The Rohingya in Myanmar – Refugee Crises or Ethnic Cleansing – How to Solve the Problem?

The current conflict in Myanmar has broad-ranging effects and side-effects. The core issue is the fate of the Rohingya group, a Muslim minority which in some respects is a leftover of British colonial times and the partition of this empire in 1947.  Many Rohingyas are not entitled to elementary citizens’ rights, even today.

Although the immediate cause of Rohingyas fleeing and being expelled is actions by the Myanmar armed forces (or parts thereof), these actions rest on an apparently solid support by the Buddhist majority population in other parts of Burma. Violence is applied from all sides involved – there are armed Rohingya/ Muslim militias, and there is the (much more powerful) Myanmar army. Some aspects of the events in the last two months resemble features of ethnic cleansing. To chase out all of them – so far about 750,000 people – would ‘solve’ the problem from the perspective of the power circles in Yangon and Naypyidaw. It´s not quite clear what the role of the ‘Lady’ is exactly: Aung San Suu Kyi has wasted a lot of her considerable accumulated social capital by making no statements, or only ambivalent once, about this crisis. Obviously, she wants to avoid a situation where she would find herself estranged from the domestic Buddhist majority and from the military, even when, alternatively, she may be appreciated by some Rohingyas and the Western media. China is another factor, watching from the sidelines. More relevant, and often overlooked from our perspective, is the effect of all of this on Bangladesh. This poor country is clearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis, and the financial and political costs of the incoming hundreds of thousands Rohingyas. There are credible reports that the current government, not in a strong position anyway, is increasingly coming under pressure from domestic groups who are calling for stronger action against Myanmar’s policies. This issue also may work to strengthen radical Islamist groups in Bangladesh. All this looks, especially from Europe, like a major tragic disaster, and quite messy.

This week’s question is: Is there anything you may come up with that could be done from the outside, by Europeans or others, except handwringing?

 – Klaus Segbers

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  1. Thilo Bodenstein 1 year ago

    The Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is becoming increasingly dramatic. This is not a new challenge to the international community. Many ethnic conflicts with genocidal dynamics happened in the past three decades. In some conflicts the West decided to intervene by military means (as in Kosovo), in others it did nothing (as in Ruanda). Military intervention in Myanmar is unthinkable; doing nothing is also not an option. But there is a middle ground that can be summarized as ‘first things first’. The situation of Rohingya refugees is catastrophic. They need humanitarian aid both in Rakhine State and in Bangladesh, which has to cope with a large influx of refugees. In a medium term perspective disengagement of the international donor community is another option. It will probably not lead to immediate political solution, but it would allow donors to re-think their strategy and focus on the root causes of ethnic violence. Humanitarian aid and re-thinking is more than handwringing. It makes a difference on the ground.

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  2. Justas Paleckis 1 year ago

    The situation in Myanmar and the fate of the Rohingya group is another proof that the world is moving from crisis to crisis. And a global catastrophe is approaching at an accelerating pace. Tragic events in Myanmar are evaluated differently. The West wants a more intense condemnation of the actions of the Myanmar government against the Muslim minority. China, India Russia and other countries are calling for no hurry - allegedly it can complicate the situation even more. That opposition between East and West must be at least reduced, giving the United Nations more power. Only then it will be possible to deal more successfully with North Korea, ISIS, Myanmar and other burning issues. Only then it will be possible to stop not less dangerous threats: the destruction of nature and global warming, the growing divide between rich and poor people and states and many others.

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  3. Ivanna Machitidze 1 year ago

    The countries of the region, where Myanmar is situated, do not tend to criticize each other for waging of domestic affairs. This approach being the core principle of the ASEAN nations. To my opinion, assistance in overcoming the tragedy ensuing in Myanmar should be first assumed by its neighbors in the region. Despite the mentioned above principle of “non-interference”, criticism was already voiced by Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and others. So far, special meetings of ASEAN has not brought any solutions to the crisis. The root of the problem as well as its solution lies in the design of the 2008 Myanmar’s Constitution, which reserves 25% of seats in the Parliament for the militaries. This does not allow Aun San Suu Kyi to bear full responsibility for the actions as well as become sole decision-maker. Hence, by openly criticizing the persecution of Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi risks discrediting herself and the government she leads. The only way to resolve the current crisis, is to carry out the constitutional reform, which essentially cancels the quota for the militaries. However, the militaries are supported by the Buddhist majority of the country. So far as these changes are not implemented and the world community do not pressure for these reforms, it is unlikely that the situation changes at some point with the persecution of Rohingya.

