DHAKA (THE DAILY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - While addressing the 54th Asean Day event organised virtually, Bangladesh's foreign minister urged Asean member states to intervene and help in the Rohingya repatriation process.
The foreign minister reminded the member states of the economic, environmental and socio-political costs that Bangladesh has had to bear by sheltering about a million Myanmar nationals who fled a military crackdown in Rakhine state in 2017.
Given that Myanmar is a member of the Asean and has continued to become isolated on the international stage ever since the military coup of February 2021, Asean is well-placed to intervene in the matter.
The foreign minister during his address brought up an excellent point. The continued limbo that the Rohingya are stuck in and its ramifications threaten not only Bangladesh's security, but that of the whole region as well.
We have seen how the violence inside Myanmar has forced Rohingya refugees to flee to other Asean states such as Thailand and Malaysia. How long will the Asean states - as well as other regional countries - continue to overlook this?
When Myanmar has consistently ignored the calls from Asean member states as well as its neighbours to stop persecuting its own citizens and has showed a complete lack of good faith in negotiating and repatriating the Rohingya from Bangladesh, how long can the member states afford to allow Myanmar such leeway to change its way of its own accord?
So far, the Asean member states have issued some statements from time to time, urging the authorities in Myanmar to facilitate the return of the Rohingya from Bangladesh to Rakhine.
However, the Asean as a whole has not publicly recognised the underlying causes that have led to the Rohingya refugee crisis, neither has it condemned the Myanmar military's human rights violations against the Rohingya strongly enough. Without exerting any strong pressure, it would be unwise to expect the Myanmar authorities to act any differently from the past - that much is clear.
We hope the Asean member states recognise this reality. The need for a concrete plan for addressing the crisis that the Rohingya are facing inside Myanmar, as well as abroad, has never been more acute. And Asean has never been better-placed to play a key role in solving the issue.
Not only will the Rohingya community and Bangladesh be greatly appreciative of such attempts, but it will also demonstrate Asean's commitment to protecting human rights and maintaining stability in the region.
- The Daily Star is a member of The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.