The View From Asia

Fleeing Rohingyas and the looming humanitarian crisis

Commentators in the region draw attention to the plight of thousands of persecuted, homeless Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar and the humanitarian crisis it could pose for the region. Here are excerpts from three views

Indonesia is the last hope for Rohingyas

John Coyne, The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

The security situation for 1.3 million Muslim Rohingyas living in Myanmar is becoming increasingly untenable.

If this situation deteriorates much further, Asean can expect to face a mass migration crisis before the year is out.

Unfortunately for the Rohingyas, the window of opportunity to prevent this humanitarian crisis is rapidly closing.

Put simply, if Jakarta doesn't respond soon, it will be too late.

If this crisis can't be averted through careful diplomacy, the flow of refugees from Myanmar is likely to rapidly reach a magnitude that will overwhelm the region's capacity to respond.

For 25 years, the maritime border security situation in South-east Asia has been relatively stable. Asean's geographic isolation from the Middle East, Africa and South America has served to insulate it from the mass migration crises in Europe and North America.

Early last year, almost 25,000 Rohingyas took to boats to escape persecution from Myanmar's Buddhist government. This mass migration flow caused a crisis across Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Over the last month, the situation for the Rohingyas has once more entered a state of rapid and deadly decline.

The Myanmar government alleges that on Oct 9, an insurgent Rohingya group launched coordinated ground assaults against several border guard posts, killing nine police officers and five soldiers.

Since the attacks, the Myanmar government has deployed large numbers of police and military forces to the Rakhine state.

According to official Myanmar reporting, 69 suspected insurgents and 17 security force personnel have been killed since the attacks began.

It is alleged by international advocates that Myanmar's government forces have shot scores of people, raped women, burnt houses and stores and looted property across Rakhine state.

These attacks have universally targeted the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Various non-government organisations have reported that in excess of 30,000 Rohingyas are now displaced by the violence.

Bangladeshi officials are already reporting that the number of Rohingyas attempting to cross the border from Myanmar by land and sea is rising by the day.

With an estimated population of 1.3 million Rohingyas in Myanmar, the potential for a mass migration crisis in the region is clear.

The United Nations, while well intentioned, has had little impact on the situation on the ground.

With US President-elect Donald Trump's imminent ascendancy to the Oval Office, American engagement in the Asia-Pacific is on pause and its future uncertain. The strained relations between Myanmar and China ensures that Beijing is unlikely to intervene. Australia's long commitment to the Middle East and the war on terrorism have seen it walk away from the Mekong states.

If the crisis is to be averted, help will need to come from within the Asean region. However, Asean moves far too slowly to be a real option.

As the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia has a religious and regional obligation to come to the aid of the Rohingyas. Indonesia needs to lobby for Myanmar to halt its security operations in Rakhine state as soon as possible. If Indonesia doesn't act soon to end the persecution of the Rohingyas, the region may face a humanitarian crisis that stretches from Rakhine state to the archipelago's shores.

Relentless persecution

Editorial, The Statesman, India
The irony is cruel. The persecution of the Rohingyas has intensified in Myanmar with the change of guard - from the junta to a democratic dispensation under Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.

The democratic world had expected quite the contrary, if not a distinct measure of improvement in the condition of the stateless minorities of Rakhine province.

The latest offensive by the Myanmar military is strangely of a piece with Ms Suu Kyi's silence on the issue ahead of the momentous transition early this year. No less deafening must be her muted response at this juncture.

Now that she is in power, though not as president, there can be no compelling reason to almost tacitly condone the offensive.

The plot thickens as satellite images have revealed the destruction of no fewer than 820 homes in the three weeks of this month. In the net, the Rohingyas have been displaced further still in the course of what has been packaged as a "counter-insurgency operation".

Human rights are at stake, as must be the purportedly democratic government's credibility.

It becomes imperative for Myanmar to stop the offensive and no less crucial to grant citizenship to the Rohingyas, who have lived in Rakhine for generations.

Protecting refugees

Shamsul Bari, The Daily Star, Bangladesh
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in September, our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke of the need to protect the rights of refugees and migrants globally and said that the world must reach a consensus on shared responsibility and inclusiveness to address the crisis.

As a retiree from the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, her words were music to my ears. My 23 years of service with the UNHCR gave me the opportunity to deal with the plight of refugees around the world.

I have always felt that, among all the nations of the world, we would perhaps be most protective of refugees because of our history. In fact, going beyond our recent experience of being refugees ourselves, we have had a long tradition of giving shelter to refugees from all over India and beyond.

In more recent years, we have also given shelter to many hapless refugees from our neighbouring country, Myanmar. They have come and gone back in large numbers in the last four decades.

In more recent years, as the sociopolitical situation in their places of origin in Myanmar deteriorated, more refugees have tried to enter our country.

Alas, our hospitality appears to be drying up. In the last two years, our border guards have pushed back so many of these refugees that many of them, trying to go to more distant shores, have perished at sea.

We are doing so even today. Reports in our news media in the last few days tell us how much our border officials are once again engaged in turning back many harried asylum seekers from Myanmar.

I know how refugees feel when they are not allowed to enter or disembark in the country of their arrival.

My experience between 1978 and the early 1990s, with the movement of over two million Vietnamese boat people in the waters of South-east Asia, reminds me of the inhuman suffering they had to endure before many of them perished at sea or were finally able to land in a neighbouring country.

I acknowledge that the host population in refugee-receiving countries suffers a great deal due to the presence of a large alien population among them.

We should remember, however, that we too imposed a similar burden on our hosts in India. That was resolved even though many in India had feared that the refugees would never return to Bangladesh.

Similarly, over 500,000 Myanmar refugees have returned to their country over the last three decades.

As human beings, we owe it to all other human beings to be given an opportunity to find humane solutions to their problems, however impossible they may appear at a given time.


  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 21 newspapers. For more, see
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2016, with the headline 'Fleeing Rohingyas and the looming humanitarian crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe