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Myanmar/Bangladesh: A Humanitarian Calamity and a Two-country Crisis
Myanmar/Bangladesh: A Humanitarian Calamity and a Two-country Crisis
Smouldering debris of burned houses is seen in Warpait village, a Muslim village in Maungdaw located in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, 14 October, 2016. AFP/Ye Aung Thu
Report 283 / Asia

缅甸:若开邦新出现穆斯林动乱

近期,在流亡势力的领导下,罗兴亚士兵发起了袭击。这预示了局势的恶化。罗兴亚人对现状强烈的不满是暴力的主要根源,若要根除暴力,缅甸政府应扭转穆斯林少数民族长期受到歧视的局面、缓和其军事策略、并寻求其穆斯林盟友的援助。

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自2016年10月9日起的数日里,缅甸北部若开邦的边防守卫警察(BGP)便连遭恶性袭击,11月12日局势严重升级,并导致一名高级军官丧生,这均表明若凯邦新出现了穆斯林动乱。目前的暴力本质上有别于近几十年的状况,其不仅严重威胁到若开邦稳定发展的前景,还严重影响了整个缅甸。在巨大挑战之下,政府需要调整并整合其政治、政策和安全对策,确保暴力不再升级,使族群之间的紧张局势得到控制,并应适当考虑若开邦佛教徒的不满及恐慌情绪。

如无法成功控制局势,政府将面临巨大的风险。政府虽肩负着维护安全并以行动阻止攻击者的明确义务,但若要行动产生实效,政府则需更审慎地使用武力,并将重点放在政治和政策手段上。政府应首要解决民众的悲观绝望情绪,且这也是若开邦众多穆斯林愤怒的根源。而令局面复杂的则是,昂山素季虽对军队有一些影响力,但据宪法,她并不能直接控制军队。

该叛乱组织自称Harakah al-Yaqin(“坚定信仰运动”,HaY)。其由流亡于沙特阿拉伯的某罗兴亚委员会领导,地面指挥则由经过国际训练并具备现代游击战经验的当地罗兴亚人负责。该组织得益于地方和国际穆斯林教令(宗教司法意见)对其合法性的承认、和若凯邦北部穆斯林民众高度的同情和支持,并已在当地招募训练了数百名新兵。

缅甸政府虽正致力于应对在若开邦的复杂挑战,包括对穆斯林人口的长期歧视和对公民权利的剥夺及损害,但这个组织良好、看似资金充足的团体的出现却改变了局势。政府目前虽使用了大规模军事力量来应对袭击,却未能充分地区分武装分子与平民,再加之其拒绝向极弱势群体提供人道主义援助,并缺乏总体的政治战略。政府无法为民众带来希望,因此也不太可能驱逐该组织,甚之还或会造成暴力升级和民众大规模的流离失所。

若非一些地方领袖和社区的参与,坚定信仰运动也不会在当地立足并对战斗准备充分。但此地从不是激进分子的聚集区,当地大多数居民、长老及宗教领袖此前都在回避暴力手段,并认为暴力只会适得其反。而今逾多人拥护暴力行为的事实则反映出了动乱非必然,而是多年来在政策上彻底的失败。

政府强硬的安全手段违反了“同等规模反击”和“区别对待”的基本原则,这不仅有悖国际准则,而且适得其反。

政府的对策之关键应是着手于了解若凯邦部分穆斯林为何开始诉诸于暴力。当地民众已意识到其权利被不断侵蚀和践踏,并在社会和政治生活中被逐渐边缘化。自2012年若开邦出现反穆斯林暴力行动以来,矛盾愈发尖锐。穆斯林在2015年大选前被剥夺了选举权,而这也截断了他们联系和影响政治的最后的渠道。同时,马来西亚海上移民路线的中断堵住了对其至关重要的一条逃生途径,尤其对年轻人而言,他们仅此一线的希望也破碎了。正是日益增长的绝望感迫使更多人考虑暴力手段,但对政府来说,亡羊补牢,犹未晚矣——暴力趋势还尚存扭转余地。

政府首先应认识到,这些民众在该地区已生活了数辈,并将继续生活下去。因此,政府必须设法在国民生活中给他们提供一席之地。违背“同等规模反击”和“区别对待”等基本原则的强硬做法不仅有悖国际准则,且会适得其反。这样或会加剧绝望和仇恨心理,引发更多对坚定信仰运动的支持,并进一步地加剧暴力。国际经验已表明,强硬的军事行动,特别是在缺乏更广泛的政策框架的情况下,对遏制武装团体的效果甚微,并可能急剧恶化事态。

迄今为止,虽有迹象表明坚定信仰运动开展了军事训练且其组织团结,但跨国圣战主义或恐怖主义似乎还未被其提上章程。但危险的是,大规模的政府军力已经迫使成千上万的人民逃离家园或跨境进入孟加拉国,若政府处理不当,包括继续大举兴兵,那这将可能造成罗兴亚人愈发激进,而跨国圣战者则有可能乘机在缅甸推进自己的目标。为避免这种情况,政府应将其军事安全回应措施降级并纳入其详定的总体政治战略——在国家和穆斯林群体间建立更稳固、更积极的关系,并与区域各国开展更密切的合作和情报共享。

仰光/布鲁塞尔,2016年12月15日

Commentary / Asia

Myanmar/Bangladesh: A Humanitarian Calamity and a Two-country Crisis

More than one million Muslim Rohingya forced to flee from Myanmar now live in camps in south-eastern Bangladesh. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to increase funding for refugee assistance and use diplomatic leverage to find a compromise on the issue of refugee repatriation.

