The Future of Mindanao

By: Tang Zhen Yang

On 25 January 2019, voters in Philippines’ Muslim south overwhelmingly voted for the creation of an autonomous region called the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Many hoped this would bring peace in a region that has seen decades of fighting between rebel groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and government security forces.


Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in an emphatic display of loyalty
Picture Credit: BBC

The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country with a small but geographically concentrated region of Muslims mainly in parts of Mindanao in southern Philippines. With government-sponsored policies like the Homestead Program in the 1970s, which encouraged landless Christians to move to the southern areas populated by the Muslims, tensions over landownership and the disenfranchisement of the Moros drastically increased. This led to the foundation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), from which emerged the more well-known Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 1977, a rebel group fighting for Moro self-determination.

Other Actors

Filipino soldiers engaged in the conflict in Marawi.
Source: Reuters

The Abu Sayyaf is a jihadist militant and pirate group that had carried out a number of high-profile kidnappings between 2011 and 2016. Both MILF and MNLF distance themselves from the organisation, which the Philippine government has labeled a terrorist group. From 2014, Abu Sayyaf has also pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and was at the head of the capture of, and prolonged battle, in Marawi in 2017. Both MNLF and MILF have stood in opposition to the group and its ideology, assisting the Filipino government in the recapture of the city.

What Does the New Law Do?

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is expected to be fully in place by 2022, with a parliament and chief minister elected. In the short-term the revolutionary armed group of MILF, which has been the most prominent advocate of Moro self-determination, will form part of the transition government. As part of the peace agreement, MILF promises to decommission 30% of its combatants and weapons. In exchange, the Philippine government will increase the amount of development funds distributed to the Bangsamoro to US$950 million over the next ten years, while allowing the regional government to keep a larger chunk of the tax revenue generated within its borders and national receipts

Another ARMM?

Nur Misuari (left) meeting with President Duterte.
Source: ABS-CBN News

This is not the first time an autonomous region has been set up: The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created in 1990 following peace negotiations between the MNLF and the Philippine government. Despite initial agreements and hopes of success, a rebellion was restarted in 2001 after Nur Misuari, the governor of ARMM and chief of MNLF, accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement and not devolving sufficient autonomy to the region.

Yet, many are hopeful about the prospects of the new peace negotiations. For one, the government promises significant devolution of power to the local authorities, while retaining control of the police and security forces. Organisations like the MILF have also been responsive and cooperative, evident their support of the central government’s efforts to recapture the city of Marawi in 2017. With so much expectations placed on the new regional government, what it must do is to effectively utilise additional powers under the Bangsamoro law to govern and to convince the population that it is not merely an implementer of government policies that are unjust and prejudicial to the people of Moro. Otherwise, we might yet see a repeat of history.


LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2016: Infographic Contest Winners!

Thank you to those who attended the inaugural LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2016 just two days ago!

We are proud to share the winning infographics, and their accompanying write-ups, done by Pearl, Ying Zhao, and Cheryl, 3 students from LSE, that were presented at the forum. We were also impressed by the infographic submitted by another student, Malik, and have decided to share his infographic and write-up as well!

Congratulations to all winners and thank you to all participants!

1. “The Potential of Technology in ASEAN” by Pearl Yip, 2nd Year LSE Student in BSc Geography with Economics

Hi everyone, I’m Pearl, a Singaporean student studying BSc Geography with Economics. My academic interests are predominantly in the urban, international and environmental subfields of economics, but I have always had a keen interest in all issues relating to ASEAN. I am currently trying to learn Bahasa Indonesia, and I would love to work in an ASEAN country one day!


