The Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Bangladesh Seeks Solutions

by John Brian ShannonReposted from JohnBrianShannon.com

Due to high levels of harassment, intimidation and conflict deaths in Myanmar (also called Burma) that is openly carried out by hostile Buddhists and (purportedly) by Burmese government troops, some 400,000 Rohingya muslims have fled in recent days to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The refugees are arriving tired, afraid, hungry and disoriented as they flee their burning villages. Sixty per cent of those fleeing, are women and children.

It’s not that Burma hasn’t any Muslims. On the contrary, 4.3 per cent of the country are Muslim (about 2.6 million in total) while 88 per cent (46 million) are Buddhist and 6 per cent are Christian.

What’s different for the Muslims in Burma is that due to arcane Burmese law, they aren’t allowed to own real estate (land or buildings) because they aren’t recognized as citizens due to the fact they can’t prove their ancestors lived there prior to 1823. The Rohingya are… human beings without a country.

In recent years over 100,000 have fled to nearby countries to work or to ask for refugee status. Most of them didn’t qualify for Burmese citizenship in the first place — and therefore arrived in a totally new country with no birth certificate, passport, other reliable identification, or even a family address. Intolerable, doesn’t begin to describe it.

Which is why hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have landed across the border in Bangladesh since August 25th. Up to 2.3 million more may arrive in the coming months if all Burmese muslims flee the country. If the present situation is any indication, it looks like all of them will leave Burma.


Why Not Just Go Back?

Burmese Rohingyas have nothing to return to, only burned out villages and increasingly hostile citizens. And once having crossed over into Bangladesh, they can’t cross back into the country in which they were born because they have no legal identification to show to Burmese border guards other than a long-distance telephone calling card (if they’re lucky) and no family address that is recognized by the Burmese authorities.

Myanmar laying landmines on Bangladesh border (so that Rohingyas can’t return) (Al Jazeera)


Following Burma's fleeing Rohingya
Since the late 1970’s: Following Burma’s fleeing Rohingya. Image courtesy of Al Jazeera

Bangladesh: The Promised Land for the Rohingya

For decades, the Rohingya have been leaving Burma for Bangladesh and other southeast Asian nations, seeking employment and a chance at a new life.

In those places, if they can find employment they can eventually apply for citizenship and become an actual citizen, with an actual street address, and be a person with an actual job and a real life. If you’re a factory owner that hires a Rohingya, you know they are highly motivated to succeed and that they will be the least problematic of all your workers.

However, even a successful economy like Bangladesh can’t accept millions of refugees in a matter of weeks. The country is doing relatively well for a developing nation and continues to improve its infrastructure and the lives of its citizens every year.

Bangladesh is ranked surprisingly highly by development agencies, and is often referred to ‘one of the next-11’ countries after the G20 countries.

An interesting note about Bangladesh is that they are the largest contributor in the world to UN peacekeeping missions — providing tough, fully trained troops for many UN operations. (The UN pays the wages of the Bangladesh soldiers under its command and supplies many of the tanks and APC’s that Bangla soldiers use while on UN missions, which is standard practice for the United Nations)


What Will it Take to Help the Rohingya?

  1. Plenty of international aid money
  2. Acceptance by Bangladesh citizens

In the southern region of Bangladesh, 409,000 Rohingya are being held in camps stretching along the border with Burma. While 60 per cent of the refugees are women and children, Bangladeshis worry about young Rohingya males who may have been exposed to extremist thought and could conceivably at least, act against Bangladesh citizens in the future. So far, nothing like that has been reported.

However, keeping hundreds of thousands of refugees in miserable and makeshift camps in hot and humid weather isn’t going to help anyone’s mood.

Even if the Rohingyas arrived there never having imagined a terrorist thought in their life, a year of living under those conditions won’t help to keep violent acts out of the minds of young men, who, like young men everywhere, are prone to acting on a perceived problem without properly thinking it through.

Rohingya refugees: ‘No words’ to describe Bangladesh camps, Red Cross says (abc.au)

Rohingya refugee camp, Bangladesh - August 2017. Image courtesy of Australian Broadcast Corporation
Rohingya refugee camp, Bangladesh – August 2017. Image courtesy of Australian Broadcast Corporation

If Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina can convince UN donors to generously fund the effort, her country has a very good chance of accommodating the sudden flood of refugees; Assisting them to find jobs, homes, and helping to build the strong sort of communities that are an asset to any country — but if it doesn’t happen in this manner, that region of Bangladesh is on the same path as the extremely hurtful (to all sides) Israeli/Palestinian conflict was at its very beginning. Nobody wants that.

Or do they? We’ll see what the response is when the UN General Assembly meets this week in New York.


What Jobs Can the Rohingya Do?

If Bangladesh elects to help the Rohingya fleeing persecution in Burma, the best way forward is to employ them as farm labourers in the southern part of the country. Many of these people have lived in rustic conditions and it will take some time before they will be getting jobs as CEO’s, airline pilots, or automobile designers. But that’s not to say they can’t make a valuable contribution to the Bangladesh economy — they can!

