Scot­tish links with Myan­mar mean that we can­not turn a blind eye

Roddy Gow urges in­ter­ven­tion in the Ro­hingya cri­sis and says that the UK should lead a strong in­ter­na­tional re­sponse

The Scotsman - - Friends Of The Scotsman -

Amongst some of the worst news items re­cently have been the steady stream of hor­rific sto­ries em­a­nat­ing from Myan­mar – re­ports of op­pres­sion, death, rape and vi­o­lent dis­place­ment with the all too fa­mil­iar im­ages of des­per­ate refugees seek­ing safety.

Whilst the hu­man suf­fer­ing is not in ques­tion, there is con­sid­er­able dis­agree­ment as to where re­spon­si­bil­ity lies and what should be done to end the vi­o­lence and dis­place­ment.

Myan­mar was once called Burma and from 1824 to 1948 it was gov­erned by the Bri­tish as a colony, known of­ten as ‘the Scot­tish Colony’, due to the role played by Scots­men in run­ning the coun­try.

One of the most no­table was Sir James Scott and the Ir­rawaddy Flotilla Com­pany (IFC). The IFC was Scot­tish-owned and man­aged by P Hen­der­son & Com­pany from Glas­gow. It grew to be the largest river boat com­pany in the world with more than 600 ves­sels, car­ry­ing eight mil­lion pas­sen­gers and one and a quar­ter mil­lion tons of cargo a year.

Against this back­ground, the UK’S his­toric links sug­gest that we should be spear­head­ing ef­forts to deal with the mass dis­place­ment of peo­ple. We could cer­tainly lead an ini­tia­tive to in­ves­ti­gate the sit­u­a­tion and en­cour­age in­volve­ment by the United Na­tions. In his ex­cel­lent book The Ro­hingyas, In­side Myan­mar’s Hid­den Geno­cide, Azeem Ibrahim writes: “It is not enough for for­eign pow­ers to hide be­hind the ready be­lief that noth­ing they can say or do will in­flu­ence the regime (in Myan­mar) … in­ter­na­tional si­lence will be in­ter­preted as in­ter­na­tional dis­in­ter­est – re­mov­ing one of the few bar­ri­ers stand­ing be­tween the Ro­hingyas and geno­cide.”

Paul Scully MP, cur­rently a trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Burma, Thai­land and Brunei, writes: “The Bangladeshis’ worst-case sce­nario is that all 1.3 mil­lion Ro­hingya come over the bor­der. The best is that the Burmese mil­i­tary needs to end its dis­pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse to at­tacks from the mil­i­tant group Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army (ARSA).”

El­iz­a­beth Kennedy of In­de­pen­dent Diplo­mat, the non-profit diplo­matic ad­vi­sory group based in New York and Lon­don, says: “Since 25 Au­gust, the Myan­mar mil­i­tary has car­ried out a cam­paign of mass atroc­i­ties against the Ro­hingya, caus­ing more than half a mil­lion refugees to flee to Bangladesh. UN Sec­re­tary-gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res has called the sit­u­a­tion ‘the world’s fastest de­vel­op­ing emer­gency and a hu­man­i­tar­ian and hu­man rights night­mare’.

“Ro­hingya groups want gov­ern­ments to match their rhetoric with con­crete ac­tion. Specif­i­cally, gov­ern­ments should scale up hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­port for refugees in Bangladesh and in­ten­sify pres­sure on Myan­mar to al­low hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess to Rakhine state, where the atroc­i­ties took place.”

Keith Win, an ex­pert on Myan­mar who was born there, has mon­i­tored the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment for the last 20 years. He tells me that “the prob­lems in Rakhine can be traced back to the 19th cen­tury, with Ben­gali work­ers brought in for in­fra­struc­ture, trans­port and farm­ing re­quire­ments.

“After the Sec­ond World War, the sit­u­a­tion was ex­ac­er­bated in 1948 when mil­i­tant Mus­lims, who had mi­grated from Ben­gal, de­manded an Is­lamic state and started a ji­had re­sult­ing in the deaths of 30,000 – 40,000 lo­cal Bud­dhists and eth­nic groups and started a war of at­tri­tion that went on un­til the mid to late 50s.

“The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion which has led to such wide­spread suf­fer­ing was set in train on 25 Au­gust, when ter­ror­ists (ARSA) at­tacked 30 bor­der po­lice out­posts re­sult­ing in the death of 12 po­lice of­fi­cers, who were hacked and be­headed.

“The tim­ing is also sig­nif­i­cant and it would ap­pear it was pur­pose­fully cho­sen, as it was a cou­ple of weeks be­fore the start of the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly and the day after the re­lease of a re­port by Kofi An­nan to re­solve the north­ern Rakhine prob­lems. Th­ese re­cent events have set in train a vi­cious cy­cle of vi­o­lence which it is dif­fi­cult to con­trol.”

De­spite th­ese prob­lems, Myan­mar still at­tracts in­vest­ment and trade from com­pa­nies in the East but this will di­min­ish rapidly if the sit­u­a­tion is not re­solved.

Thai Myint-u, writ­ing in the FT, said: “The out­side world is ab­sorefugee

lutely right to pri­ori­tise the cri­sis at hand. it is equally im­por­tant, though, to jet­ti­son once and for all the Myan­mar fairy tale, and to ap­pre­ci­ate that work­ing in Myan­mar means work­ing with a near-failed state.”

The UK should take ur­gent steps to halt the vi­o­lence and re­strain the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment and those of us con­nected with the orig­i­nal Scot­tish Colony should speak out. Our cur­rent pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with Brexit is no ex­cuse for not in­ter­ven­ing and lead­ing a strong in­ter­na­tional re­sponse. The cre­ation of “safe zones” to fa­cil­i­tate the move­ment and set­tle­ment of dis­placed peo­ple, 60 per cent of whom are chil­dren, is an ab­so­lute im­per­a­tive. “Evil can only flour­ish when good men do noth­ing.” Roddy Gow, chair­man, The Asia Scot­land In­sti­tute.

0 More than half a mil­lion Ro­hingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh to es­cape vi­o­lence in Myan­mar

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.