Infographic - Pearl Yip.png


The confluence of an emerging middle class and a youthful population lands ASEAN in an advantageous position. The potential for harnessing technology is unrivalled and unbounded, and I identify five salient technological trends integral in ASEAN’s development. Firstly, I deem mobile internet a powerful tool that can dissolve geographical barriers and grant rural populations access to information, products and services. Being plugged online expedites business processes, transactions, exchange of ideas, and culminates in an ecosystem where everyone is interconnected, all the time. Secondly, with a combined population of 650 million, the potential for harnessing big data simply cannot be ignored. The rising middle class population presents vast consumption opportunities that retailers must reach out to and tap on, and to do so effectively requires harnessing big data for cross-channel success. The potential for big data transcends merely understanding and targeting customers. It can be used to optimise business processes, enhance law and security, improve public healthcare systems and even augment sports performance. The opportunities are limitless. Thirdly, automation can, rather unambiguously, lead a country down the path of efficiency and rapid development. With advances in, inter alia, artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural user interfaces, machines have outstripped the need for humans to complete mundane tasks. While that portends a looming threat over unskilled workers, equipping our workers to work with automation in their favour can generate massive productivity increases. This means workers can perform tasks that are bigger, better and faster. Cloud technology is another important trend that has the propensity to reduce costs by pooling and consolidating information. This is widely practiced in the healthcare industry, where hospitals pool patient data and this allows for more effective patient treatment. Last but certainly not the least, I believe that social media will be wielded as a powerful tool now and in generations to come. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram help people stay connected with each other, and widespread use of these networks present vast advertising opportunities. The large numbers of users also mean that the dissemination of information has never been faster. In sum, the enthusiasm for recognising these phenomena must never be taken at face value, but must be acted upon and materialised into an ASEAN that is technologically-advanced and developed.

2. “ASEAN Horizons: Security” by Ying Zhao, LSE Student in MSc Comparative Politics

I come from Nanjing, China. I study comparative politics in the Government Department, and I’m interested in Chinese politics.


Infographic - Ying Zhao.png


The Southeast Asian region attains growing attention and importance in the world, and its security issues become a concern shared by the globe. Security issues are mainly consisted of territorial disputes, domestic political stability and regional economic stability. Maritime territorial disputes are most intense in the South China Sea between China and other competing actors such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, due to abundant resources involved here. It is estimated that there are 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Although the Philippines appealed to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague in 2014, China refused to be bound by United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and insisted on sovereignty over the South China Sea. To “avoid escalation of disputes” and to “mediate the imbalanced power”, U.S. decided to send troops and military equipment to the Philippines on a regular base. Apart from this, tension between China and Japan over Diaoyu Island aroused nationalist sentiments in both countries and influenced trade and investment. After 911, U.S. launched “global war against terror” and increased military presence in Southeast Asian region. Transnational militant Islamist group like Jemmah Islammiyah (JI) had cells in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. Although there is evidence of links between JI to al-Qaeda and the rise of more conservative Wahabite version of Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia, terrorism and radical Islamism are not as disastrous as that in the Middle East. Political instability also came from democratization process in Myanmar and Thailand and separatist movement in China. This domestic political turbulence might influence neighboring countries as large amount of migrants and refugees flowed out of their homeland and seek a new home. In terms of regional economic stability, Thailand face great challenge. The slowdown economic growth of China due to industry upgrading has influenced other countries’ economy because of its huge market. Besides issues mentioned above, there are other security problems, such as piracy and environmental degradation. And all these issues demand close discussion and consensus on solutions.

3. “ASEAN: Have We Arrived? Inclusive Growth & Development” by Cheryl Tham, 1st Year LSE Student in BSc International Relations

Originally from Singapore, I’m a first year International Relations student here at the LSE. I intend to specialise in International Political Economy (IPE) in my third year. A motto I try to live by – Do what you can; Start by starting. You only get what you grab for.




