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ASEAN and the Rohingya Refugees Policy Brief
By Emily Chen Sue Mei — is Student of Politics, specifically International Relations, University of Nottingham Malaysia.
The main ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries involved are Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. These countries are non-signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention and they do not have a collective legal framework to deal with the Rohingya refugees. This major humanitarian crisis means that refugees are vulnerable to crimes both from the origin country and ‘host’ country.
This paper recommends ASEAN to take actions to protect human rights, such as making it compulsory for the countries to be in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Secondly, there should be pressure imposed on Myanmar to eventually allow the Rohingyas to live peacefully, without fear of insecurity and to be part of the 1982 Citizenship Act. Finally, there should be coordinated legal framework for dealing with refugees in the ASEAN countries.
This paper will explore the relationship of the Rohingya refugees with countries in order to prescribe recommendations that ASEAN can take as a regional entity to mitigate this crisis. It will show the hindrances towards problem resolution and the consequences of ASEAN’S actions or rather ‘inactions’.
This paper provides suggestions to combat the growing crisis by critically examining the relationship of the Rohingya refugees with particular ASEAN member countries.
Background of the Rohingya Refugee Crisis — The official definition of a refugee according to the 1951 Refugee Convention is:
‘Reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it’.
Rohingya is the name of the Sunni Muslim inhabitants of the Rakhine state. This is the area in between Bangladesh and Myanmar. In terms of roots, there is evidence of their existence in Bangladesh and Myanmar’s border since post-colonial times. In Myanmar, Rohingyas are referred to as ‘Bengalis’ however, other international communities such as ASEAN recognizes ‘Rohingyas’ as an ethnic group. Furthermore, the Citizenship Act of 1982 denies them citizenship and therefore, the Rohingyas are stateless. The Rohingyas face exploitation and discrimination including forced labour, denial of residency, mass burnings, rape, child labour, extortion and restriction of movement. The result of different forms of oppressions has led Rohingyas to flee the Rakhine state as refugees.