Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Refugees, Civil Wars and the Constitution



The Myanmar Constitution has been the most discussed subject recently; there are a series of comments and criticisms from various circles. It is a positive sign as the Constitution is an important issue for any country and it is encouraging to see many Myanmar citizens taking avid interest in it. The Constitution should not only guarantee fundamental rights of citizens, but also be fair to affairs of ethnic nationalities. Otherwise growing differences may lead to, alienation and consequently, end up in conflicts and civil wars. It will not be wrong to infer that the ongoing civil war between the government and various ethnic nationalities is due to loopholes and weaknesses in our current Constitution.

After Myanmar gained independence from the British, civil wars broke out it many regions, as ethnic groups demanded independence and autonomy. The present generation inherited war refugees as a consequence.

The issue of Myanmar refugees is a complex one. While referring to refugees, we have to keep in mind that there are not just war refugees seeking refuge in foreign countries. There are many more internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in jungles, refugee camps and fleeing to different regions in the country away from conflict zones.

According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) office report, there are 100000 recognized refugees, protected under the mandate of their office in Thailand alone. There are nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. Some estimate that the actual number of refugees is between 150000 and 200000. Recently, Myanmar refugees had to flee to neighboring China too. Similarly, there are a sizeable number of refugees in Bangladesh and India.

The issue has a significant impact on the nation’s dignity. Myanmar has been severely criticized by the world for its poor refugee records. However, previous Myanmar governments neither admitted to nor recognized the existence of Myanmar refugees seeking refuge in foreign countries or IDPs. In fact, the government did not recognize them as Myanmar nationals. Therefore they made little effort to resolve the issue. So how can we tackle this issue? Frankly speaking, we must admit that the refugee issue cannot be solved easily. At the moment it is next to impossible to resolve it conclusively and justly.

It was the loopholes in the Constitution that lead to the civil wars, and refugees and IDPs are a consequence of the civil wars. To resolve the issue of refugees, we must first put an end to civil wars. We must find the cure of the malaise, not just the symptoms. It will be an uphill task to resolve the issue of refugees and IDPs, but trying to find a conclusive solution to end civil wars will be a bigger obstacle.

We have to resolve the civil wars first, through a political solution. It is time we realize that the problem as well as the most viable solution lie in the Constitution. Therefore, trying to resolve the issue of refugees will a remain a Sisyphean challenge for us, until we amend our Constitution.