ASEAN has always been more than a static theoretical concept for me. My childhood has been peppered with ASEAN associations, many admittedly unbeknownst to me then. An avid chess player, I have represented Singapore at various ASEAN competitions. I distinctly remember the cultural performances after each day of competition. Looking back, these cultural exchanges were never merely casual entertainment for a good laugh and stretch. Indeed, one of ASEAN’s primary goals – agreed upon by the five founding states, including Singapore, was to accelerate cultural development in the region. My family has been blessed with our domestic help who hails from the Philippines, whom I affectionately call ‘Aunty Sylvia’. She represents many Filipinas who left their families and loves ones (most notably their infant children) for a foreign country to earn their keep. Despite the growing Filipino community in Singapore, there remains much room for social integration. Recent distasteful remarks about the congregation of Filipinas in front of Lucky Plaza, a shopping centre on the iconic shopping belt only echo sentiments of the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) incident when Singaporeans were up in arms protesting against the construction of a foreign workers’ dormitory in the heart of a residential estate, Serangoon Gardens. In light of the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, a growing proportion of migrant workers will be expected to hail from the region. To this end, grandiose notions of One Vision, One Identity, One Community must be matched with grassroots efforts of comparable vigour to foster a greater sense of ASEAN identity amongst our population, young and old alike. Since moving to London recently, I have had the privilege to enjoy the conveniences of the EU, most prominently the ease of travel within the Schengen Zone. While both regional blocs have witnessed successes in a growth in member-states, each faces mounting challenges looming ahead. The upcoming historical Brexit referendum threatens to forever change the EU narrative. ASEAN faces the perennial power-balance between China and India. To this end, both blocs should look to each other for counsel and inspiration to chart the future.

4. “Inclusive Development for ASEAN: Building a Regional Youth Consultative Assembly” by Abdul Malik Omar, LSE Student in MSc Local Economic Development


Building a Regional Youth Consultative Assembly.png


ASEAN is a sociopolitical and economic organisation of ten Southeast Asian countries which aims at accelerating economic growth, social progress, and sociocultural evolution in the region. In 2015, it has a nominal GDP of more than US$2.6 trillion placing it to be one of the top economic zones in the world. ASEAN’s population in 2015 stands at approximately 625 million people or 8.8% of the world’s population. Over half of them are below 30 years old. One can say they play a huge role in shaping the region one day. Despite this stark demographic, the youths are underrepresented in public policy making. We need to change this. To solve this issue, I propose ASEAN to create a Regional Youth Consultative Assembly, a yearly gathering of youths which ties in to the ASEAN Summit, which works to provide a platform for the youths to engage, discuss, and collaborate to solve issues and secure opportunities present in the region.

There is a four-step guideline in achieving such end: First is to reintroduce the consultative platform into the ASEAN Summit. Second, to select youth leaders in the region to represent their own countries in the event. Third, to pass and rectify resolutions in an UN Model-like framework. Finally, it is for the government to continually invest in their youths in building up their capacities to lead one day. Challenges arise. Among them is the commitment needed for member governments to carry out this project into reality, resource and capacity constraints, and the danger of tokenism. But opportunities abound, such that it can empower the future leaders of the region to make changes NOW in creating a cohesive, sustainable region. The other potential would be the realisation of a regional youth parliament one day. To conclude, the youths are the key to the future in the region. To ignore them is to ignore ASEANs future. The need to reintroduce ASEANs Youth Consultative Platform will go a long way in improving the state of ASEAN. It has been done before, it can be done again. Regional Youth Consultative Assembly must be realised.




ASEAN Interview Series Part 3: On the ASEAN Economic Community


In our final series of interviews on ASEAN, we feature the ASEAN Economic Community and its future trajectory. We have the privilege of discussing these issues with Ms. Sanchita Basu Das, head of research (Economic Affairs) at the Yusof Ishak Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore

1. Why should one be concerned about the enormous efforts expended by ASEAN countries to ensure the success of the AEC?

At this moment AEC is a work in progress. While tariff elimination has been achieved between ASEAN countries, there are several facilitation measures under trade and investment (like non-tariff measures, customs modernisation, standards and conformance, single window, streamlining investment procedures and others) that are yet to be fully implemented by the member countries. ASEAN also suffers from development divide and hence the region is viewed as 10 separate economies rather than a single market and production base, as stipulated in the 2007 AEC blueprint. The private sector is still learning about AEC, leading to low utilisation rate of ASEAN preferences.

2. What is the impact of the AEC on the different economies in the ASEAN region?

There are couple of econometric modelling done to estimate the impact. However, it is difficult to be accurate as AEC goes much beyond than liberalisation. AEC’s main value addition is in facilitation initiatives, thereby acting as a catalyst for the member countries to undertake domestic reform under changing global circumstances. AEC  also helps less developed ASEAN members to attract support in terms of capacity building exercises and technical knowledge building and prepare them to participate in low value added activities of production networks. As AEC follows principle of open regionalism, it connects the member economies to the bigger economies of Asia- China, South Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand and Japan.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing the idea of the AEC and do you think that ASEAN can successfully overcome these problems? 

