Exploring ways of easing the Rohingya crisis

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar so far this year to Bangladesh making it too difficult for this overpopulated country to feed, shelter and take care of the vast number of refugees. The situation in South and South-East Asian has grown so desperate that global coverage of the crisis has finally convinced some of the regional players to take action.
Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have agreed to take in about 7,000 migrants between them and Thailand is considering a similar approach. The United States and other donors are expected to cover some of the costs of providing shelter and care for the migrants.
But these countries have only agreed to host the migrants for a year. None of the countries are agreeing to settle these refugees permanently. Targeted attacks have displaced at least 400,000Rohingyas in recent weeks to Bangladesh, according to a report by advocacy group Fortify Rights. The paramilitaries as well as the military attacking the Rohingyas appear to be even encouraged by a group of hard line, nationalist Buddhist monks, who travel throughout Myanmar calling for the expulsion of the Rohingya.
However, a lasting solution that stops the Rohingya from fleeing Myanmar is not impossible. In Europe, where countries are facing a migration crisis of much larger proportions, the European Commission has devised a plan for resettling refugees that would divide up migrants based on an EU member’s prosperity, number of refugees already taken in, unemployment rate and other factors. South-East Asian countries could establish a similar formula, based on GDP, unemployment rate and others, to determine how many refugees should be resettled.
This plan still has many details to be worked out, and European leaders face many domestic political groups opposed to resettling migrants; still, it is a plan that might work, which is much more than South-East Asia has. International powers could also make promises to resettle a certain number of the Rohingya each year for the next decade – public promises to which they could be held. Although the Rohingya might take time to acclimatise to the United States, Washington has taken in large numbers of migrants from vastly different cultures before – the Hmong in the 1970s and 1980s, or the Bhutanese in the past 10 years.
Although South-East Asia is poorer than Europe, the region contains several extremely wealthy states, such as Singapore, that could fund the resettlement. Japan, battling with China for influence, is also searching for ways to spend its aid money. Funds for the resettlement could also come from Arabian Gulf states, whose leaders and people have taken a close interest in the Rohingya.
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference has established a contact group on Rohingya issues, and an OIC delegation saw first-hand, during a trip to the country in 2013, the environment for Muslims in Myanmar. Hundreds of protesters, including Buddhist monks, marched to denounce the OIC simply for visiting. And OIC chief EkmeleddinIhsanoglu visited displaced persons camps in western Myanmar. “I was crying,” Ihsanoglu said after touring the camps, which are little more than open-air prisons. “I have never had such a feeling.”
Gulf funding, and the imprimatur of the OIC, could also convince Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur to resettle the Rohingya. Stories of these migrants being abused have been covered widely in the Indonesian and Malaysian media, and many Indonesian and Malaysian political and religious leaders have called on their governments to resettle those fleeing Myanmar; the impediment is the two countries’ lack of funds for migrants.
Only global attention led to the beginnings of a solution in recent weeks, and only continued global pressure is likely to have a greaterimpact. Naypyidaw has consistently made it difficult for Rohingya to obtain Myanmar citizenship, and has branded most of the Rohingya community as illegal immigrants, despite significant evidence that many have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Outside actors could influence Naypyidaw to change course. Not only the United States but many other countries providing aid and investment in Myanmar could concert their policies to stop such aid and investments. Myanmar needs such trade and investments far more than most outside countries need ties with Myanmar.
Slowing down the flows of aid and investment until Naypyidaw stops massive attacks on Muslims would help change its approach to the crisis; only international pressure has forced the Myanmar government to take the limited actions it has already taken to throttle somewhat the Army’s so called Clearance Operations against the Rohingyas.
The Arabian Gulf countries, Europe, Japan and the United States would have to work together to make aid and investment dependent on a more proactive approach to the Rohingya crisis. Besides strong concern about the Rohingya in Europe and the Gulf, the US Congress has become increasingly scepticalof White House’s engagement with Myanmar. Norway, which wields significant influence in Myanmar because of its vast support for development and peace programmes, has also begun to play a larger role in advocating for the Rohingyas.
After the election in Myanmar, the first elected government in five decades has been desperate to demonstrate to citizens they can deliver jobs and social programmes. And these will be heavily reliant on foreign money. What’s more, a policy linking further aid and investment to a shift in Naypyidaw’s approach to the Rohingya would send a clear signal to reformers in the government that foreign countries will support them provided they deliver the basic security and sustenance to Rohingyas.
Though some in the Myanmar government have condemned the Rohingya, other NLD leaders, who could play a role have already taken courageous stands in condemning the anti-Muslim violence and calling for equal rights for all.