Why Norway Should Help the Rohingya Refugees

Written by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from LetterToNorway.com

Why Norway?

Of all the countries in the world that could get this right, Norway is surely number one.

In many areas of human endeavor, the tiny country of Norway (population 5.2 million) excels beyond all expectations — being one of the first to win the coveted top position on the UN Happiness Index, likewise on the Social Progress Imperative (SPI) an index that measures quality of life metrics, and in many other ways Norway is an ongoing success story.

Norway ranks very highly on per capita income, on the safety and security of its residents (it averages 1 murder annually) and it’s the go-to arbitrator for countries experiencing internal or external conflict. And almost unheard of anywhere, Norway donates 1% of its GDP to foreign aid.

Citizens enjoy a high standard of living, the country features a highly-ranked healthcare system and it also offers tuition-free university education for all residents whether they’re native Norwegians or not.

Norway seems to enjoy a permanently healthy economy with a 2.5% unemployment rate, while the country’s pension fund shows a +1 trillion dollar surplus which is sometimes used to fund government infrastructure or joint public/private projects in Norway.

Because Norway is so advanced and is such a safe and wholesome place to raise children, many European executives live in Norway and fly to and from their EU office daily. Others work the entire week in the EU, returning to their families on the weekends.

Even when compared to the EU which is one of the pinnacles of human civilization, Norway continues to stand out as an example of ongoing excellence in governance and environmental stewardship.


Lots of Global Talk About the Rohingya: Not Much Action

For all the political posturing that has been going on around the world over the past year, nothing has changed for the Rohingya people.

And a year from now most politicians and pundits will still be chuntering on about the terrible conditions in Myanmar where several hundred thousand Rohingya people have fled across the Bangladesh border only to become encamped in the mud, living in miserable ‘homes’ made out of whatever floated down the river that week.

Norway news - Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, August 2017.
Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, August 2017. Image courtesy of Australian Broadcast Corporation

The tragedy in Myanmar has been going on for decades and the genocide in the country will continue regardless of the endless talk among the world’s politicians. Nothing will be done. The Rohingya are finished in the absence of outside assistance.


What Could Norway Do for the Rohingya?

Because nobody knows what to do, Norway will have to set the example for other countries.

The country could build a community in small-town Norway to show countries how to help refugees — a working model that’s people-based — because the Rohingya are human beings. They’re not faceless numbers on a chart.

It’s time for some of that Norwegian excellence to shine through!


FOR EXAMPLE:

The town of Bodø in Norway is a thriving community of 51,000 people. (I’m using Bodø as an example because it was destroyed in WWII and was kindly rebuilt by the Swedes in the postwar era and that part of the town still remains an important part of Bodø, adding to the cultural richness of the region)

If the Norwegian government, acting with one or more investor groups, built an apartment complex near Bodø to hold 1000 Myanmar refugees complete with a recreation centre, an indoor swimming pool, an outdoor ice rink, a medical/dental clinic, some minor food and clothing stores tailored to the specific needs of the Rohingya, and an auditorium (which could also serve as a basic schoolroom during weekdays) Norway could admit 1000 Rohingya for a strictly time-limited 6 month period.

The Rohingya could have all their medical, psychological, and dental needs attended to — and the payoff for Norway is that the country’s future Doctors, Psychologists, Dentists, Nurses and more, could gain plenty of experience in the treatment of those patients during the required practicum portion of their education.

After 6-months, those 1000 refugees would return to Myanmar or Bangladesh in much better health, with more education, and a better understanding about how Western society works.

And after a three week cleanup and repaint interval (as required by facility administrators and maintenance staff) a completely different set of 1000 refugees would arrive in Bodø and the process of helping Rohingya would begin anew.

In effect, relatively small groups of Rohingya would spend 6 months away from (what is basically) Hell on Earth in Myanmar and southern Bangladesh — and also provide a minor boost to the Bodø economy.

Yes, Norway would need to divert some of its foreign aid budget to building such facilities (Bodø construction companies would love it!) and provide the Rohingya with some minimal income to spend in Bodø stores (for those Rohingya who want to venture into the town) and some strong and able Rohingya men might want to volunteer for clearing Bodø sidewalks of snow in the winter, etc. and such volunteerism should be strongly encouraged by the administrators of the 1000-person complex.

The Rohingya would arrive in Norway courtesy of the Norwegian government, be housed, receive medical care, learn basic Norwegian or English language, see how successful societies work, learn about and practice volunteerism, understand the Western mindset of ‘Can Do’ vs. ‘Can’t Do’ and return to their country brimming with new ideas and enthusiasm to make their country better.

Their default mindset will thenceforth veer towards the obvious success story they witnessed in Norway instead of being easily-led to disaster by the military strongmen and religious fanatics common in their home region.


More ‘Bang for the Buck’

Norway can spend 20 million dollars (for example) to help the Rohingya encamped in squalor in southern Bangladesh where it will get very little value for the money — or it can spend 20 million dollars in the Bodø economy and help 2000 Rohingya per year, and thereby provide a significant benefit to the refugees and to the businesses of Bodø.

One way (the typical way countries help refugees) is about ‘working hard’ to help refugees within their own conflict-ridden country, while the way I propose is about ‘working smart’ to help strictly-limited numbers of refugees that have been transferred to Norway.

See the difference?

Years from now when the Rohingya crisis is over, Norway may have helped 10,000 or even 30,000 Rohingya refugees doing it the ‘smart way’ — and that Bodø facility will remain and be available for other refugee groups in the future that the government of Norway may invite for short-term stays and once again boost the Norwegian economy.


A Simple Redirection of the Norwegian Foreign Aid Budget

By diverting $20 million from Norway’s annual foreign aid budget to help refugees (but helping them within Norway, instead of helping them in Myanmar or southern Bangladesh) 2000 Rohingya per year could receive excellent medical, psychological and dental care from Norwegian pre-med students, the refugees could have a rest from their deplorable living conditions, learn about the Western ‘Can Do’ mindset, experience an ultra-successful culture in Norway, learn about volunteerism and return to their own region knowing that Norwegians care about them and those Rohingya will thenceforth find extremist archetypes far less appealing for the rest of their lives.

And that’s a win for everyone!


 

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)