The biggest challenges facing the idea of AEC are the non-tariff measures, awareness of businesses and people and ASEAN development divide. For NTMs, although there are ways suggested under ASEAN trade in goods agreement (ATIGA) to minimise such barriers, it’s voluntary in nature and there are no ways to distinguish a ntm to non-tariff barriers. With global economic uncertainties, NTMs will be on the rise. For business awareness, ASEAN has set up ASEAN business advisory council and also running several workshops in national economies. However, it will take some time to change attitudes of businesses. Regarding people, they are yet to see any benefits in terms of rising income or more job opportunities due to AEC. Lastly, development divide will continue to challenge ASEAN integration due to lack of policy, human resource and physical infrastructure in less developed countries.

Yes, ASEAN can address these issues and there are already mechanisms mentioned in the new AEC blueprint 2025 (ASEAN connectivity plan, initiative of ASEAN integration, building ASEAN identity). There are indeed progress happening in facilitation measures in national economies- customs, national trade repository, national single window and others. With countries aspiring to join trans-Pacific partnership in the future, fulfilling AEC goals is a necessary action in that direction.

Infographic Contest: LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2016

2016 SEAF IGC - FB Cover (no deadline).jpg

Want to be involved in the inaugural LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2016, organised by the LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre (SEAC)?

Then take part in the LSESU ASEAN Society’s Infographic Contest, held in collaboration with LSE SEAC, and stand a chance to present your findings at the forum as well as obtain tickets to the full-day event!

LSE Southeast Asia Forum 2016

Poster for forum v2[7][2].jpg

The LSE Southeast Asia Forum (SEAF), organised by the LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre (LSE SEAC) will take place on Friday 13th May 2016. The Forum is a unique opportunity to engage with Southeast Asia’s most critical issues, network with renowned experts on the region and encourage student participation in high-level debates. 

Date: Friday 13th May 2016
Venue: The Lincoln Centre, 18 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London

Opening keynote lecture 
Panel I: ASEAN Security
Panel II: Religion in Southeast Asia
Panel III: LSE SU ASEAN Society, ‘ASEAN Horizons’ Poster Winners
Panel IV: Inclusion and Exclusion in Southeast Asia
Closing keynote lecture

For the full programme and more information on how to register please visit the LSE SEAC website here or contact Ms Jenny Burns at

Hashtag: #LSESEAF

Infographic Contest

2016 SEAF- How to Participate (no deadline)

  1. Form a team/Enter as an individual: Form teams of 2 OR submit as an individual. Note that this competition is only open to LSE students, from all years.
  2. Design an infographic: revolving around the theme of “ASEAN Horizons”. Suggested sub-themes include: Religion / Security / Inclusive Growth & Development; these are the themes of the 3 panel discussions that will be held during the Forum (you are not limited to these sub-themes!).
  3. Construct a 350-word description about your infographic
  4. Send it to, along with your:
    1. Name
    2. Level & Course of Study
    3. Nationality (if from SEA)
    4. LSE email address
  5. 3 winners (teams and/or individuals) will be picked to present their infographics in a 10-minute presentation at the full-day Southeast Asia Forum on 13 May 2016! *Please note that submission of entry indicates commitment to attending ASEAN Society’s presentation slot (one-hour) at the Forum on 13 May.*

Judging Criteria:

Infographic & Blurb:

  • Content (out of 10): Significance of the issue communicated & Centrality to concerns of ASEAN’s citizens overall.;
  • Design (out of 10): Power and clarity of message communicated; [clarity/power of infographic; clarity/power of blurb]

Your infographic will be judged anonymously by a panel of LSE SEAC Associates. Results will be announced on the first week of May 2016.

Participants will also be sent an email regarding their results and winners will be emailed an official ticket to the Forum.

Technical Specifications:

  • Infographic: A3 sized, scalable poster of portrait orientation, in full colour, and 300dpi resolution
  • Blurb: 350 words, in .pdf format

Please email the LSESU ASEAN Society at should you have any queries, or drop us a Facebook message at our page @ We look forward to receiving your entries!

