by Pathik Hasan

 

It is Singapore that can make Myanmar realize Rohingya repatriation. Singapore can be an ideal mediator in solving the Rohingya Refugee Crisis because Singapore has very good relations with both Myanmar and Bangladesh. However, Bangladesh has been urging Singapore from time to time, requesting Myanmar to help resolve the Rohingya crisis quickly as it is a big problem and burden for Bangladesh. Bangladesh Prime Minister also made the call during her meeting with Singapore President Halimah Yacob and the official meeting with her Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong at Istana in March 2018. Bangladesh FM met with officials including the then Consul of Singapore, William Chik in Bangladesh, and sought the help of Singapore in this regard in 2019 (United News of Bangladesh)

According to Strait Times, The Singaporean foreign ministry urged calm and restraint by all sides in Rakhine State, pledging support for efforts by ASEAN to utilize existing mechanisms to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected people in Rakhine State in accordance with the principles of the ASEAN Charter. Singaporean Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin announced on 19 October 2017 that his country would pledge S$100,000 through the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) center to aid humanitarian efforts in Rakhine State. But Bangladesh needs permanent peaceful repatriation of Rohingyas to Rakhine at this moment because the country is facing serious challenges for the Rohingya Refugee crisis.

However, it’s a big problem for the Whole of Southeast Asia and South Asia. It’s a burden to Bangladesh which needs to be resolved. As Singapore is an active member of ASEAN, Singapore can pursue with the Myanmar government that the stability and development of that region depend on the repatriation of Rohingyas. Singapore has very good bilateral business and defense relations with Myanmar. We believe that Singapore could easily solve the problem by ensuring the greater interests of Singapore and South East Asia.

For decades, Myanmar has gone through extreme cruelty to the Rohingya. Never cared about the law. The Rohingya problem is not new to Bangladesh. This problem, which started in 1978, became apparent in August 2017. More than 1 million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh to save their lives when the Myanmar army launched a brutal operation against the Rohingya ethnic group. Bangladesh is seeking the intervention of the United States, the European Union and the United Nations as well as the regional alliance ASEAN for a lasting and acceptable solution to the Rohingya problem.

Now Bangladesh is facing serious problems for this artificial crisis committed by Myanmar. Some socio-economic threats are rising in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has given shelter to Rohingyas for humanitarian reasons. But because of this humanity, the country is now at risk. As a result, there is a danger of Rohingyas spreading all over the country and there are also many challenges.

The forest is being uprooted, they are cutting down the mountains and destroying them. There are also long-term economic risks. Socio-economic and political problems may also be evident, and security risks may increase. Illegal narcotics trade, human trafficking, prostitution, terrorism in Rohingya camps are increasing in camps.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement to repatriate the Rohingya to Myanmar within two years in 2017 and 2019 respectively. The Myanmar authority did not take back the Rohingyas according to the agreement. It is true that they don’t want to repatriate Rohingyas in Myanmar. Bangladesh raised the issue in every international forum. Many countries have supported Bangladesh. But Myanmar has no respect for the international law and norms. Some mighty powers may have been behind the scene.

Bangladesh Prime Minister has raised the issue at UNGA on September 25, 2021, to draw attention to solving the Rohingya crisis. She has focused especially on the engagement of ASEAN leaders. It is ASEAN including Singapore as an active member of ASEAN which can solve the Rohingya refugee problem easily.

As an active member of ASEAN, Singapore can easily solve it. Singapore can be a mediator in this regard. Singapore has very warm relations with both Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Various countries and international organizations have taken various measures to solve the Rohingya problem. Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has criticized Myanmar authorities for being lax in repatriating displaced Rohingya. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed deep concern over the ongoing Rohingya crisis. Yang Lee, the UN special envoy for human rights in Myanmar, said all major countries in the world had a responsibility to resolve the Rohingya crisis.

In this regard, Singapore can and should play a very significant role to solve the crisis in these ways:

  1. Singapore can support Bangladesh at every international forum such as at UNGA, regional conferences. They can vote in favor of Bangladesh. They can raise the issue in the ASEAN platform.
  2. Singapore can negotiate with Myanmar diplomatically and bilaterally. It has good bilateral relations with Myanmar.
  3. Singapore can engage with other ASEAN states to solve the crisis.
  4. Singapore’s Buddhist society can play an effective role in this regard.
  5. Singapore’s businessmen can engage to some extent. Because stability in the region is very needed for investment.

Why should Singapore Mediate to solve the Problem?

  1. This issue is a humanitarian issue. Rohingyas are the son of Land in Rakhine in Myanmar. They have right to reside in Myanmar.
  2. It is an issue of Justice. According to Luther King Junior, Nelson Mandela “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Myanmar authorities committed genocide. The perpetrators should be under international legal jurisdiction.
  3. It is the issue of the region. The whole of South Asia and South East Asia may be volatile for this issue. As a Southeast Asian state, Singapore has some responsibilities.
  4. Singapore has good relations with both Myanmar and Bangladesh.
  5. Enhancing bilateral relations could contribute to the growth of trade and investment relations with ASEAN and SAARC countries. This will create an opportunity to serve the greater regional interest.
  6. Re-establishing the Himalayan-South Asian connectivity can occur if political and diplomatic solutions of Bangladesh-Myanmar strained ties can be found.
  7. Singapore’s bilateral trade with Bangladesh has been growing in tandem with a rising foreign direct investment, which amounted to S$1.9 billion in sectors such as energy and manufacturing of consumer goods. (June 25, 2021, The Business Times of Singapore)
  8. Next year, Singapore will celebrate its 50th anniversary of bilateral relationships with Bangladesh. The country is also Singapore’s second-largest trading partner in South Asia, with a total bilateral trade of S$4.5 billion in 2019. (June 25, 2021, The Business Times of Singapore)

To recap, Singapore can mediate to bolster the strained relations between Bangladesh-Myanmar. Singapore can play to repatriate the Rohingyas in Rakhine in Myanmar. Singapore can easily solve the problem because it has very good relations with Myanmar.

However, as a well-wisher friend and partner in the development process and trade, Bangladesh can expect the cooperation and support of Singapore regarding the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. Bangladesh deserves it.


About the writer:

Pathik Hasan, Dhaka-based NGO activist and freelance writer on contemporary international issues whose work has been published in many local and international publications. Academic background: BSS and MSS in Peace and Conflict studies under the University of Dhaka. He can be reached at pathikhasan1141@gmail.com