THE green light from Myanmar to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to bring aid to the troubled state of Rakhine is to be welcomed.
THE green light from Myanmar to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to bring aid to the troubled state of Rakhine is to be welcomed. As the United Nations Food Programme estimated that 90,000 victims of the sectarian strife that broke out in June are in dire need of food, shelter and medicine, this means that cooperation with international aid organisations and not just from the OIC is needed. But as the Rohingya are Muslims, and there is understandably deep concern in the Muslim world about the plight of their brethren in Myanmar, it is of particular importance that access is given to relief missions from Muslim countries. It is also obviously an important issue for Asean as well, given Myanmar's membership and imminent chairmanship of the regional grouping.
The planned humanitarian mission by Putera 1Malaysia is indicative of the attention that the troubles in Myanmar has attracted from countries in the region as well as those with large Muslim populations. In this regard, its plan to channel aid is decidedly more meaningful and pragmatic than holding banners and shouting slogans in protests about the treatment of their fellow Muslims. Putera's focus on the refugees in Bangladesh is also well-timed as the thousands who have fled across the border live in makeshift camps and desperately need emergency assistance.
But as much as such humanitarian aid for the victims of the senseless violence is needed, it will only provide short-term relief and would not fully allay the worries of the Muslim world and the international community about the fate of the Rohingya. Certainly, the immediate need is to end the bloodshed and restore order, as there been reports of fresh violence despite the state of emergency and curfew, and the situation could get worse. But in the medium term, there is a need to address the underlying causes of the tensions between the two major communities. As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh for decades, and smaller numbers in Thailand and Malaysia, the problem will not simply go away with stop-gap arrangements such as emergency relief and international observers. Neither will hardline "we don't want them, you take them" approaches.
As the ongoing insurgencies in the northern Shan and Kachin states underscore, there is a need to build inter-ethnic and inter-religious trust to achieve national reconciliation. In the case of the Rohingya, there is a need to treat this religious minority respectfully and sympathetically as fully-fledged nationals and citizens rather than as foreigners and illegal immigrants who don't belong in Myanmar.