LSESU ASEAN Society wins Best New Society!


The LSESU ASEAN Society is proud to announce that we have been awarded the Best New Society award in the LSESU STARS and SU Awards Ceremony 2o16! Link to the Students’ Union page here.


The Students’ Union (SU) Awards reward and recognise the best student groups, campaigns and individuals who have contributed to LSESU over the past year or throughout their time here.

We are proud to have been able to make a contribution to the diversity and dynamism of the LSE student community, and to have facilitated discussions and interactions Southeast Asian students from a  range of diverse backgrounds through the events we have held over the span of the 3 months since we have set up our society, to the achievement of this award!

A list of the events that we have held thus far:

Lent 2016

  1. Lent Term 2016 AGM
  2. Discussion on South China Sea with the Ambassador of Philippines to the UK: In Collaboration with the LSE Southeast Asia Centre
  3. Get-to-Know SEA Series: Philippines Elections & Philippines Reform Agenda
  4. Get-to-Know SEA Series: Political Activism in Singapore
  5. Warwick ASEAN Conference
  6. Cereal SEA-ries: Politics in Singapore
  7. Model ASEAN Summit 2016
  8. Born into Brothels: Film Screening
  9. LSESU ASEAN Society Give-It-A-Go Session

Michaelmas 2015

  1. Michaelmas Term 2015 AGM
  2. Myanmar’s Way Forward: Perspectives on Myanmar and Film Screening of “The Lady” (2011)

Thank you to those who have supported us thus far, including the LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, and our friends from the various national Southeast Asian societies, including the Singapore Society, Malaysia Club, Vietnamese Society, Thai Society, and upcoming Indonesia Society.

Do look forward to our upcoming events and events we are involved in:

  1. Southeast Asia Forum organized by the Southeast Asia Centre, 13 May
  2. Freshers Fair and Give-it-a-Go, Michaelmas Term 2016
  3. Get-to-Know Southeast Asia: The Political Scene in Indonesia & Malaysia 

ASEAN Interview Series Part 2: On the Myanmar Refugee Crisis

Rohingya migrants in Aceh
Photo Credit: MSNBC

This week’s interviews will focus on the recent refugee crisis in Myanmar. These interviews tie-in with our inaugural Model ASEAN which places the spotlight on regional cooperation regarding this thorny issue. Clearly, the crisis represents a regional problem with international implications. What this illustrates is the immense challenge ASEAN will face in establishing a regional identity. If we are increasingly borderless, to what extent should we also be increasingly ‘nation-less’ or rather, look beyond the narrow binaries of national interests?

Our interviews this week attempts to cover a whole host of questions and implications through a variety of perspectives. Read on to discover the perspectives of the interviewees and more importantly, look out for Dr. Missbach’s anthropological study of the Rohingyas in Indonesia. 

The interviewees:

Mr. Han Guo Xiong, David

Mr. Han is a Research Analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. 

Dr. Antje Missbach

Dr. Missbach is a senior lecturer and research fellow at the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.

Ms. Silvia di Gaetano

Ms. di Gaetano is an independent human rights analyst with an expertise on the protection of stateless Rohingya people from Myanmar.  Ms. di Gaetano has been appointed Myanmar COI (Country of Origin Information) Expert at the Rights in Exile Program (IRRI) in Oxford. Previously she was a member of the Statelessness Working Group at the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) in Bangkok and worked at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for Southeast Asia. The views expressed herein are the author’s own and do not represent in any way the position of UNHCR or the United Nations.

Without further ado, the interview:

1.  Why should one take note of the Rohingya crisis? Are there any longer-term implications?

Ms. di Gaetano:

The plight of the Rohingya people represents one of the worst cases of human tragedy since the Holocaust, in which a particular ethnic and religious group was targeted for its existence. 

Rohingya people are one of the most persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in the world according to the UN – subjected to forced labour, holding no land rights, experiencing severe limitations on freedom of movement, on the right to marry and register a newborn child, and on access to education and employment.

