A United Effort is Needed for Rohingya Relief

Refugees, whether in the developing or industrialized world, are consistently deprived of the necessary treatment and organized attention they require. The European crisis and the disaster inflicted upon the Rohingyas in Myanmar are two of the most pressing refugee situations at present. While Europe and Southeast Asia have handled the issues very differently, both cases demonstrate the importance of cooperative discussion and unified resolutions.

Currently, 32,000 Rohingya Muslims reside in government-managed refugee camps in southern Bangladesh. Bangladesh is considering exiling these refugees from local camps to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal. The intended island, Thenger Char, submerges under several feet of water during high tide and has no existing infrastructure to prevent flooding.

This is just the latest episode of persecution that the Rohingya people, an ethnic minority living in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine, have had to face in recent months. Many Rohingya have been settled in the state for centuries, with a population of over one million. However, they are regarded as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants by the Myanmar state and are denied citizenship. Anti-Rohingya laws within Myanmar have existed since the country’s formation in 1948. Further, since 2012 when extreme violence broke out between Buddhists and Muslims in the state, thousands of refugees have had to flee to neighboring countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Bangladesh. Aid workers estimate that about 8,000 Rohingya refugees have been left at sea in recent months.

The Bangladeshi plan to relocate the Rohingyas to Thenger Char has not yet been finalized. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina advocated for the move after expressing concerns about Bangladeshi tourism in the light of the influx of refugees. However, officials have stated that discussions are taking place to determine the most suitable locations. Rohingyas residing in the refugee camps are “deeply concerned” and refuse to move until a more feasible solution has been found.

Concurrently, North African migrants are facing similar catastrophes while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to seek a better life in Europe. Immigrant numbers exceeded 170,000 last year and are only expected to increase during the summer. Thousands of North African refugees have died while trying to enter into Europe. Despite previous mishandling of this refugee crisis, the European Union is now attempting to project an open dialogue in response to pressure from humanitarian groups and the UN. Last year, the EU opted for a universal, albeit minimally funded, refugee relief fund called “Triton.” In the wake of recent tragedies, the EU has decided to increase spending for the relief fund.

Bangladesh and the Southeast Asian countries can look to the EU as an example of open dialogue and deliberated talks on the refugee problem. In order to alleviate the suffering of the Rohingya population, more pressure must indeed be put on the Myanmar government, but also, more action must be taken by its neighboring countries as well. A comprehensive refugee relief initiative such as the EU’s Triton must be established by countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. To that end, a conference was held in May in which Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to accept migrants into their countries, but representatives from Bangladesh and Myanmar refused to attend. The talks were thus only a temporary solution to a much deeper issue. By comparison, while the EU has come under a great deal of criticism for the handling of its own crisis, at least it has generated a response. Even in difficult economic times, EU powers are committed to finding a viable, long term solution to this dire issue.

Yet the plight of the Rohingyas has barely sparked discussions between Southeast Asian nations and no united effort is taking place. North African refugees are escaping troubled climates for new homes in Europe, while the Rohingya people are being exiled and systematically persecuted by their native country. The EU refugee relief plans are far from perfect, but they are a positive step in the right direction. The Southeast Asian countries must take similar steps.