. With this dogmatic line of thinking, the ASEAN countries abandon its duty to play its vital role in resolving the refugee crisis.

In the meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers held in 2016, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said that Rohingya Muslims issue was now “of a regional concern and should be resolved together.” The plight of the Rohingya raised serious concerns among the Asian Muslim communities particularly in the countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia where Muslim population is the majority.

Adopting military solution to these ethnic problems had in the past intensified the human tragedy. The broad-based political solutions based on creating democratic structures with regional autonomy must be the right path to solve the ethnic problems in Asia.

If this crisis is not resolved in humanitarian and democratic manner, there would be a risk of growing of insurgency in this region. It would also affect the ongoing democratization in Myanmar with Suu Kyi in government, and the military junta which ruled the country for decades would again strengthen its hold on power.

In Asian context, the hardships and survival battle for millions of forcibly displaced people, living in tents and makeshift shelters in locations such as the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, northern Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Afghanistan were all connected with the war aggression and the US foreign policy directed at the corporate looting of Asian economies. The human tragedies were the results of decades-long inhuman aggressive political policies such as wars, conflict and persecution and people are constantly moving in search of economic betterment.

In the Asian continent, the ethnic violence and the persisting rivalry between various communities were all the continued legacies of colonialism, which pursued the policy of “divide and rule.” Burma was under British colonial rule for centuries and after independence, the ruling elites of the national governments were also nurturing the ethnic hatred to prevent the working people unity.

The global community must rise against the aggressive foreign policy agendas and the local working people demand significant change in the direction of economic policy since refugee hardships are related to the neoliberal policies which prioritized market forces above social needs. And the implementations of austerity measures have created widespread economic insecurity across the poor in Asia that is triggering migration, social unrest, sectarian violence and civil war.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2017

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