The Rohingya are fleeing systematic human rights violations by the Myanmar government, who stripped them of their citizenship under the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law, rendering them stateless. UNHCR estimates that 1.3 million Rohingya live in the Rakhine State of western Myanmar, making up less than 3% of the entire population (53.7 million, 2014 estimate). In a predominantly Buddhist country like Myanmar, Muslim Rohingya minorities are perceived as “Illegal Immigrants from Bangladesh,” not only by the community but most importantly by the authorities.

In October 2012, the Rohingya were subject to attacks from Buddhist Rakhine people who destroyed their homes and caused the forced displacement of more than 130,000 persons.

Most Rohingya people fearing continued persecution have fled Myanmar using the services of smugglers.

Rejected from all countries and turned out from their own, the Rohingya are not the responsibility of just Myanmar anymore, but of all Southeast Asian countries and the international community.

Mr. Han:

One should take note of the Rohingya crisis due to humanitarian reasons and the impact at the regional level concerning Southeast Asian countries affected by the crisis.  Due to sectarian conflicts in Myanmar, large numbers of Rohingyas, a Muslim minority ethinc group, have left Myanmar by sea and land for aspirations of better life elsewhere.  Unfortunately, the poor living conditions on board the boats carrying the refugees and the appalling treatment of the refugees in illegal human trafficking have added to the predicament of the Rohingyas refugees.  Thus, from an altruistic and humanitarian point of view, the Rohingyas’ plight is an affront to the importance of basic human rights.  At the regional level, the Rohingya crisis could lead to potential social, economic and security problems for host countries which have accepted the Rohingya refugees.  The governments of these host countries are concerned that the presence of refugees could give rise to problems such as difficulties in maintaining law and order, spread of diseases, and diversion of precious economic resources to manage the refugees.  The Rohingya crisis also casts the spotlight on ASEAN’s ability to deal with the problem.  So far, ASEAN lacks the institutional capacity to implement concrete measures to resolve the Rohingya crisis effectively at the regional level.

2.  The “refugee policy vacuum” in Asia is particularly problematic. Given the disparity of opinions regarding the issue, is a solution possible in the near-term?

Ms. di Gaetano:

In South-East Asia only 3 States (Cambodia, Philippines and Timor-Leste) are parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention, therefore, the lack of asylum laws and the diversity of national legal frameworks make achieving regional harmonization challenging. 

Nevertheless, customary international law establishes the obligation of governments to respect the principle of non-refoulement, according to which refugees should not be returned to a place where they face persecution. 

Given the magnitude of the crisis, South-East Asian leaders must question the principle of non-interference in domestic matters of neighbouring countries in order to maintain peace and stability in the region.

Mr Han:

Short-term measures to handle the refugees already exists.  These include providing temporary shelters with basic amenities by host countries which have accepted these refugees, and donations from various Asian countries.  But these are not permanent and optimal solutions.  As these Rohingya refugees are stateless and without citizenship, it is almost impossible for these severely disadvantaged people to have access to education, jobs, accommodation, and so on.  Only a handful of Rohingyas have found access to a better quality of life.  Existing host countries are reluctant to open up their borders without restrictions to the Rohingyas, for it would pose potential problems for their societies and that they would constrained with their resources to cope with further influx of refugees.  Furthermore, by opening the borders without restrictions, it may also send the wrong signal to Myanmar that it can push responsibility away to other ASEAN countries without the urgent need to resolve the crisis back at home.  Unless the pervasive antipathy of Asian countries towards the refugee problems can be overturned, it is unlikely that an adequate solution is possible in the near-term.   

3.  The handling of the refugee crisis revealed a certain degree of impotence of ASEAN as an institution. Do you think that ASEAN’s diversity presents the single largest challenge to itself?

Ms. di Gaetano

The Rohingya refugee crisis requires a regional and international response. The ASEAN region cannot expect to realise the promise of the Asean Community without addressing the lack of a legal framework for protecting refugees in ASEAN. The missing piece is political will.

