Arrow Left Arrow Right Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Twitter Video Camera Youtube
We Don’t Need A Wall To Manage Migration From Mexico
We Don’t Need A Wall To Manage Migration From Mexico
Report 261 / Asia

Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State

The highly volatile situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State adds dangerously to the country’s political and religious tensions. Long-term, incremental solutions are critical for the future of Rakhine State and the country as a whole.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

Executive Summary

The situation in Rakhine State contains a toxic mixture of historical centre-periphery tensions, serious intercommunal and inter-religious conflict with minority Muslim communities, and extreme poverty and under-development. This led to major violence in 2012 and further sporadic outbreaks since then. The political temperature is high, and likely to increase as Myanmar moves closer to national elections at the end of 2015. It represents a significant threat to the overall success of the transition, and has severely damaged the reputation of the government when it most needs international support and investment. Any policy approach must start from the recognition that there will be no easy fixes or quick solutions. The problems faced by Rakhine State are rooted in decades of armed violence, authoritarian rule and state-society conflict. This crisis has affected the whole of the state and all communities within it. It requires a sustained and multi-pronged response, as well as critical humanitarian and protection interventions in the interim.

Failure to deal with the situation can have impacts for the whole country. As Myanmar is redefining itself as a more open society at peace with its minorities and embracing its diversity, introducing the seeds of a narrow and discriminatory nationalism could create huge problems for the future. Political solutions to the decades-long armed conflict, including the building of a federal nation, will be much more difficult.

The largest group in the state are the Rakhine, who are Buddhist, and there is a significant Muslim minority, including the Rohingya – a designation rejected by the government and Rakhine. The Rakhine community as a whole has tended to be cast internationally as violent extremists – ignoring the diversity of opinions that exist, the fact that the Rakhine themselves are a long-oppressed minority, and rarely attempting to understand their perspective and concerns. This is counterproductive: it promotes a siege mentality on the part of the Rakhine, and obscures complex realities that must be understood if a sustainable way forward is to be found.

The grievances of the Rakhine are similar to those of Myanmar’s other ethnic minorities – including longstanding discrimination by the state, a lack of political control over their own affairs, economic marginalisation, human rights abuses and restrictions on language and cultural expression. Decades of Rakhine anger have begun to morph. Since the transition to the new government, many Rakhine have increasingly felt that the most immediate and obvious threat that they face in rebuilding their communities and re-asserting their ethnic identity is one of demographics. There is a fear that they could soon become a minority in their own state – and, valid or not, there is no doubt that it is very strongly felt in Rakhine communities.

Muslim communities, in particular the Rohingya, have over the years been progressively marginalised from social and political life. Many have long been denied full citizenship, with significant consequences for their livelihoods and well-being. There are now efforts underway in the legislature to disenfranchise them, which could be incendiary. The Rohingya see this as their last remaining connection to politics and means of influence. Without this, it would be hard for them to avoid the conclusion that politics had failed them – which could prompt civil disobedience or even organised violence.

Current government initiatives to address the situation are centred on a pilot process to verify the citizenship of undocumented Muslims, and an “action plan” to deal with a broader set of political, security and development issues. Both contain deeply problematic elements. The refusal of the government and Rakhine community to accept the use of the term “Rohingya”, and the equally strong rejection of the term “Bengali” by the Rohingya, have created a deadlock. The verification process is going ahead without resolving this, and it may be boycotted by a majority of Rohingya.

The action plan envisages moving those who are granted citizenship to new settlements, rather than back to their original homes, potentially entrenching segregation. Those who are found to be non-citizens, or who do not cooperate with verification, may have to remain in camps until a solution can be found – which could be a very long time. An additional problem is that many Muslims may be given naturalised citizenship, which is more insecure and does not confer many of the rights of full citizenship.

Citizenship will not by itself automatically promote the rights of the Muslim population. This is made clear by the plight of the Kaman, who are full citizens by birth and a recognised indigenous group, but whose Islamic faith has meant that many are confined to displacement camps with no possibility to move freely or return to their land. Citizenship is thus necessary but not sufficient for improving rights. An end to discriminatory policies, including movement restrictions, and improved security and rule of law are also indispensable.

