Since August 2017, widespread persecution and violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has forced hundreds of thousands of primarily Muslim minority residents, often identified as ‘Rohingyas’, to flee their homes and seek refuge in Bangladesh. According to UN figures, an estimated 200,000 people from Myanmar were already taking shelter in Bangladesh after earlier displacements. Many have also travelled to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, often with the help of human traffickers.
In Myanmar, civilian and military leaders deny targeting Muslims in Rakhine and insinuate that the international community is exaggerating the severity of the violence — a view echoed by nationalist hardliners.
The number of people in Bangladeshi camps has increased to more than 720,000, prompting ASEAN to deliberate a credible response. During the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in January 2019, discussion focussed on safe and voluntary repatriation of refugees currently living in displacement camps in Bangladesh. They finalised plans for the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) to conduct a needs assessment in Rakhine. This will allow them to better understand areas of cooperation that ASEAN could support in the repatriation process to build the confidence and trust of refugees to return home.
ASEAN seeks to establish a safe and sustainable environment that refugees will voluntarily return to.
… Vishalini Suresh is a Senior Analyst in the Office of the Executive Deputy Chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.
Last updated on 12/03/2019