Mr. Daniel Han

One should not be too quick to blame ASEAN as largely responsible for the handling of the refugee crisis.  Nevertheless, ASEAN, though it has established itself as an ASEAN Community, still lack concrete measures and strong political will for an effective regional response to tackle the crisis.  The displacement of the Rohingyas seriously dampens one of the aims of the ASEAN Community which is to care for its diverse peoples who are supposed to form a unified ASEAN identity.  At best, the idea of an ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community is still an ideal to work towards to.  The key impotence of ASEAN in tackling the refugee crisis is the “ASEAN Way,” whereby ASEAN countries cooperate on the basis of consensus without interfering in the internal domestic affairs of each country.  As such, there is little in which other ASEAN countries could do to interfere in Myanmar’s own political and social problems that have given rise to the Rohingya crisis.  In ASEAN, there is a lack of concrete regulations and mechanisms to coordinate ASEAN wide efforts to deal with the crisis.  This is compounded by the fact that the host countries sheltering the refugees have to look after their own national interests to look after, such as the preservation of national integrity and shielding their country from potential social and security problems due to greater influx of refugees.  Myanmar has to shoulder the greater part of the responsibility and failure to deal with the crisis internally before it spread to the region.  In sum, existing weak ASEAN mechanisms, the national interests of each ASEAN country, and Myanmar’s inability to resolve the Rohingya crisis internally pose key difficulties for the helping the refugees permanently.

4.  Do you see any possibility for the hope of any fundamental changes occurring where the treatment of Rohingya minorities are concerned?

Ms. di Gaetano:

Many human rights violations have marked the life of the Rohingya people, leaving them without a sense of identity and belonging. The lack of legal status led the Rohingya to flee as refugees into neighboring countries.

The current crisis highlights the need to address the root causes of the violence against the Rohingya.

A solution to the plight of Rohingya people is of paramount importance for the region. The government of Myanmar has a legal obligation to protect all persons within its territory. The only solution to protect the rights of stateless Rohingya within Myanmar and in other countries entails the amendment of the 1982 Citizenship Act. Key in this process is the political commitment of the Myanmar Government to ensure rule of law and human rights for all the people of the Rakhine State.

Mr. Han:

The possibility of an immediate solution to make fundamental changes to how the Rohingya minorities are dealt with is not likely to take place any time soon.  While temporary measures could be formulated to deal with the displaced refugees residing at the various hosts countries, long lasting changes has to start primarily in Myanmar.  Myanmar has just undergone a profound political transition from being ruled by a military junta to a democratic system.  Nevertheless, it is still very difficult for the Rohingyas to find fair representation to champion for their rights, even in the nascent democratic system.  In my opinion, a truly fundamental change to the treatment of the Rohingya refugee would require, first and foremost, a transformation of the ethnic and religious animosity and the repressive political policies against the Rohingyas.  But this will be a long process.

5.  To close, how do you think recurrences of these issues will play out in the future?

Ms. di Gaetano:

The Governments in the ASEAN would benefit from a common solution to Refugees and Statelessness. There can be no real, lasting solution without Myanmar.

Mr. Han:

It is most likely that the various Southeast Asian countries which have provided temporary shelter for the refugees may continue to express reluctance to accept more influx of Rohingya migrants.  Currently, due to the limited capacity of the host countries and the ineffectualness of ASEAN to tackle the refugee problem, the help given to the Rohingya refugee for the time being may not go beyond the present steps taken to handle the crisis, some of which include providing temporary shelters and basic amenities for the refugees.  With sufficient time, the political changes taking place in Myanmar could be a starting point for the Myanmar government and its people to address solutions to resolve the crisis internally.  Notwithstanding ASEAN’s limitations in resolving the refugee crisis, the formation of the ASEAN Community will at least raise greater awareness and discussions to work towards a more concerted regional effort to care for its people in Southeast.  One must not forget that the Rohingyas are part of Southeast Asia.

In the next section, we will focus on Dr. Missbach and her anthropological study of the Rohingyas in Indonesia: 

1. Why should one take note of the Rohingya crisis? Are there any longer-term implications? 

The Rohingya are usually described as one of the most persecuted minorities in Southeast Asia. As stateless people they have been living in Myanmar for a very long time, but they were excluded from basic citizen rights.

Moreover, they face severe political, social, religious and economic discrimination.

Since the 2012 violent upheavals in Arakan (Myanmar), the situation for them has further deteriorated. Due to forced displacements thousands sought refuge in the neighbouring countries, such as Bangladesh and Thailand.

