Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah has urged the Asean to address the “civil war” in Myanmar’s Rakhine state to find a long-term solution to the Rohingya crisis.
“The discourse should be expanded beyond the immediate return [of Rohingyas] to a comprehensive discussion on the complexities of the conflict in Rakhine state,” he said in a statement posted on his Facebook page yesterday, the second day of a two-day Asean foreign ministers’ meeting in Vietnam.
Abdullah said while the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh remains unlikely and dangerous, the Myanmar government should first provide citizenship to the Rohingyas within its borders. He estimated the number of the Rohingyas in Mayanmar to be about 500,000.
He also said that Malaysia wants the perpetrators of Rohingya genocide brought to justice and urged for the quick repatriation of the Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh following consultation with them.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), of which Myanmar is a member, is largely seen as an economic entity and not involved in humanitarian issues -- a stance that has been criticised for being silent on human rights.
Malaysia, one of Asia’s Muslim-majority countries, however, has taken a strong stand for the Rohingyas in regional and international forums.
Abdullah said China’s economic and political interests in the Rakhine state and its strong bilateral relations with Myanmar present an opportunity to influence the latter to pursue a more creative and comprehensive approach.
“Asean should constructively engage China and Myanmar, together with Bangladesh,” he said in his Facebook post on the same day when Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Myanmar on his first trip to the country since 2009.
Jinping is expected to step up investment in the Southeast Asian nation, including in the conflict-racked state of Rakhine, a key link in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
China has been criticised for opposing resolutions at the UN Security Council that would take concrete actions against Myanmar, whose brutal military campaign has forced some 750,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh since August 2017.
Some 300,000 Rohingyas, who fled earlier waves of persecution in Myanmar, have been living in Cox’s Bazar since the 1980s.
In December last year, for the first time in history, The Gambia filed a case against Myanmar, accusing it of carrying out genocide against the Rohingyas, while the International Criminal Court started investigation into allegations of crimes against the Rohingyas, one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
Two repatriation efforts have failed over the last two years, with the Rohingyas saying that the conditions in Rakhine are not conducive and that there is no guarantee of citizenship and security.
Abdullah said one of the challenges for the Rohingyas to return to Myanmar is the trust deficit against the Myanmar government.
He said a region-wide prioritisation on the Rohingyas’ right to a free, decent and dignified life through the creation of conducive conditions for human security, inclusive development for all communities and increasing humanitarian access was essential before repatriation should be pushed further.
“This includes solutions for education, livelihood, economic empowerment and recognition of cultural and religious identity,” the Malaysian minister said, assuring that Malaysia will continue providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas in the Rakhine state, Bangladesh, as well as in Malaysia.
Opinions divided on Rohingya resettlement
Opinions within Southeast Asia are highly divided on Myanmar’s Rakhine crisis and the country’s handling of its Rohingyas, according to a survey, State of South-east Asia: 2020, by the Yusof Ishak Institute.
It found that 54.6 percent of respondents either disapproved or strongly disapproved of the way Asean is dealing with the Rakhine issue, Bangkok daily The Straits Times reported.
With the exception of Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos, the majority of respondents in each Asean member state did not approve of Asean’s response to the crisis.
Within the disapproving group, 43 percent argued that “Asean should mediate between the Myanmar government and the Rakhine and Rohingya communities”.
The second-most popular option in the survey wanted Asean to “step up diplomatic pressure on Myanmar”. The least popular suggestion was that Asean should lead a regional peacekeeping operation in Rakhine state.
Meanwhile, about 61 percent of the respondents were against resettling the Rohingyas in their respective countries. This opposition was found even among respondents from Brunei and Malaysia, predominantly Muslim countries.
The Rohingyas were more welcome in the Philippines and Indonesia, where 61.3 percent and 56.1 percent respectively said yes.
“It is alarming that 66 percent of Myanmar respondents indicate their unwillingness to resettle the Rohingya people in their country, a proposition that -- if shared by the country’s leadership and public -- would surely put paid to efforts towards an amicable solution to the crisis,” the authors of the survey noted.