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  4. Alexei Voskressenski 1 year ago

    We have now another strong reaction to the transformation of the state, notwithstanding where it happens: in Ukraine, Catalonia or in Myanmar. In Myanmar it is aggravated by religious frictions. Buddhism that was proclaimed the most tolerant of religions may indeed have forms of violent intolerance. This is unexpected to many though had historical examples. The international community must show unanimously in different ways including the UN that it will never agree to violence and that violent policies must and will have consequences. And now there is a time to react for all these people who argued for Asian values, Asian tolerance and Asian religious pluralism. Where are these people who told us that Asia is peaceful contrary to the West? May be there is a role to play for Buddhist hierarchs and also for Dalai-Lama?

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  5. Friederike Kies 1 year ago

    Intervening in a foreign conflict is always a challenging and risky task. Particularly military intervention should always be carefully thought through and taken only as a last resort and with a UN mandate. Good intentions do not necessarily result in good outcomes. However, when human rights are jeopardized repetitively and on a large-scale there is a need for joint intervention. Furthermore, other countries just like Bangladesh are also being drawn into the above mentioned conflict. This severely weakens the region and is an open-door for radical forces. I believe the EU in cooperation with other states should jointly strengthen the diplomatic conversations with Myanmar, Bangladesh and its main trade partners. Particularly, the other ASEAN member states need to be included in this process. Furthermore, the EU could debate upon withdrawing Myanmar´s preferential access to the EU market. Moreover, the UN should be consulted in order to assess harsher political penalties for Myanmar while at the same time trying to stabilize the region through targeted assistance.

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  6. Mina Sumaadii 1 year ago

    Despite the latest whitewash when Myanmar signed a deal with Bangladesh on Rohingya repatriation, it would be best to try to push through a comprehensive arms embargo. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, most of its arms come from China, Russia, Israel, Ukraine, and India. Thus, ending the supply of weaponry would require a UN Security Council’s resolution on a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar. At the moment only the E.U. arms embargo still holds after lifting the sanctions.
    In addition, projects that assist with decentralization, development of civil society and media should receive priority. Considering the history of ethnic armed conflicts, most of the internal tensions have not been resolved and are likely to lead to more violent incidents. Not enough time has passed since Myanmar embarked on democratic change and the reforms have not changed the existing structures which the previous regime has imposed. It still has a quasi-military government, while the opposition and the civil society are weak.

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  7. Tobias Lechner 1 year ago

    In several recent articles, scholars and policy makers suggest using economic sanctions in order to improve the situation of Rohingyas in Myanmar. The states with the highest trade volume with Myanmar have the highest economic leverage over the country. Both positive economic sanctions (aid reduction) and negative economic sanctions (classical trade sanctions) could be one way of foreign states in regard to the Rohingya question. However, potential sender states of economic sanctions should be careful: sanctions aimed at a very specific policy issue (such as the Rohingya expulsion) must not be confused with sanctions aimed at democracy and human rights in general that target the very political system and pose a fundamental threat to the ruling elite. If the aim of economic sanctions is clearly defined and achievable, and if it does not call the power of the incumbent leadership into question, it is possible to achieve it with painful and elite targeted sanctions. The question of democratization should not be included in such measures. In that case, it would be impossible for the targeted elite to fulfil the demands of the sender states of economic sanctions. Surely, the autocratic nature of Myanmar's government is connected to the refugee crises. However, if other states want to improve the situation of the Rohingya, they should be very careful in regard to the design and goals of economic sanctions. Sanctions with the aim of punishing the military regime and inducing political change in Myanmar won't have any positive effect in regard to the Rohingya question.

