There is no better place to bury a problem than at sea. Fortunately, for thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi castaways, the US is stepping in to fill the leadership vacuum in yet another crisis on the other side of the world. Instead of focusing on the cold calculus of public policy interests, the Obama Administration is responding to emotion-driven expectations to help those suffering.
Absent strong leadership from Asian governments, the US must resort to negotiating with Asian countries to save Asians. Somewhere around 7,000 refugees, in a region of densely populated nations capable of absorbing such a small number of individuals, have been imperiled by the decisions of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to turn them away.
Although nature offers many cruel ironies, dying of thirst and hunger when surrounded by water and countless fish is particularly unsettling. That said, the Andaman Sea is expected to show a total lack of mercy. It is, after all, much like a desert made of water for those lost among its waves, yet members of the modern International Community are expected to do something when people are dying on their own doorstep.
Clearly, Indonesia, Malaysia and, Thailand are part of the problem as they are the nations that turned away these refugees. Recognizing small, relatively poor countries Lebanon and Jordan have been willing to take on almost 2 million Syrian refugees, it is particularly shameful for Muslim-dominated Malaysia and Indonesia to resist offering shelter to such a small number of their own brethren.
On the other hand, the primary party deserving of blame is Myanmar. Refusing to even recognize the term “Rohingya,” it is the Myanmar government and Buddhist communities persecuting these people. Quite frankly, unless the democratizing Myanmar government faces consequences for failing to treat the Rohingya in a humane manner, the refugee crisis cannot be solved.
That said, it is very tempting to simply condemn these Southeast Asian countries for their lack of compassion, especially given these countries have received significant support from the International Community in their efforts to build their countries and economies. Although a great number of people tend to react emotionally, instead of intellectually responding, to public policy issues, this often results in poorly devised solutions.
Where racism is clearly alive and well in Asia, as well as elsewhere including the Middle East, Europe faces growing xenophobic movements due to a steady stream of refugees fleeing conflicts and unrelenting poverty. Europe, of course, faces a great deal of criticism for its recent response to the massive numbers of migrants who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.
There are also many critics who decry US immigration policy as inhuman due to the large number of individuals deported on an annual basis as well as the legal status of the millions of migrants illegally living in the United State. Unfortunately, economics and violence are a common thread. With the number of refugees in the world expected to grow, members of the International Community struggle to address sluggish economies and poverty within their own borders. In many respects, we are all in the same boat.
It may be tempting to simply threaten or retaliate against these Southeast Asian nations for failing to respond to the Rohingya crisis as we hoped they would, but doing so will only create greater problems and be thoroughly hypocritical. Instead, there needs to be greater leadership from world powers to address and solve the problems that lead to these refugee crises in all corners of the globe. In the case of the Rohingya, the International Community needs to pause in its efforts to assimilate the once isolated nation of Myanmar and confront its leadership on the Rohingya issue in order to find a solution.
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