Segregated, stateless and at sea: Myanmar, the Rohingyas and Australia

Parliament house flag post

Segregated, stateless and at sea: Myanmar, the Rohingyas and Australia

Posted 9/07/2013 by Cameron Hill


Image source: US State Department
Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, will travel to Myanmar this week where he has stated he will raise the recent sectarian violence in Rakhine state, including the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority, with the President and the Foreign Minister. He has previously flagged that he may seek to personally visit Rakhine to assess the situation as part of this trip. 


Following two major outbreaks of violence in June and October 2012 which killed 192 people, the situation in Rakhine has been described as one that has descended into ‘a Burmese form of apartheid’ in which ‘Rohingyas are corralled into squalid, semi-permanent internal-refugee camps’. More recent episodes of violence have seen clashes between Rohingya communities displaced by the conflict and local security forces. Human Rights Watch has labelled the 2012 violence as ‘ethnic cleansing’ while the United Nations (UN) has criticised the perceived impunity and the alleged involvement of local authorities.

The origins of the Rohingya, of whom there are an estimated 800,000 living in Myanmar, are complex and contested. Under a 1982 Citizenship Law, most have found it difficult to have their basic rights recognised and the Rohingya are classified by the UN as one of the world’s largest known cohorts of ‘stateless persons’. Up to 140,000 people, most of whom are Rohingya, are estimated to have been displaced by the 2012 violence and are now living in temporary camps with little prospect of returning to their homes anytime soon. 

As well as the significant and immediate humanitarian needs, the violence in Rakhine has troubling implications for Myanmar’s future reforms and for wider regional security. 

First, the conflict highlights a dangerous uncertainty surrounding the future place of the Rohingya, and possibly Muslims more generally, within a multi-ethnic and plural Myanmar. Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of the violence is how quickly it has spread into other communities where there are other (non-Rohingya) Muslim communities and, as a result, taken on an increasingly sectarian dimension. In March 2013, 43 people were killed in sectarian violence Meiktila in the Mandalay region, while a mosque and an Islamic boarding school were burned in Lashio in Shan state in May. These incidents, which followed crimes against Muslims by Buddhists and vice versa, have also resulted in significant displacement of communities. The spread of much of the violence beyond Rakhine has been attributed to anti-Muslim campaigns by extremist Buddhist groups, particularly those associated with the so-called ‘969’ movement. 

Second, it is clear that the conflict has ‘tested ASEAN’s ability to respond to humanitarian crises in the absence of regionally established mechanisms for registering or repatriating the “stateless” population.’ The violence in Rakhine has resulted in significant displacement and renewed asylum flows to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that, from June 2012 to May 2013, nearly 27,800 people departed on boats from the Bay of Bengal, the majority of whom are believed to be from Rakhine. More than 800 people are thought to have perished in these journeys. According to the UNHCR, in addition to maritime accidents, vulnerability to human trafficking is a major risk for these populations.  In Thailand, there have been multiple allegations of criminality and brutality against Rohingya asylum seekers by the Thai authorities, including allegations of involvement in trafficking, inhumane detention, and shootings

Third, in both Indonesia and Malaysia there have been several high profile incidents of retaliatory violence involving both Buddhists and Muslims, inflaming sectarian tensions in neighbouring countries. The then ASEAN Secretary General, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, warned in October 2012 that if violence against Muslim populations in Myanmar was not managed effectively, it could ‘radicalise' the Rohingya and ‘destabilise’ the region.

Since June 2012, Australia has pledged almost $6 million in humanitarian assistance for those communities displaced by the violence. Australia has also registered its ‘serious concern’ over the violence in Rakhine with the Myanmar government, and has called for ‘a peaceful settlement of ethnic-based disputes, including those involving Rohingya.’ 

Further conflict and asylum flows could result in sustained increases in the number of Rohingya seeking irregular passage to Australia.  Australia is reportedly a destination of choice for many of the estimated 800 Rohingya currently in Indonesia. As with asylum flows more generally, it is important to note, however, that the burden is being overwhelmingly felt by neighbouring countries, with an estimated 220,000 Rohingya living in Bangladesh and around 24,000 currently in Malaysia.

The Parliamentary Library will publish a research paper on the situation in Rakhine and Australia’s response following the Foreign Minister’s visit.

Comments

  • 21/01/2014 1:50 PM
    Trevor3130 said:

    I'd like to know more about our history of handling stateless persons.

  • 21/01/2014 1:51 PM
    Cameron Hill said:

    Trevor, statistics on Australia's humanitarian program can be found here - http://www.immi.gov.au/media/statistics/statistical-info/visa-grants/refugee.htm


Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.

Add your comment

[Click to expand]

We welcome your comments, or additional information which is relevant to a post. These can be added by clicking on the ‘Add your comment’ option above. Please note that the Parliamentary Library will moderate comments, and reserves the right not to publish comments that are inconsistent with the objectives of FlagPost. This includes spam, profanity and personal abuse, as well as comments that are factually incorrect or politically partisan. We will close comments after three months.




Captcha
Generate a new image
Type characters from the image:

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print

FlagPost

Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament


Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Archive

Syndication

Tagcloud

Refugees asylum climate change immigration Australian foreign policy parliament social security elections welfare reform school education welfare policy health financing Australian Defence Force emissions trading indigenous Australians women higher education private health insurance people trafficking illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 United Nations Employment Asia income management Middle East Medicare Australian Bureau of Statistics statistics sport health forced labour federal budget Afghanistan Industrial Relations Carbon Pricing Mechanism politics dental health United States aid disability child protection environment poker machines Australia in the Asian Century Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency steroids World Anti-Doping Agency National Disability Insurance Scheme detention aged care 43rd Parliament slavery health system Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Criminal Law Fair Work Act Australian Public Service governance labour force people smuggling transport debt taxation international relations constitution New Zealand food WADA Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme public service reform children's health Aviation foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability parliamentary procedure Senate Senators and Members ALP ASADA Newstart Parenting Payment multiculturalism Youth Allowance sea farers federal state relations accountability Papua New Guinea youth paid parental leave pensions same sex relationships corruption coal seam gas customs planning federal election 2013 Australian Electoral Commission doping OECD crime health risks International Women's Day Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy welfare ASIO intelligence community terrorist groups Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining High Court Higher Education Loan Program HECS military history electoral reform employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union Federal Court family assistance skilled migration banking United Nations Security Council Australian economy forestry food labelling vocational education and training Drugs UK Parliament welfare systems Indonesia social media children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report energy science social inclusion human rights paternalism Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse terrorism World Trade Organization Australia public health China housing affordability bulk billing political parties water productivity health policy Governor-General US economy trade unions domestic violence export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery firearms question time speaker superannuation public housing election results by-election expertise public policy climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leadership voting Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry regulation Pacific Islands reserved seats research and development new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare ADRV Census Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy royal commission US politics violence against women language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage Population rural and regional mental health alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran transparency ANZUS regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly national security smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid disability employment Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying asylum seekers Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct integrity retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines workers financial sector Canada Somalia United Kingdom GDP Tasmania world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders live exports infant mortality honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea fuel rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education Social Inclusion Board early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits qantas counselling Korean peninsula Work Choices biosecurity hendra environmental law federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition standards conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office NATO work-life balance

Show all
Show less