This commentary on Myanmar and Bangladesh's humanitarian calamity and two-country crisis is part of our annual early-warning report Watch List 2018.

Violent operations by the military, border police and vigilante groups in Myanmar have forced some 750,000 Rohingya to flee northern Rakhine for Bangladesh over the last twelve months. These numbers represent more than 85 per cent of the Rohingya population in the three affected townships. Significant bilateral and multilateral criticism – in the UN Security Council, General Assembly and Human Rights Council – has failed to temper the approach of the Myanmar government and military. The UN, as well as the U.S. and other governments, have declared the 2017 campaign against the Rohingya “ethnic cleansing” and likely crimes against humanity; some have raised the possibility that it may constitute genocide.

Several hundred Rohingya continue to flee each week. For the more than 100,000 who remain, as well as the non-Rohingya population, life is extremely difficult. Security fears, curfews and checkpoints severely restrict civilian movement, particularly for the Rohingya, making it very difficult to reach farms, fishing grounds and markets. The International Committee of the Red Cross is exerting enormous efforts to deliver aid to those in need, but the government has denied access to most other agencies, such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, human rights bodies and media outlets. Myanmar also refused to allow a UN-appointed international fact-finding mission to visit the region and subsequently announced it would no longer grant visas or cooperate with the special rapporteur on human rights. Two Reuters journalists were arrested in Yangon on 12 December after gathering evidence of military abuse, including information about a mass grave; they are being held incommunicado and face charges under the Official Secrets Act.

Continuing violence in northern Rakhine also undermines prospects for a solution to the crisis. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group (whose 25 August 2017 attacks triggered the crisis) claimed responsibility for a 5 January ambush on a military vehicle that injured five soldiers – the first known attack by the group since the end of its unilateral ceasefire in October. While ARSA’s ability to sustain an insurgency remains uncertain, even occasional minor attacks have a major political impact, amplifying security concerns and sharpening anti-Rohingya sentiment.

Prospects for repatriation

Many refugees are still deeply traumatised and remain fearful for their physical safety should they return.

Many observers have expressed concern that the November 2017 signing of a repatriation “arrangement” between Myanmar and Bangladesh, with a two-month timeframe for repatriations to start, could lead to the premature and unsafe return of Rohingya to northern Rakhine. For now, however, that appears unlikely, given that the process has stalled. Though Myanmar has declared its readiness to commence processing returnees through two new reception centres as of 23 January, it has yet to initiate much of the detailed logistical and policy planning required for a successful operation on this scale; for its part, Bangladesh announced on 22 January that it was postponing the start of repatriations.

Many of the 750,000 Rohingya who fled northern Rakhine over the past year would return under the right circumstances: Myanmar is their home, where most have lived for generations, and they see no future for themselves and their children in the Bangladesh camps. But there is unlikely to be any voluntary repatriation in the near term. Many refugees are still deeply traumatised and remain fearful for their physical safety should they return. The paramilitary Border Guard Police, which operates only in northern Rakhine, and Rakhine vigilante groups remain unchecked; Rohingya blame both for brutalities. Curfew orders and other onerous restrictions on freedom of movement remain in place, making it impossible to sustain livelihoods. The prevailing political environment also gives the Rohingya little hope for a positive future in Myanmar. The authorities deny most reports of abuses and have made little effort to address fundamental issues of desegregation, rights and citizenship.

Bangladesh’s government is wary of openly espousing the Rohingya’s cause for fear of stirring tensions with Myanmar and losing the support of its main backer, India, and main trading partner, China, both supportive of Myanmar. It wants the refugees to return as quickly as possible. But at the same time, Dhaka is reluctant to force refugees to return given domestic political dynamics ahead of the 2018 general elections and the glare of the global media and political spotlight. The upshot is that hundreds of thousands of traumatised, hopeless Rohingya will remain confined to the Bangladesh camps for the foreseeable future, requiring a huge humanitarian operation. Most Rohingya have not been involved in violence and there is little evidence of jihadist influence in their communities. Nevertheless, their trying circumstances could create risky new dynamics for Bangladesh and the region.

Situation in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is facing the consequences of the fastest refugee movement across an international border since the Rwanda genocide in 1994. More than one million Muslim Rohingya – a figure that includes refugees from previous exoduses – now live in camps near Cox’s Bazar in the south-eastern corner of the country, close to the border with Myanmar. The area is among the country’s poorest. Since the influx of the Rohingya refugees, local wages have fallen while prices have climbed. Discontent among local residents – now in the minority – is rising. Camp conditions, though improving, are still desperate: it is a major challenge to procure water and fuel without depriving other residents, and the threat of disease looms. Addressing the emergency will cost around $1 billion annually – 0.5 per cent of Bangladesh’s GDP – and donors are paying most of the aid bill.

While relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar are tense, there appears to be little risk of direct conflict between the two countries’ armies. Likewise, in the view of Bangladeshi security forces, the possibility of the displaced Rohingya being recruited or used by Bangladeshi or transnational jihadist groups is low. Perhaps more dangerous, ahead of national elections to be held near the end of 2018, is that the presence of a large refugee population could ignite the simmering communal conflict among Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus as well as ethnic minorities, especially in the highly militarised Chittagong Hill Tracts. It also is worth noting that these refugees – whose presence Bangladeshi politicians privately suggest could well be permanent – are located in a part of the country where the influence of Hefazat-e-Islam (Protectors of Islam), a hardline coalition of government-allied Islamist organisations, is strongest. The Hefazat was first to respond to the refugee crisis. It has since threatened to launch a jihad against Myanmar unless it stops persecuting the Rohingya. Hefazat has in recent years gained significant influence over the nominally secular Awami League, the ruling party, and now holds effective veto power over the government’s social and religious policies.

Perhaps more dangerous, ahead of national elections to be held near the end of 2018, is that the presence of a large refugee population could ignite the simmering communal conflict among Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus as well as ethnic minorities.

The gravest security risks, though, are associated with the possibility of bungled repatriation. While no repatriation appears likely any time soon, the return of the Rohingya under the wrong conditions – notably in the absence of rights for Rohingya returning to Myanmar – would jeopardise the lives of refugees and prolong the crisis. The further suffering of the Rohingya in Myanmar itself could lead foreign jihadist fighters, notably from South Asia, to adopt the Rohingya’s cause; Bangladesh itself might even lend support to a cross-border insurgency. One way to guard against this outcome is to ensure UNHCR involvement in any repatriation process, a demand many Rohingya living in camps have themselves made. But while Dhaka is not opposed to UN involvement, it continues to seek a bilateral arrangement with Myanmar knowing the Myanmar government is more likely to accept repatriation without what it would consider intrusive international oversight. Moreover, Bangladesh has traditionally refused to grant stateless Rohingya refugees rights; in fact, the government refuses to call them refugees and threatens to move some to a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal. Outside powers, including the EU and its member states, should not underestimate Dhaka’s willingness to return the refugees if an opportunity presented itself in the future – even under conditions that are far from ideal.

Bangladesh’s current short-term policies risk producing slum-like conditions in the camps, which would amount to their protracted, donor-funded confinement. The Rohingya are barred from work and their children from state-run schools, forcing many to work illegally and leaving poorly regulated religious schools as their only option. The government’s approach is rooted in the belief that state support in Bangladesh for the Rohingya risks attracting more refugees. With the population now mainly in Bangladesh, this logic no longer holds; the government should take steps to allow the Rohingya to better integrate including by working and attending regular schools.

Straddling two countries and competing preoccupations

The challenge for Bangladesh and its international partners is to craft a long-term humanitarian response to provide for the refugees, while maintaining diplomatic engagement and other forms of pressure on the Myanmar authorities to create favourable conditions for their eventual voluntary, safe and dignified return. At the same time, they should start laying the groundwork for steps toward more politically sensitive policies, notably integration in Bangladesh or resettlement elsewhere, in the most likely scenario that voluntary repatriation proves impossible. For now, Dhaka and many Western diplomats resist such discussion, not wanting to ease pressure on Myanmar; Delhi, too, rejects it, fearing that the Rohingya may end up in India. But given the slim prospects of the Rohingya’s return, preparing for their potential integration in Bangladesh – a process which already is informally underway – and the possibility of resettlement elsewhere would make sense.

Regional actors have critical roles to play. China and India in particular are among Myanmar’s and Bangladesh’s closest international partners; neither power wishes to see a festering two-country border conflict in the Bay of Bengal. The EU and its member states should engage Beijing and New Delhi to forge a common approach to encourage Myanmar to commit to a pathway to citizenship for most Rohingya, in keeping with the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State headed by Kofi Annan.

The EU and its members also should impress on Dhaka that botched repatriations would present the greatest security risk, even while acknowledging the enormous burden Bangladesh is shouldering. They should work closely with the government, UN agencies and humanitarian organisations to determine how best to coordinate the enormous task of providing services and relief to the Rohingya in the camps. These decisions should be made in consultation with the Rohingya themselves – including women, whose voices are even more rarely heard, in part due to cultural barriers. The EU pledged an additional €30 million at an October UN conference, but funding remains insufficient given the magnitude of what inevitably will be a prolonged crisis. Simultaneously, the EU and its member states should use their diplomatic leverage to pressure Bangladesh and Myanmar not to implement their repatriation agreement without adequate international oversight. Finally, they should continue to push for accountability, including supporting efforts to gather the detailed evidence necessary to identify those responsible for violence against the Rohingya and their forced expulsion.