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  8. Anastasia Wischnewskaja 1 year ago

    Violence frequently erupts after liberalization takes place in a previously authoritarian state with a strict control of the people and the governmental structures. Loss of state control and state pressure let loose powers, that previously would be restrained. This is what happened during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, this is what happened in South Sudan after it acquired independence. The case of Rohingya is not an exception. It also shows how dangerous it is to ostracize whole groups of people and how important integrative power of a society is. There is obviously very little interest on the side of Myanmar military and government to stop the violence so that a UN blue helmet mission to the Myanmar-Bangladesh border is the only solution. Bringing the whole border region on both sides under external control might stabilize the situation, but is hard to imagine as it is unclear, what the veto power China would say about it as it has its own Muslim minority, that is featured prominent in the news from time to time.

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  9. Stephanie von Kanel 1 year ago

    The political climate in Myanmar is fragile and the Rohingya crisis an increasingly complex entanglement of religious, ethnic-group and political tensions. Further complication arises in the unique status of Rohingya as both refugees and stateless individuals. While temporary humanitarian response capacity is import, so too is developing long-term diplomatic solutions. Important herein is the international support for localised solutions. Suggested areas for short-term response to the crisis are maintaining strong humanitarian assistance in both Bangladesh and Rakhine State (food, WASH, medical, shelter, IFRC family tracing mechanisms), international legal support for refugee and asylum claims, UN and EU/other nation states supporting the Government of Bangladesh, ensuring borders are kept open, and establishing stronger diplomatic communications between Yangon and major powers in the region and further abroad.
    The Rohingya crisis also necessitates long-term solutions, including establishing legal pathways to change statelessness, UN/ICRC support of voluntary repatriation, international commitment for democratic and constitutional change in Myanmar, introducing domestic education initiatives to reduce severity of ethnic tensions (NGO supported), and submitting cases to the ICC and ICJ to hold Burmese military accountable for human rights violations, whereby showing violence has clear negative consequences. Furthermore, to produce concrete solutions for the Rohingya crisis, section D of the 1951 Human Rights Convention should be put into action; whereby signatory nations should be selected based on their capacity to receive Rohingya refugees.

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  1. Myo Win Nyunt 1 year ago

    Many analysts have put blame on Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar, for not speaking up enough about the conflict and for failing to solve effectively. However, to understand the Rohingya issue more deeply, one needs to understand Myanmar current constitution. According to the current constitution, technically speaking, the Rohingya's issue is beyond Aung San Suu Kyi's reach as the constitution clearly states that Commander-in-chief is not under the control of the president or the state counsellor. In addition, Ministry of border affairs and ministry of home affairs are not under the control of elected civilian government which is National League for Democracy (NDL) led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Therefore, Burmese Army is the one who is playing dirty politics in this Rohingya crisis. Regarding with the question of whether it is ethnic cleaning or refugee crisis. I would say that it is neither. Instead, it is more about identity crisis. Myanmar 1982 citizenship law denies Rohingya people from becoming citizenships of Myanmar. If we dive deeper into the issue, past official documents show that Rohingya people were granted full-citizenship in the past decades. They were even allowed to become government civil servants. Therefore, to solve the issue, Myanmar needs to amend its notorious 1982 citizenship law. Meanwhile, I am not arguing that Burmese Army is not committing atrocities as it has been doing this for many, many decades. However, the word ethnic cleaning is not relevant in this context. International actors such as EU and United States should engage with the Burmese Army more strategically, NOT with the Myanmar government. Putting international pressure or sanctions on Myanmar will not solve the issue at all. It will make the issue even worse. The history has proved this. Therefore, we (International Community) need to come up with a strategy to talk with Burmese Army. So far, only U.S secretary of state Tillerson has made a phone call with commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing of Myanmar. Other international leaders need to start calling Min Aung Hlaing immediately. In-person diplomatic talks would be helpful to solves the issue to some extent.

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  2. Chhun Vireak 1 year ago

    The Rohingya in Myanmar – Refugee Crises or Ethnic Cleansing – How to Solve the Problem?