Given that the situation for them in those countries is not safe either as they are also discriminated, marginalised and exploited, many have continued their journeys looking for safe places where they can live and work. In May 2015, about 1800 of them reached, Aceh, the northern tip of the Indonesian island Sumatra. There they have been living in different makeshift camps.

They are not allowed to work or send their children to school. Many feel that their lives are on hold, as they are left without viable prospects for their future. Chances for them to be resettled to a Western resettlement are bleak.

Yet, at the same time, they are not allowed to integrate into the Indonesian society, which might be the easiest solution.

Bearing in mind the current political developments in Myanmar and the ongoing discrimination of minorities, such as the Rohingya, it is likely that we will see more forced migrants coming to Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia.

Without a regional framework for asylum seekers and refugees in place, these countries cannot offer proper protection for the Rohingya or any other forcibly displaced migrants.

2. What are some of the biggest challenges the Rohingya population face where integration is concerned?

The Indonesian law does not allow for integration, as they lack a proper legal status.

As non-citizens they do not enjoy the same rights as Indonesians. Currently the Indonesian government tolerates their presence and provides temporary care, but this is not a long-term solution for them.

Aware of this lack to ever live a “normal live”, many abscond from the camps and try to reach Malaysia in order to work illegally. They accept exploitation and abuse over hopelessness.

3. What are their views towards the internal developments in Myanmar?

Many say they would like to return to Myanmar in the future, once the conflict is over and they are no longer persecuted.

At this moment in time, return is not seen as a viable option.

4. How can these groups be better aided by either International Organisations or governments?

This is a very complex task.

Short-term solutions for displaced migrants should include: rescue at sea and emergency help when they are trying to reach save places.

It should never happen again, that the navy of some countries pushes back boats with dying people on board rather than allowing them to come on land.

Although it is important to offer humanitarian aid, this can only be one of many steps.

Putting people in camps or detention centres for a long time while providing them with food and basic care is not going to be a long-term solution.

To the contrary, ongoing detention aggravates the suffering of the people concerned.

As long as the situation in Myanmar is not safe for the Rohingya, the host countries in Southwest Asia should accept the Rohingya and give them a proper status so that they can work, go to school and go on with their lives.

Meanwhile, as members of ASEAN these governments should request the new government in Myanmar to stop all discriminative measures towards the Rohingya and other minorities.

This marks the end of this week’s interviews! Stay tune in two week’s time for a discussion on the South China Sea conflicts and its impact on ASEAN!

LSESU ASEAN Society Featured in Borneo Bulletin


Our story was published on November 19, 2015 in Brunei’s newspaper Borneo Bulletin! Below is the full excerpt of the article written by Hajah Zairah.

“A GROUP of students from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) recently met to discuss plans to set up an Asean student society.

The constitution and the general plans for the first Asean -centred society are under the works and the society is expected to be formally established in December.

Benedict Nisperos, a Chevening scholar recipient and the convenor of the society, said it would serve as a focal point for students belonging to the Asean community to establish and strengthen their networks.

“The society would also serve as kind of a bridge to promote cross-cultural and socio-economic understanding among the Asean student community. It would also serve as a catalyst to promote awareness on the importance of the region to the university students here.”

One of the tentative plans the student society is set to carry out in the coming months is to organise a general meet-up session to discuss ideas and issues facing Asean involving LSE students. The session is going to be facilitated by Singaporean second-year undergraduate His-tory student, Jacelyn Lin.

Jacelyn Lin said that she hoped the society will provide a cultural platform for Asean students to get together, as well as stimulate intellectual interest and debate in affairs of Asean and Asean member states.

Abdul Malik bin Omar, a Brunei government scholar recipient who is studying MSc in Local Economic Development at the LSE, sees the society’s potential in developing students’ leadership abilities and helping foster deep understanding of Asean among members and non-members.

“I am also keen in to promote the Sultanate’s Vision 2035 in the university through this society. I am sure others have the same goals as well for their respective countries,” said the 23-year-old student.”

Link to full article courtesy of Borneo Bulletin: LSE students keen on setting up Asean-centred society.