Written by: Prof. Anna Malindog
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes naturally to the human heart than its opposites." Nelson Mandela
"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves."
The plight of the "boat people" has come to the attention of the international community for several weeks now. The world is reacting to this cataclysmic humanitarian crisis that is even said to be tantamount to genocide already. Countries and peoples of the world including the United Nations are calling for humanitarian interventions to save and rescue these boat people who are suffering from all sorts of human atrocities and who are in such depressing conditions. Without doubt, the quandary of the "boat people", the "Rohingyas" is heartbreaking and entails global attention and humanitarian interventions.
However, providing humanitarian assistance and help, and even accepting these "boat people" as refugees or asylum seekers in third countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines will only serve as short term solutions and would not resolve the issue at its core. All these will not necessarily resolve the influx or the exodus of Rohingyas from Myanmar to escape their persecuted and gloomy situation in that country. Rather, this migratory crisis will continue as what has been the case since time immemorial unless the root cause of the problem will be arrested. On this note, it is but a must that, while humanitarian assistance and aid are extended to the boat people, and while they are being offered and extended safe temporary haven in third countries until their plight is resolved, the international community especially the members states of ASEAN must devise a concerted effort to address the problem by addressing its root-cause, and that's the "status of statelessness of the Rohingyas in Myanmar coupled with extreme discrimination against them cultural, politically and economically speaking".
The issue of the Rohingyas is thus far an issue of "statelessness". Statelessness is so far an issue that left a smudge in Southeast Asia after the colonial period. There are many minority groups in the region who do not take pleasure and experience that legal attachment of nationality with any state, and one of these minority groups are the Rohingyas. The Rohingyas are a group of Muslim people living the northern part of Rakhine State who are ethnically, linguistically, and religiously distinct in Myanmar. They are not considered citizens or nationals of Myanmar. This has been proven by the fact that when the new nationality law was passed in Myanmar in 1982, the Rohingyas were not included among the 135 national races that were granted full citizenship. They are considered both by the government of Myanmar and by a large part of the Buddhist population of the country to be "illegal migrants" and "Bengalis". But sad to say, even Bangladesh do not also consider the Rohingyas as their own which makes the plight of these people more perilous.
The status of statelessness of peoples like that of the Rohingyas poses serious impediments in the enjoyment and exercise of their fundamental rights. In the case of the Rohingyas, these people were consistently subjected to stigmatization, harassment, isolation, deprivation, starvation, and were restrained to have access to basic social services that made their lives far more miserable. These on-going extreme discrimination, persecution, and dehumanization conferred to these people have already reached unprecedented heights, which is even substantially speaking, is considerably an act of genocide already, that a hegira of Rohingyas were forced to flee their homes on boats. All these resulted to massive displacement and immense migration of Rohingyas of which many of them are stranded in the Andaman Sea, and others are seeking refuge in third countries which in most cases are reluctant, or are not at all accommodating to see these people disembarking along their coasts. This scenario is now creating strain inter-state relations in ASEAN and beyond, precisely because, now it has spill-over effects from one country to the next. Thus, the plight of the Rohingyas, the boat people, is not anymore just a domestic issue of Myanmar but much more a regional problem that needs regional solution and interventions. Just to note, in the context of Southeast Asia, migration and statelessness are in many ways very much interconnected. Statelessness in most cases has been both a cause and a consequence of the movement and displacement of people in the region. The issue of statelessness as a consequence and a cause of migration is a socio-political countenance in ASEAN that needs to be confronted if the region is to prosper in its vision of having a people-centered regional integration wherein the free movement of persons as part of the ASEAN framework for regional integration is to bear fruits.
Thus, the crux of the problem is the twosome quandary of the status of statelessness of the Rohingyas, and the extreme discrimination they are facing as a people from the government of Myanmar and its Buddhist population.
And since Myanmar is a huge part of the problem and at the same time the key to the resolution of this colossal humanitarian crisis, the international community must ensure that Myanmar will do its part in ensuring the resolution of this problem through the exercise of maximum pressure. Myanmar on the other hand must address the problem of statelessness of the Rohingyas if the plight of the boat people has to be resolved. There is no other way. Addressing statelessness can to a greater extent facilitate deterrence and preclusion of massive forced displacement, veer social tension, and boost human capital. The recognition of this problem by the Myanmar government, coupled with the pressure coming from the international community on Myanmar to address this problem can serve as stimuli for all these actors and players to layout practical strategies and solutions.
For the Myanmar government, it is not enough that it made pronouncements telling the whole world that it will provide humanitarian assistance to these "boat people". As a responsible government, it should integrate Rohingyas as part of the ethnic minorities of Myanmar, and part of the body of citizens/nationals of the country. The Rohingyas should be given proper identification and should be documented. Only by doing these that the Rohingyas will enjoy their fundamental rights and the extreme discrimination and human rights atrocities accorded to these people will cease to exist. Only through these that this massive humanitarian crisis of the "boat people" will truly be addressed and migration of Rohingyas as a consequence of their status of statelessness will to a considerable degree be lessened if not totally eradicated.
These people have the fundamental right to a nationality, and this fundamental right is incorporated in almost all major and contemporary human rights instruments as enthused by article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states that, "everyone has the right to a nationality". Concurring with international law, the Myanmar government is obligated to address the issue of statelessness of the Rohingyas if it wants to gain the recognition of the world as sincere in its vision of transforming the country into a truly democratic state.
For the third countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, as they face the impending massive influx of migrant Rohingyas seeking solace and humanitarian assistance along their shores, it is but of the essence that these countries recognize these people as stateless persons. It is only through this recognition that these "boat people" will be able to enjoy their fundamental rights to life, to education, to healthcare, and many others as set out under international law until their situation is resolved. This is what protection and promotion of human rights truly means. In accordance with their human rights obligations, and under international law, states bear the responsibility to protect the fundamental rights of all persons within their jurisdiction, including those who are stateless without discrimination.