The government faces a major challenge in that the demands and expectations of the Rakhine Buddhist and Muslim communities may not be possible to reconcile. In such a context, it is essential to ensure that fundamental rights and freedoms are protected while also finding ways to ease Rakhine fears. Important too are efforts to combat extremism and hate speech. Only by doing so can the current climate of impunity for expressing intolerant views, and acting on them, be addressed. Ringleaders and perpetrators of violence must be brought swiftly to justice, which has rarely been the case. Doing so will help ensure not only that justice is done; it can also contribute to political stability and enhance the prospects for peaceful solutions.

Political solutions may not bear fruit quickly, but this must not lead to complacency. Solutions are critical for the future of Rakhine State and the country as a whole. Pre-empting extremist violence requires starting a credible process now that can demonstrate to the Rakhine and Muslim communities that political avenues exist. More broadly, unless Myanmar is successful in creating a new sense of national identity that embraces the country’s huge cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, peace and stability will remain elusive nationwide. In the meantime, it is essential for the international community to support the humanitarian and protection needs of vulnerable populations, which are likely to remain for years. It is also vital to address the chronic poverty and underdevelopment of all communities in the state, particularly through equitable and well-targeted village-level community development schemes.

Yangon/Brussels, 22 October 2014

We Don’t Need A Wall To Manage Migration From Mexico

Originally published in Miami Herald

Deportations from Mexico and the U.S. will not stop Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence. Instead of building a wall, the U.S. should help Mexico provide safe, secure reception areas on its southern border for Central American migrants.

Here is an interesting question for President Donald Trump: Who deports more Central American migrants, the United States or Mexico? The answer is Mexico by a long shot.

In 2015, Mexico, without a wall — but with better surveillance in collaboration with the U.S.-deported 165,000 migrants from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The United States deported 74,478 Central Americans the same year.

So antagonizing the people of Mexico and the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto with a constant refrain of, “You will pay for the wall” may not be the best way for Trump to lower the number of migrants crossing the southwest border into the U.S. Mexico has been willing to cooperate with the U.S. to prevent illegal migration in the past when relations were good. The future may be a lot different.

The more effective and less costly way to reduce the flow of refugees and migrants to the U.S. is to help Mexico provide safe, secure reception areas on its southern border for Central American migrants, and transportation back to their home countries for those who do not qualify for refugee status.

Deportation will continue to be a revolving door unless the Northern Triangle countries also are helped to do something different than dumping the migrants — particularly children — back into the neighborhoods where the maras (gangs) have taken homicide rates to world-record levels.

Last year, in its report Easy Prey: Criminal Violence and Central American Migration, The International Crisis Group found that in the first half of 2016, U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended almost 42,000 unaccompanied children on our southwest border, about 15 percent of the total detained. Today, that trend continues.

The only lasting answer to illegal migration is to address the conditions of poverty, violence and criminal impunity that force families to flee their homes in Central America.

Crisis Group also found the drug cartels that dominate cocaine trafficking through the Central American corridor to Mexico and U.S. markets are taking over the traditional “coyote” migration routes. Often, they siphon young migrant girls, boys and women to brothels and other way-points of human trafficking.

Mexico and the U.S. have treaty obligations to ensure that those migrants with a well-founded fear of persecution will have the ability to make their case for refugee status and asylum. In the interim, Mexico has a humanitarian visa that it can offer; the U.S. has Temporary Protected Status.

The only lasting answer to illegal migration is to address the conditions of poverty, violence and criminal impunity that force families to flee their homes in Central America. While Mexican migration to the U.S. has dropped, worsening economic conditions there will push impoverished Mexicans north.

In order to properly address the migration crisis, President Trump should reverse the current downward slide in relations with Mexico Everyone recognizes that the U.S. has an interest in controlling its borders to ensure public security and safety. However, building a wall and demanding that Mexico pay for it are unlikely to produce the desired results.

President Trump should instead draw on his experience as a businessman to strengthen the Alliance for Prosperity program—a potentially innovative joint regional plan involving the U.S., El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Inter-American Development Bank. The Republican Congress backed the program with nearly $1 billion in each of the last two years to support efforts to root out corruption, reduce poverty, and create jobs in Central America.

Most scholars and law enforcement leaders argue that, with policy changes to tackle corruption and end impunity, a continuing U.S. commitment of $1 billion a year over the next five years to finance small business, jobs, education and criminal justice reform in Central America will yield a far better return on investment in reducing migration. And it’s a whole lot cheaper than the estimated $12- to $40 billion cost of building a 2,000-mile-long border wall — which no one wants to pay for.