By P. Prem Kumar
The Rohingya crisis in Myanmar should be seen as a humanitarian issue rather than a religious one, a Myanmar rights activist told a forum in capital Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
Speaking at the launch of the Burma Human Rights Network’s report on persecution of Rohingya Muslims, executive director of the body, Kyaw Yin, warned that the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar could trigger greater influence of extremism among victims.
He pointed out that some disenfranchised Muslims in Myanmar were joining armed groups due to sufferings and injustice they face in their own homeland.
"The actions by the Rohingya people by joining the extremist groups could undo all the work that the international community has put in to advocate for their plight," Kyaw Yin told the forum organized by the Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies based in Kuala Lumpur.
Also, speaking at the forum, the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights' Malaysian Chairman Edmund Bon said the international community was still hopeful about the ASEAN resolving the crisis in Myanmar.
The 10-member group can still intervene proactively to ease the situation in Myanmar, rather than issuing "blanket statements", Bon said.
"Malaysian and international community still have hopes on the ASEAN to step in and resolve the crisis. ASEAN have used its dialogue and diplomatic ties to ease many tensions around the world, and it would be injustice for them not to step in a crisis which happens at home."
The chairman said Malaysia had engaged with Myanmar many times before on the issue, adding, however, bilateral diplomacy had "certain limits".
Malaysia has repeatedly used the ASEAN platform to engage the Myanmar government to find a solution on the matter, but so far, the latter has refused to allow a fact-finding mission in the Rakhine State.
The number of Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh in the past month has risen to 436,000, the UN said Monday.
The refugees are fleeing a security operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages. According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.
Humanitarian outfits have called for an independent probe into the ongoing security operations and reported rapes and rights abuses in Rakhine, as with the area placed under military lockdown since October 2016, rights groups and international reporters have been unable to enter.
Since last October, Malaysia has criticized Myanmar's government and military over ongoing violence in Rakhine -- which some officials have called an "ethnic cleansing" -- canceling two football matches scheduled to take place in Myanmar this month and requesting an immediate appointment with Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
Last December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak led thousands of rally participants -- including thousands of Rohingya, many of them refugees -- to firmly tell Suu Kyi -- a Nobel Peace laureate -- "that enough is enough".
Razak also accused Myanmar’s government of having "warned" him about organizing the rally, but said the Malaysian government was "not afraid of such diplomatic pressures".
Malaysia currently hosts one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world. As of 2014, some 146,020 refugees and asylum seekers had been registered with the UN Refugee Agency in Malaysia, of which the vast majority or some 135,000 are from Myanmar.
The three largest ethnic groups of them are the Chins, Rohingya and Myanmar Muslims.