ASEAN must end its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a member state and get tough with Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis, experts said at an international conference in Melbourne, Australia.
Malaysia should take the lead, given that it bears the brunt of the human migration crisis out of Myanmar, the experts on South Asian and Southeast Asian affairs said.
Since August, an estimated 650,000 refugees have fled a military operation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, described by the UN and US as “ethnic cleansing”. Most are in Bangladesh but an estimated 62,000 Rohingya now live in Malaysia.
Recently, the Bangladeshi authorities arrested an alleged human trafficker and intercepted two Rohingya refugees preparing to board a boat for Malaysia.
“This is not a domestic issue anymore (for Malaysia),” Monash University PhD candidate Iftikhar Rashid told The Malaysian Insight, expanding on remarks he made at the Rohingya roundtable organised by the university’s National Centre for South Asian Studies (NCSAS) and the Asia Centre in Bangkok.
“Malaysia should take the lead, given (that) out of all the Asean countries, it bears the brunt the most, that is, about 200,000 refugees.”
Security expert Prof Greg Barton of Deakin University in Melbourne raised the spectre of radicalisation, saying that while extremism might not be the cause of the crisis, it could lead to radicalisation.
He cited the recent botched bombing in a New York subway tunnel by an alleged Bangladeshi immigrant as an example.
Iftikhar and Prof Robin Ramcharan, director of the Asia Centre in Bangkok, acknowledged that Malaysia had provided the lone “noise” on the issue from Asean.
Iftikhar cited the recognition of Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman of potential radicalisation from segments of the Rohingya population.
“Given the level of political, economic and social discrimination faced by the Rohingya, there is a chance that regional and international terrorist groups may exploit that for recruitment,” he said.
“My bigger concern… is how the Rohingya issue may be used to radicalise wider segments of society, that is, Muslims in the region of non-Rohingya background, on the pretext of the Rohingya issue.
“Given that the Rohingya crisis is in the backyard of Southeast and South Asian regions, there are a lot of emotions about the Rohingya issue in the region. There is a risk that the emotional solidarity of people in the region with the Rohingya, due to their persecution, may be exploited by Islamist groups to reinforce their narrative of so-called Muslim ‘victimhood’.
“We have seen in recent months a lot of propaganda by Islamist groups in South and Southeast Asia focusing on the Rohingya crisis, attempting to ‘Islamise’ the Rohingya issue to exploit emotions and mobilise support.
“This is a risk for the region and hence, Malaysia and other countries should address the Rohingya issue by putting pressure on Myanmar instead of looking at it only as an internal issue.”
Ronan Lee, a former member of the Queensland Parliament in Australia now undertaking a study into the Rohingya crisis, told The Malaysian Insight that the catastrophe was fast becoming an issue playing out in domestic politics throughout Asean.
“But despite strong statements and donations, there has been little meaningful action since (Malaysian Prime Minister) Najib (Razak) raised (the issue) with (US President Donald) Trump and the subsequent change in US policy,” he said.
“This highlights the weakness of Asean as a regional body.”
Others on the panel chaired by Prof Emeritus Marika Vicziany of Monash’s NCSAS were Dr James Gomez, regional director of Amnesty International, and Prof Romel Zaman, director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies.
The panellists also criticised the lack of response from the international community. – December 16, 2017.