Malaysia seeks ASEAN's role to resolve Rohingya crisis

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Malaysia has urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to address the civil war in Myanmar’s Rakhine state to find a long-term solution to the Rohingya crisis that affects Bangladesh in many ways, reports news agency UNB.

"The civil war in the Rakhine state needs to be addressed by ASEAN if the long-term status of Rohingyas is to be fully resolved," said Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah on Friday, the second day of a two-day ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Vietnam.

He said as the likelihood of the return of Rohingya refugees remains unlikely and dangerous, the Myanmar government should first provide citizenship to the Rohingyas within its borders, estimated at some 500,000.

Saifuddin said Malaysia maintains its position on Myanmar - that the perpetrators of the genocide must be brought to justice, repatriation that is voluntary, safe and dignified should happen as quickly as possible through consultation with the Rohingyas.

He said the ASEAN should constructively engage China and Myanmar, together with Bangladesh, according to the statement shared by the Malaysian foreign minister on his verified Facebook page.

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The Malaysian foreign minister said they will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Rakhine state, Bangladesh, as well as in Malaysia.

"Given the current challenges to return for the Rohingyas, those who are in Cox's Bazar, among others due to the trust deficit against the Myanmar government, which has to be addressed accordingly," he said.

The foreign minister said it is imperative that a region wide prioritisation on the Rohingyas' right to a free, decent and dignified life ie by creating conducive conditions for human security and inclusive development for all communities and increasing humanitarian access is essential before repatriation should be pushed further.

"This includes solutions for education, livelihood, economic empowerment and recognition of cultural and religious identity," he said.

Saifuddin said the discourse should be expanded beyond immediate return to a comprehensive discussion on the complexities of the conflict in the Rakhine state.

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"China's economic and political interest in the Rakhine state and its strong bilateral relations with Myanmar presents an opportunity to influence the latter towards a more creative and comprehensive approach," he said.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal on 23 November 2017.

On 16 January 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar inked a document on "Physical Arrangement", which was supposed to facilitate the repatriation. It stipulates that the repatriation will be completed preferably within two years from the start.

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Despite all the preparations, no Rohingya turned up on 22 August last year to accept the "voluntary" repatriation offer, prompting authorities to suspend the process for the day.

The first batch of Rohingyas was scheduled to return on 15 November 2018 but it was also halted amid the unwillingness of Rohingyas to go back for the lack of a congenial atmosphere in Rakhine state.

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