    The Rohingya crisis in Myanmar has become more and more influenced on the contemporary world politics. The State Counselor of Myanmar (Aung San Suu Kyi) now is in the stage of security dilemma. One side is the security of her country, in other word the concern of the Buddhist majority population and another side is the responsibility of humanitarianism as many analysts accused Myanmar of violating human rights by military force and should be returned to the military controlling again somehow. Apparently, if Aung San Suu Kyi still keeps silent about the conflict, her popularity will be decreased or totally lost, then Myanmar's military will gain their benefit in the political sphere. To solve this complex issue, it might require more analytical frameworks and spend much time. Meanwhile, I would suggest a few solutions from internal and external sources, but not pretty sure that it is possible to be done or maybe already been done. From the internal factor, a call for trilateral meeting between Aug San Suu Kyi government, Myanmar army, and the Rohingya group should be taken place in the peaceful mean. Moreover, though ASEAN has no much power involving in this issue because of noninterference principle internal affair, ASEAN should contribute some assistant in facilitating the meeting, but violation of the internal.
    The external source of solution might be more various forms. Firstly, the Muslim community countries especially Bangladesh should accept the mass number of refugee as much as possible. Moreover, other countries in Asia and the Middle East that have taken the refuge should increase the number of those people to live in their countries. Secondly, the global governances, especially, United Nation might be the best actor to take much more role in solving this problem by ensuring the security and of those refugees. Regarding to the principle of human right protection, UN should consider the Rohingya crisis as the top priority in UN Security Council agenda and need to be responded in the timely manner and also provide the humanitarian assistants to the refugee. By this perspective, NU should provide financial support and technical advises (not sanction form) for Myanmar to solve the problem by peaceful mean, not by the conflictual mean. Thirdly, beside the role of UN, the EU or the countries also should take some action either supporting Myanmar in dealing with the problem or accepting a number Rohingya people to live in the EU territory, but in the short-term to avoid any possible conflict in EU. The last suggestion, the outsiders, as mentioned (UN, EU, or other specific major countries) should lead a peace agreement as following as Paris Peace Agreement’s protocol in 1991 to solve the decades Cambodian civil conflict.

    Chhun Vireak

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  3. Heng Yong (Mr.) 1 year ago

    In my view, the crisis of Rohingya in Rakhine/Arakan State is not merely a tough crisis only for Myanmar itself to confront, but rather it is obviously now turning to be one another big challenge for the whole ASEAN or even further for the countries who are neighboring with the ASEAN countries that requires to be tackled expeditiously before everything is too late and uncontrollable. As the fact that, Rohingya people in Rakhine state are majority Muslim ethnics who relentlessly struggle to demand the Myanmar government to recognize their presence and to issue them official citizenship as normal people to survive on the land. However, it’s been decades until now that the Rohingya minority’s proposals have been ignored by the Myanmar authorities, and called them as the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
    Since the new government of Myanmar has been replaced by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s NDL party, we can see the scope of power for her administration to addressing the major issues, mainly the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is remained limited that leave the problem unsolvable. Thus the casualties in Rakhine state is one thing, but one another thing that ignites the Rohingya crisis to be more worried for ASEAN and International Community is because the Rohingya people have only one choice is to flee from their homes and won’t be allowed to return back, because the Myanmar authorities and nationalist fighter movement led by some extreme Buddhist monks often utilize several ways to exile them out of the state. Whether or not the Islamic State fighters like Jihadist group will use this opportunity to exploit the situation to recruit more fighters to join its network and settling a new Jihadist base in Southeast Asia. We can say that ASEAN at this moment is an integrated region and also has its own fundamental principles that its all Member States shall respect and follow. Moreover, ASEAN Member States themselves should realize that the case in Rakhine State is one of the ASEAN’s major issues that it has to play a big role to solve it expeditiously without any hesitation from a so-called non-interference principle and let this humanitarian crisis become worse and worse. If ASEAN does not take responsibility to solve, who? If not now, when? if it is solved peacefully by ASEAN, this is going to be one another great achievement for the whole ASEAN, and of course, this is exactly a caring regional organization.

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  4. Vu Thi Binh Minh 1 year ago

