Last year, in 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Thailand voted ‘no’ and was against the Rohingya Repatriation urged by Bangladesh. But this year, the situation has changed. The latest coup in Myanmar and the emerging Quad-China stalemate has changed the geopolitical equation in Asia-Pacific region. However, voting in favor of Rohingya, world’s most persecuted minority dubbed by the UN; is also a moral obligation for all countries.
Bangladesh and Thailand shares warm diplomatic relations since 1972 and there are hardly any matters of dispute among the nations. Moreover, both states share a bilateral relations worth of $1.1 billion. Furthermore, Thailand is one of the top tourist destinations for Bangladeshis and apart from tourism, many Bangladeshi students are also going to Thailand for higher education.
Both countries are affected by Myanmar’s decade long political turmoil. Since 1984, Thailand is home to 104 thousand refugees and asylum seekers among which according to International Rescue Committee, 91 thousand are from Myanmar conflicts with 5 thousand Rohingya living currently. There are already 9 camps in Thai-Myanmar border areas. Moreover, since the coup, Thailand is also facing new waves of refugee and displaced persons from Myanmar side. Just like Bangladesh, Myanmar refugee issue is a recurring event for Thailand’s national security since 1984.
On the other hand, like Bangladesh, Thailand is also willing to repatriate the refugees living in camps. Since October 2016, the Thai government has initiated a plan to repatriate refugees to their origin. But since then, only a handful number of refugees were repatriated starting with 68 refugees in October, 2016. Bangladesh’s experience of bilateral repatriation plan also suggests that, due to Myanmar’s unwillingness, repatriation process will only linger especially after the coup. In order to accelerate the process, a global consensus is required for which UNGA is the best match. However, Myanmar’s instability and refugee ‘export’ is a threat to regional peace and stability as well as for the national security of neighboring states including both Bangladesh and Thailand. Therefore, an ethnic harmony and stable Myanmar is desired by Thailand also.
Since last year, the geopolitical dynamics has changed a lot in this region due to emerging Quad-China stalemate and Myanmar’s political turmoil. In this context, superpower rivalry may only complicate the scenario where the impact will have to be suffered by neighboring states. On the other hand, ensuring Rohingya repatriation is a moral obligation for all states. Thailand believes in dignity, freedom and most importantly, human rights and democracy. The Thai belief itself is reflected upon the name of the country, ‘Thailand’ meaning ‘Land of the Free’. However, Bangladesh has already presented a four point proposal incorporating the Kofi Anan Commission’s roadmap which is already accepted by Thailand. According to Bangladesh’s proposal, Rohingya crisis is a regional security threat and in order to address this issue, four points were presented by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 74th UNGA. The points are: firstly, Myanmar must show political will and sustainable and safe repatriation must be ensured; secondly, trust must be built among the Rohingyas by Myanmar; thirdly, international monitoring and Rohingya representation should be allowed in Rakhine; and fourthly, root causes of the conflict should be addressed and perpetrators should be held accounted for their atrocities and crimes against humanity.
Last year, Thailand voted ‘no’ in UNGA going against the repatriation. But since last year, things have changed a lot and it seems Myanmar ethnic conflict will only make sufferings for the neighboring states. Moreover, it has already emerged as a regional issue. In order to avoid the coming security threats and turmoil, neighboring states should address the issue going beyond the power politics and super power rivalry. However, the moral and ethical aspect of the issue also shouldn’t be lost amid the realpolitik as ensuring Human Rights for everyone is a duty and obligatory for all states. Therefore, Thailand should vote ‘Yes’ in upcoming UNGA in favor of Rohingya repatriation to ensure regional peace and stability and fulfil moral obligation for Thai nation as ‘Thai’ means ‘Free man’.
*MD Mufassir Rashid, MSS in International Political Economy (Ongoing), Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh.