Oh ASEAN brothers where art though with the Rohingya crisis?

Over the past weeks incredible drama has broken out here in Southeast Asia. The whole world is talking about the current migrant crisis and the fact that thousands (!!) of people are trapped on boats in the Andaman Sea between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. While there have been some very insightful and also some very emotional (according to lots of netizens even too emotional) reports on the crisis there are still a few subjects left that need to be addressed.

History & Nobel Peace Prize

I am not even talking about the ‘reason’ for this misery. The problems caused way back by the British Empire and Burma. I am also not talking about the fact that Myanmar (Burma) actually has a list that states which ethnicities they recognize as “Burmese” and that they hunt down their own people based on their ethnicity and believes. This is obviously unacceptable. Everyone with some kind of humanity left inside can’t possible somehow think that all this is ok. Also I don’t want to talk too much about the criticism against Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. More and more voices (especially here in Southeast Asia) claim that the former nobel peace prize winner should have stepped up and made a statement in favor of the prosecuted Rohingya people. Her party eventually came through a few days ago by stating that they consider all people as ‘humans’ and therefore they all should have human rights. That does not sound like a very confident and convinced stance on that topic though and does not satisfy many of her former supporters. The question, what she could have done or what her speaking up would have changed, remains of course though. Nevertheless taking a stance for humanitarian issues would probably not have been the worst of ideas.

O ASEAN, ASEAN! Wherefore art thou ASEAN?

What makes me really wonder is why in God’s (Allah’s, Buddha’s) name our super mega awesome “everything is fine and we are all brothers” ASEAN community isn’t working together to solve this crisis. Did they really think this  ‘let’s pull the boat back out into the open sea’ approach would solve any of their problems? Or did we, as ASEAN members, simply hope to get rid of those migrants and they would disappear like MH370 or the one boat that hasn’t been spotted in over a week now? With the AEC coming to life by the end of this year shouldn’t we all be able to work together and solve every crisis as fast as possible in order to be ready to work as one community?

I’ve talked about this in my presentation about censorship in Southeast Asia already but in situations like this it becomes even more obvious and I have to quote Malaysian politician Mohamed Azmin Ali again:

non-interference ASEAN
non-interference ASEAN

This non-intereference policy is probably one of the single most annoying policies or approaches around. Something that keeps communities, and on private level, friendships from developing but since it is so deeply rooted in Asian culture it is hard to change – even though most community members understand that it’s a hindrance.

Brothers in Arms

There’s this saying of brothers in arms (and also there is this song). That you will fight together when there’s something threatening you. This crisis threatens the trustworthiness and overall believability of the ASEAN community before AEC even starts. If ASEAN can’t solve this crisis by itself, what should potential future AEC partners think about entering binding relationships with the union? Instead of working and fighting together ASEAN member states turn away and say ‘nope, not my problem’ and point with fingers at others. If this behavior won’t change then AEC will be in dire straits way before it comes into existence.

Illegal immigrants, not refugees – not people

While I am typing this article news are in that a meeting between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia led to some kind of agreement that will see Indonesia and Malaysia taking in 7,000 migrants. They, however, will not search actively for them at sea. This means those who will be washed ashore and live will be lucky enough to find some kind of shelter in Malayisa or Indonesia. This comes a day after The Philippines, a country that is not directly involved, offered its support and said it would take in refugees since it would be the humane thing to do. This from a country that is ridden by natural disasters on an almost bi-weekly basis (at least it feels like this). Furthermore fishermen from Indonesia rescued about a thousand of those migrants by themselves a few days back whiteout asking the government for approval since “If you are in trouble on sea it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. We help each other”. Not sure if that played into the decision of Indonesia and Myanmar but let’s just be at least somehow happier with what just transpired. Still far away from solving the issue though of course.

Hey didn’t I mention Thailand was part of that meeting too? Yes they were. So how many migrants are we taking in? Did we also sign the agreement? Have a guess. Cero, Nada. Niet. No. We still keep the ‘detention centers’ (not refugee camps! – that’s important for the government to point out) open though.

Why should Siam help Burma, right?

While everyone involved, except of Thailand, now seem to show some kind of humanity all parties are still busy pointing out that those Rohingyas and Bengalis are not refugees but illegal immigrants and that they will be treated accordingly.

right on the outside lane

Since we are based here in Thailand, and with the latest news in, I can’t let this one go without mentioning what’s happening here. When checking my Facebook feed and several online forums (pantip, or even twitter) it is terrifying to see how many Thai people seem to think about those poor Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants. They are looking down on them and talk about them as if they were second third class people. I’m not a big friend of comparing the history of my home country to current happenings but some of those people voicing their opinion here could easily be in the lead of some of the right wing parties in Germany (or other European countries). I’m not as much as angry about those stupid remarks and uneducated opinions as I am sad and terrified. People with such an attitude and such biased views normally should not be trusted in any form. Having that said I can already imagine the first comments that will read: “If you don’t like our opinion, then leave the country” and things like that.

Besides myself almost every western nation, the US as example, are now getting heat from all sides here for condemning how Thailand and other nations (especially Myanmar) are handling the issue. Western states are told to stay out and take care of their own business. That’s not how it works though. If you screw up, your big brother will step in and tell you, that you suck. First you will hate him but in the future you might thank him. Let’s see if any of us will see that future happening though.

Luckily though there are also lots of ‘normal’ thinking people here as well who simply hope that this issue will be solved with as little casualties as possible. The amount of ignorant right wing influenced people here however is, again, terrifyingly high.

If Thailand and all other ASEAN member states want AEC to become a success and want to be able to compete and cooperate on international level and want to be taken serious they have to stop whining and pointing at each other. It’s time to join forces and make the whole region a better place. For you, and for me, and the entire human race.


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Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at
Sascha is the publisher of and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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