    Myanmar has just rebuilt their political system and there are still many problems that the government itself need to address. The incapable governance has led to the ongoing, unresolvable problem regarding the Rohingya people (or as they announce, the Bengalis). The chancellor Suu Kyi herself has no control over the military force - the main catalyst for the stream of boatmen risking their lives on the Bay of Bengal, looking for a place to settle. Historically, there are various interpretations of the issue, yet I believe that this "xenophobia", the dilemma of the Chancellor and the overwhelming power of the military makes it very challenging for the issue to be negotiated internally. International actors such as UNHCR can just be a temporary help. UN has made repeated warnings of "ethnic cleansing" as well as human rights violation, yet the state does not adhere to this calling or asking for collaborative efforts from neighboring country. The Rohingya, as a large population are going through serious trauma and not a single actor is ready to stand by them. My recommendation is, ASEAN, as a community with 4 countries involved in the crisis, need to take this issue as a multilateral conflict and start holding dialogues or give their own concrete opinions on helping the asylum seekers. ASEAN should see this as an conflict resolution responsibility rather than ignoring a difficult situation. On top of that, while stakeholders are very slow on giving help or a long-term solution, the Rohingya themselves should at least have a voice on the issue to the international community. Their wish to immigrate to a certain territory or to stay in Myanmar needs to be figured out through humanitarian mechanisms. The opinions need to be collected by an independent, non-religious agency (one that might be created by joint efforts of ASEAN, UN,..). A deeper understanding and compassion needs to be achieved, rather than this state of non-reconcilable conflicts and crackdowns, warning or (possible) sanctions.

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  6. Lam Saychariya 1 year ago

    In the case of Rohingya crisis, I think the world should react more than sending thoughts and prayers. Frist, they should impose sanctions on Myanmar's government to prevent them from committing the ethnic cleansing in a state that its leader is a Noble Peace Prize winner. Second, international organizations such as the UN, EU, ASEAN and more, should provide humanitarian aids, food and medical support to the refugees that are in desperate need. Third, food and shelter should be provided to all the refugees that are seeking for one.

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  7. CHUOB Puthchomraoen 1 year ago

    In my viewpoint, I would recommend some following solutions to this crisis.
    First, international community should provide more technical assistance to restoration of rule of law, and due process of law. Fundamentally, rule of law is a basic need of democratic system in Myanmar. In this case, technical assistance needs to take a role as watchdog to see the implement of the rule of law of current government leadership. Moreover, due process of law is needs social justice to all citizens, especially Rohingya people. On the other hand, government must respect the legal right of minority people in society to live in the harmony.
    Second, international organizations, non-governmental organizations should provide the problem solving workshop on changing perceptions on culture, and religions, attitudes, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In these solutions, non-state actors are needed to lead these position to more involvement in the local community and national level alongside with government administration.
    The last one, for a peaceful solution to the crisis, Rohingya people must be recognised as the citizen of Myanmar. In the context of Rohingya crisis, government needs to deal this issue to recognize Rohingya citizens as Myanmar people legally.

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  8. Thun Monyneath 1 year ago

    To be honest, since it is the internal conflict. National and International community find it hard to find an effective solution. For me, the solution that I am come up with that could be done by International communities are: First, putting the Economic and Diplomatic sanction on Myanmar: Though economic, Myanmar will think again on solving for the problem since Myanmar also depend on the exportation their product to the foreign counties especially European. Moreover, they will receive less aid or no aid from foreign countries because of their Non-intervention on the conflict that happened in their own country. For diplomatic, Myanmar will be losing the connection as well as the opportunities to raise since diplomatic relation became burst. Second, Helping them to the safe zone: rather than having immigrant to the neighbor countries such as Bangladesh, International communities should escort and take them to a safe area that can provide then safe from harm.

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  9. Yee Mon Oo 1 year ago

    Rakhine state) and see the real picture of the situation there. Also, they should try to force Western media to have true source of information on that case and discourage spreading rumors or fake news about it. For Rohingya crisis, they are not the only one who are in crisis , Bangladesh is not the only one which is in crisis, Myanmar people with Myanmar government are also in crisis and all are working to have a better solution for all of inhabitants there. I think finding solutions together is the best way to solve this problem step by step. Daw Aung San Su Kyi is also doing her best for this case by forming an advisory commission on this case with important persons from concerned field including international community too.

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  10. Ria 1 year ago

    I do have some ideas. First of all, people should stop acting to be a nice guy and have to genuinely solve the problem. People are talking to much while many of people are dying. They bring no solutions but only talk and talk. For example, right now I am writing the solution for Rohingya's issue and so what will happen or what will be the result? Nothing! Only my answer to post while Rohingya people are still suffering or dying from the selfishness of Myanmar and Bangladesh government. Furthermore, I don't think that is fair to blame or to put burden to only one woman, which I refer to Aung San Suu Kyi. Though, she is a state Counsellor but we have to understand who are real cause of this problem. It was not her. Thank you.

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