Most ASEAN Members Back Myanmar’s Repatriation, Aid Efforts in Rakhine

By Nyein Nyein 28 August 2019

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—The majority of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) backed Myanmar’s efforts in terms of humanitarian relief and repatriation of Rohingya in western Myanmar, during the 40th General Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) in Bangkok this week.

Daw Su Su Lwin, the former First Lady cum ruling National League for Democracy lawmaker who also serves as chief of the Parliament Affairs Empowerment Advisory Group, is leading Myanmar’s delegation of 19 lawmakers. They are among more than 400 participants at the Aug 25-30 event, including members of ASEAN and observer parliaments, and officials from the AIPA and ASEAN secretariats.

During the assembly, Indonesia proposed for discussion on Tuesday a draft resolution on the Rohingya humanitarian crisis. However, the Myanmar delegation rejected it during the AIPA executive meeting on Aug. 25, saying the proposed resolution does not reflect the Myanmar government’s existing efforts there.

“Indonesia responded harshly, and threatened to walk out. They withdrew their resolution, but the other ASEAN member states supported Myanmar’s stand,” said Daw Pyone Kaythi Naing, a member of the Myanmar Parliamentary International Relations Committee, who has been participating in AIPA meetings since 2016.
“We rejected Indonesia’s draft resolution from the political agenda, because we do not accept the action of shaming and blaming specific countries,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Some 730,000 displaced persons from northern Rakhine State in Myanmar fled to neighboring Bangladesh following the Myanmar military’s clearance operations against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s coordinated attacks on security outposts in August 2017. The UN has described the crisis as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and international observers have described it as “genocide.” Myanmar has rejected both terms. International rights groups have also accused the military of committing war crimes, including sexual assaults against civilians, during the clearance operations.

Repatriation programs have been created jointly by Bangladesh and Myanmar, but only a handful of displaced people, mostly Hindus, have come back to the country since 2018. The majority of the Rohingya in Bangladesh’s refugee camps are still reluctant to return.

Rohingya groups have raised security concerns and demanded citizenship for returnees. The government wants returnees to go through a verification process before being considered for citizenship.

Daw Pyone Kaythi Naing added that the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (known as the AHA Center) has implemented humanitarian and repatriation operations in “a practical, pragmatic and constructive way” through its preliminary need assessments since the AHA Center commenced operations in November 2018. One initiative launched by the AHA Center is the ASEAN-Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT) comprising 10 members from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Myanmar. Implementation of other efforts is ongoing.

“Indonesia is already involved in the [humanitarian response] process and they should not raise such a resolution, which could hamper the existing process,” said Daw Pyone Kaythi Naing, who is also a member of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine State (UEHRD).

It is the third AIPA assembly at which Myanmar and Indonesia have confronted each other on this issue. It was previously raised in the Philippines in 2017 and in Singapore in 2018. Daw Su Su Lwin, the delegation leader, handled the issue both in Singapore and Thailand. In previous years, Myanmar’s AIPA delegations have been led by either the Parliament speaker or deputy speakers, but this year they are busy with charter reform efforts at home.

Daw Su Su Lwin delivered an extensive speech to the first plenary session of AIPA on Aug. 26 about the Myanmar government’s humanitarian relief and repatriation efforts for displaced persons through continuous collaboration based on memorandums of understanding between the UNDP, UNHCR and Myanmar.

She reiterated Myanmar’s concerns “regarding the misrepresentation and unjust manner” at the global level in relation to the humanitarian needs of northern Rakhine State.

As Myanmar is in a significant transition towards achieving a genuine democratic federal union through the peace process and charter reforms, Daw Su Su Lwin said, “It is sad that some parts of the global community focus partially through a magnified lens on a single issue, which is only one among a number of other issues of equal import which the current government is trying to address.”

Myanmar lawmakers said Myanmar welcomes support from any country that is willing to help implement recommendations based on the AHA Center’s assessments.

“If people want to know what we are doing, what the challenges are, and to discuss ways to overcome these challenges, we welcome anyone. We have opened various channels at this political forum, at AIPA, in Myanmar’s parliaments and other forums,” added Daw Pyone Kaythi Naing.

She said Myanmar is ready to cooperate either bilaterally or multilaterally with any country, “as long as it does not hurt [Myanmar]’s sovereignty.”

Cooperation with ASEAN is made possible, she said, because the ASEAN community was ready “to help us with a pragmatic approach and without further adding complexity to an already complicated crisis.”

Myanmar is being offered help from other countries too, “but if their offers could be problematic to our already-complex situation, we would not be able to accept it,” the lawmaker said.

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