Starting the Rohningyas working in the fields will allow them to acclimatize to the new country and cement their place as valuable workers in Bangla society.

The most important thing for the Bangladeshi authorities to remember after taking care of food, shelter and medicine for the new refugees is to provide a sense of community.

Just dumping these people on a hunk of land and feeding them every day isn’t going to solve anything other than saving their lives, but the eventual result will be a social crisis on the scale of what we’re witnessing in the Philippines today.


What Kind of Housing for Working Rohingya Families?

Refugees that want to work should have access to temporary living quarters. You simply can’t get any sleep in a refugee camp (you know this if you’ve ever visited one!) and therefore, you won’t keep your job very long. Therefore, it’s important to relocate Rohingya workers to suitable accommodations for workers and their families until they can save up enough to purchase their own dwelling.

There are thousands of used portable offices and portable crew quarters in the world available at any time. Not only that, but the UN could purchase thousands of new ATCO-type portable trailers to house Rohingya workers and ship them to southern Bangladesh.

In that way, those Rohingyas that are able and willing to work, will have appropriate accommodation. The benefit of these portable buildings is that they are prewired for electricity, and stoves and heat are provided by natural gas tanks located on the exterior of the unit.

One point to remember about this kind of living quarters is that they can be lifted via crane and placed on top of solid stilts — this is important in Bangladesh as many areas of the country are prone to flooding. Many typical Bangla homes are placed on stilts to prevent flooding during the monsoon season.

Portable ATCO trailers could house Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh
Portable ATCO trailers could house Rohingya farm workers in Bangladesh. ATCO Ltd.

It seems Shaikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh sincerely wants to assist the Rohingya refugees and that’s admirable.

However, it’s going to take a few billion dollars just to meet the needs of these desperate people until the end of the year. After that, rather than allowing the miserable conditions of the refugee camps to become the fuel for conflict, the Rohingya must be proactively urged to find local work on the many farms in the region. It’s really the only option in this case.

Getting refugees employed is almost as important as sheltering and feeding them as they stream across the Bangladesh border.


Related Articles:

  • Aung San Suu Kyi invites international help for Rakhine crisis
    (Frontier Myanmar)
  • Bangladesh restricts Rohingya refugees, starts immunization
    (National Post)
  • Rohingya Muslims are being wiped off Myanmar’s map
    (National Post)

North Korea catches America’s attention

by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from JohnBrianShannon.com

Review: North Korea Invades South Korea in 1950

Let us never forget that it was North Korea, acting with the approval of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin that attacked a peaceful South Korea on June 25th, 1950 — an invasion that was opposed by all UN member nations except China, which later provided significant support to the North Korean side.

In all, more than 2.5 million civilians and over 1 million military personnel were killed (some 32,975 military personnel are still listed as ‘missing’) for a likely total of 3.5 million deaths attributable to the Korean War.

However, a since reclassified report said that 4.4 million deaths occurred as a result of the Korean War (and that number includes those who died from lack of food, water, medicine, or proper sanitation as a direct result of the war) and the responsibility for those deaths lay squarely on the people who initially approved the unprovoked invasion of South Korea: Kim Il-sung of North Korea, Joseph Stalin of the USSR, and while providing only minimal support at the beginning of the war it was China’s Mao Zedong who provided a dramatic increase in men and matériel to fight the UN force defending South Korea.


Armistice Signed in 1953

Since July 27, 1953 an armistice has remained in place between North Korea, China and Russia on one side of the conflict, and the countries of the United Nations on the other.

NOTE: An armistice is regarded as a state of ‘ceasefire’ and is also called a ‘cessation of hostilities’ but it isn’t an actual long-term peace agreement.


Not at War, But Not at Peace

From June 1954 when the official negotiating teams representing both sides wrapped up their work because they were unable to forge a long-term peace agreement due to the intransigence of North Korea’s political leaders (although North Korea’s military agreed on the need for a durable peace agreement during negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland “the Geneva Conference (1954)” and in fact, covertly floated the idea of UN powers helping them to stage a coup in North Korea) the Korean War hasn’t officially ended, although it’s important to remember that there has been no actual combat between the two sides in all those years, but there have been many instances of irritation between the former combatants.


A Country on a Permanent War Footing

In North Korea, the war never ended. At least the war mindset never ended. It’s a country that still prepares for war and it’s a country that expects to be attacked on any given day of the year. The economy is a ‘war economy’ which means that aside from growing food to feed its citizens and building homes to shelter them, everything is geared towards preparing for war.

“Women must serve in the army for about seven years, and men for 10 years.” — Newsweek

‘No country in the world could successfully invade and occupy North Korea’ it has been said by many experts. Every adult in the country has served a minimum of seven years in the North Korean military, and some have served their whole lives. The standing army numbers 1.1 million with another 7.7 million army reservists that can be called-up instantly.

