Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rakhine State Conflicts and Its Spillover to Malaysia

The riots are a series of ongoing conflicts primarily between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. The ethnic conflicts were ignited in October last year when a Buddhist woman was raped and murdered by a group of Bengalis. 

The conflicts have spread quickly to other parts of Myanmar e.g. Meiktila, Okpho and Gyobingauk Township. Many people and observers were too quick to call it a clash between Muslim and Buddhist. It is very convenient to put a religious label on the conflicts without looking deeper at the root cause of the tension in Rakhine state. The Buddhist Rakhine community were upset that the Rohingyas had occupied their land and consume their limited resources. Competition for jobs had made their relationship even more spiteful.

Using a religious label has made it very convenient for the Buddhist majority to urge the Myanmar government to intervene in the conflicts. Historically, it was a geopolitical issue which involved the status of the Rohingyas. The Myanmarese government classifies the Rohingya as "immigrants" to Myanmar, and thus not eligible for citizenship. According to the United Nations, the Rohingya are one of the world's most persecuted minorities. 

They are subject to restrictions on education, marriage, reproduction and property ownership, as well as other repressive restrictions and abuses. At the moment, the Myanmarese government is considering allowing the Rohingyas to have two children, reviewing its single child policy for the group classified as "immigrants". 

The issue of Rohingyas is going to put the socio-political reforms in a difficult position. It is not a religious conflict but a serious human rights issue for the government to address. Previously, President Thein Sein had suggested the relocation of 700,000 Rohingyas to other countries. The proposal has been shot down by the community and also the neighbouring Bangladesh, the place where most of Rohingyas originated.  

One thing for sure, the Myanmarese government cannot wish away the Rohingyas. A modern and democratic Myanmar must seek to address the issue based on humanitarian grounds. They would need to consider the historical background of the community and work out a workable solution to integrate the community to the larger and multiethnic Myanmarese society.

It is very unfortunate that the riots had spread to the whole of Myanmar, targeting all Muslims instead of the just the Rohingyas. The riots have spread to Malaysia too. There is a growing number of Myanmar workers in Malaysia. An official figure has put it at 400,000. Almost 10% of them are Rohingyas. 

The government must manage the riots and conflicts carefully. Any missteps may turn the conflicts into an unnecessary 'religious' riots involving other bystanders as well. We must not allow the conflicts to be labelled as a religious one. It is clearly an internal issue of Myanmar. 

Malaysia should provide a calming solution to the conflicts. The authorities must act sternly against any migrant workers trying to create chaos in our country but the action must be taken in accordance to our law and must be administered fairly and justly.

It is definite NOT a religious confrontation. It is not a local issue for us. It is time for the government to review our over dependence on low-skilled and cheap foreign labour regardless of their nationality. 

We need to start create jobs for our own people.

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