Every city, every village, every building, every street, every farm area has been designed to favour the defenders, including some bridges, buildings and roads prewired with explosives to destroy them and there are estimated to be as many as 20-million land mines installed in forested land and in (what appears to be) agricultural belts. When you add that to the fact that every adult has served in the army and knows where to access those controls and their associated explosives, it makes war in the north a virtual death trap for any invading army, no matter how large or powerful.

All of their serious military facilities are deep underground — so far down that only repeated direct hits with nuclear weapons will shake those underground buildings enough to kill everyone inside. And even then, some may still survive if they’re strapped in and not bouncing off the walls or ceilings hard enough to break their necks during the shaking. And if they’re alive, they can still push buttons. The kind of buttons we don’t like.

The North Korean air force is small and it has few 4th and 5th-generation aircraft, but it’s designed for, and their pilots are expert at, the close air support role, which is another important factor to consider for any country considering invasion of North Korea.

The North Korean Navy is tiny, but the ace up its sleeve is a large fleet of highly-modified Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, some of which have been modified to accept ballistic missiles (although every attempted launch to date has failed) and the Kilo’s are generally noted for their stealth and are notorious for their ability to covertly deliver troops or supplies to any coast in the world. The USSR built hundreds of these small, but excellent submarines and conducted secret operations on every continent. Yes, every continent.

The Soviet Navy never installed ICBM missile tubes in Kilo-class subs, but the North Korean navy did. So, it’s just a matter of time before North Korea figures out the technical bits related to launching ballistic missiles from underwater.

NOTE: The Soviet Navy preferred to create a whole new class of submarine (the Akula-class) from which to launch ICBM’s and was an excellent decision from every conceivable safety standpoint.

The book on North Korea’s military is this: ARMY: The army is an extremely well-trained and capable army — one of the largest in the world — and it is well dug-in and the entire country has been set up to foil invasion. AIR FORCE: Small, but extremely well-trained for the close air support mission, and very capable in that role. NAVY: Small, almost non-existent surface fleet, but well trained for coastal reconnaissance — but their submarine fleet is large, with growing size and capability, and their capabilities are regularly underestimated by other countries.


Now North Korea has Nuclear Bombs and ICBM’s

Now that North Korea has admitted to having a small number of nuclear bombs and is testing advanced missiles, its leader has decided to use his nation’s war economy and military to get what he wants for his country.

That’s the basic psychology at work there, and we’ve seen this before. In fact, every war begins the same way.

Except, because negotiations between the UN nations and North Korea have been practically non-existent, nobody really knows what Kim Jong-un wants!

Obviously he wants something or he wouldn’t be firing nuclear-capable missiles across Japanese airspace or threatening the United States with nuclear missile attack.

And we don’t even know what the man wants…


At the Very Least, We Should Find Out What Kim Jong-un Wants

There’s no doubt that he will continue to improve the technology and capability of his submarine fleet. There’s no doubt his ICBM programme will continue to improve and there’s no chance of staging a coup in that country as the citizens and the military command are simply too loyal to the ‘Dear Leader’ as he’s known to his people.

So, as we’re stuck with him until he eventually passes away and North Korean politics becomes a lot more mainstream, we might as well engage in some high level diplomacy and find out what he wants. Perhaps he has some legitimate grievances and not-as-legitimate grievances, and some reasonable requests of the international community.

It costs nothing to talk. But not talking might result in nuclear war, especially if the present lack of communication continues past the time that Kim Jong-un’s ICBM’s become nuclear-capable and can travel thousands of miles.


Who Should Talk to North Korea?

In the war that was the Korean War, it was the UN member nations (with the exception of the USSR and China) that fought back against the North Korean invasion of South Korea — therefore, it was a war between the UN (minus two members) and North Korea — and therefore, any diplomatic initiatives which at this point are strongly advised, must be presented to North Korea by the United Nations.

At present, there’s nothing. Not even a weekly phone call.

Which is very distressing if you’re a person who happens to know what the stakes are.


Time is On Our Side

In the long run, if the rhetoric is kept to a low level and if high level diplomatic engagement becomes a number one priority for the United Nations negotiating teams and communications staff, and if reasonable requests from Jong-un are approved, all of us, including those in North Korea, will get to live. Yes, nuclear war is like that.

Constant diplomacy works every time but only because diplomacy takes place between human beings on both sides of any issue or conflict — and not between opposing computers. The application of professional diplomacy to any problem can solve anything, given enough effort and time.

Here’s the equation:
Conflict between humans + Diplomacy/Human Psychology = Positive Outcome

It’s just that it takes a high level of commitment to stick to it, and each and every action (not words, but actions) taken by the Jong-un regime will need to be carefully weighed and North Korea ‘punished’ or ‘rewarded’ as appropriate, using ‘soft power’ only, and we need to realize it’s going to take some amount of time.

The best way that human beings learn anything is via ‘carrot and stick’. Reward a person (even foreign dictators) every time they do something right (within reason) and punish them every time they do something wrong (within reason) and you are training that person to be your ally. Yes, with the right diplomacy, time is on our side.


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