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The Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict – Southeast Asia (GPPAC-SEA), along with its partners and networks in the broad civil society and peace movement in the region, today join the world and the international community in commemorating  World Refugee Day that was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 55/76 on 4 December 2000. Each year, on June 20, World Refugee Day highlights the bravery, resilience, and strength of people forced to flee their homes to escape war or persecution. 

This year’s theme of World Refugee Day  “For a World Where Refugees are Welcomed”–calling on extending greater global solidarity for refugees is spot-on. It is within the context of this theme that we continue to demand the urgency for a robust people -to- people solidarity for the Rohingya including internally displaced persons from Marawi City, Philippines, who have been forced to endure the horrific aftermath of the siege of their beloved city seven (7) years ago.   

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) says that approximately 80,300 people (16,070 families) from Marawi City remain displaced since May 2017. Around 70% of the internally displaced population are in home-based settings while the rest are in transitory sites or temporary shelter communities. 

More importantly, the Philippine government must recognize the critical need to listen to the IDPs, Meranaw leaders, civil society, and the broad peace movement in Marawi in order to restore genuine peace and help Marawi get back on its feet and fulfill the promise of the Bangsamoro peace process. 

GPPAC-SEA and IID also take the observance of World Refugee Day 2024 as an opportunity to further reflect, extend solidarity, and express our concern over the persisting human rights violations of the peoples of Myanmar especially the ethnic nationalities including the Rohingya people and the displaced community in Marawi.

In the case of the Rohingya, data reveals that since 2017, after a massive wave of persecution and violence, nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have been forced to cross the border into Bangladesh. Cox’s Bazar is the world’s largest refugee settlement and nearly 600,000 inhabitants residing in temporary camps throughout the district are children. Rohingya refugees have also sought refuge in other neighboring countries like Thailand (92,000) and India (21,000), while others are in Indonesia, Nepal, and other countries across the region. In Indonesia, even if it is the world’s largest Muslim country, the Rohingya refugees are now subject to persecution, hate speech, and abuse by the locals especially in Aceh where most of them have tried to seek refuge.

Meanwhile, the number of internally displaced persons or IDPs in Myanmar since the failed military coup in 2021 was tallied at 1.2 million according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).   

As solidarity activists, we support the urgent demand for a review and amendment to Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law and Myanmar’s 2008 sham constitution—seen as a root of this tragedy, for it to comply with existing international norms; end restrictions to citizenship and freedom of movement of the Rohingya people; and urge Myanmar to comply with relevant international human rights and humanitarian law standards and norms, particularly on the protection of civilians in times of conflict, and protection of children, women and minorities. We support the National Unity Government’s (NUG) scrapping of the 2008 constitution and applaud their promise for full recognition of the Rohingya in a new federal charter. 

We reassert our belief that we must address the root causes of the issue and bring into focus the structural-legal discrimination against the Rohingya people. We also situate the recent violence and abuses within the overall dismal state of democracy in Myanmar coupled with long-standing patterns of human rights violations against ethnic civilians by the Burma/Myanmar military in other conflict areas in Myanmar.

Given the appalling lack of firm and strong regional response specifically from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the issue of the Rohingya, regional civil society, human rights, and peoples’ movements have to once again prove that people-to-people solidarity can make a difference in the lives and struggles of the Rohingya people. The need to consolidate towards a common position on this issue is imperative. 

We believe that the longstanding persecution of the Rohingya and the collective failure of the international community to exact accountability from the military generals of Myanmar for its crimes against humanity committed against ethnic populations have further emboldened the military to grab power 3 years ago.  

On the occasion of World Refugee Day 2024 and beyond, we reiterate the following demands: 

For the ASEAN: 

  1. For all member-states of ASEAN to abide by the principle of non-refoulement guarantees, under International Human Rights Law to provide full protection to refugees and asylum seekers including the Rohingya and other ethnic nationalities in Myanmar.
  2. Strengthen and mobilize ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) and ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) mandate and mechanisms to tackle the crisis, and the whole democracy issues in Myanmar, especially after the attempted coup by the military.
  3. ASEAN and the international community must demand accountability and probe the continued killings of activists in Myanmar and call on the junta to immediately stop its violence and unconditionally release the thousands of arbitrarily arrested and detained activists4.) To formally recognize Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG). 

For the International/regional intergovernmental and civil society organizations to:

  1. Coordinate to monitor humanitarian developments in Rakhine State and other conflict-affected areas, as well as monitor the junta’s action on the refugees, mindful of ‘Do No Harm’ principles.
  2. Support/impose a global arms embargo and advocate to relevant governments to cease military-to-military engagement and impose targeted sanctions against the Burma/Myanmar Army, until it ends attacks against civilians and returns civilian power to democratically elected leaders.
  3. Engage the Burma/Myanmar military review of discriminatory legal frameworks, and compliance with international human rights conventions and treaties
  4. Cease circulation of unverified, inflammatory material on social media and condemn hate speech towards the Rohingya and other minorities.

For the Philippine government and the Bangsamoro government:

  1. Address  relevant challenges confronting the IDPs including land conflict and dispossession in Marawi, which affects especially four (4) barangays within ground zero; building of large-scale public infrastructures inside the Most Affected Area (MAA) which are reportedly unfit for the needs of residents; the continuing militarization of the entire province of Lanao with the intimidating presence and mounting of various military camps;
  2. Establish a truth-seeking process to investigate the roots of the Marawi siege and documentation of the dead in the mass grave (Maqbara) must be initiated by conducting an independent legislative inquiry on what really happened in Marawi and how billions of budget allocation for rehabilitation of the city has been spent since 2017. 
  3. We urge the general public, our progressive allies in the media, partner communities, human rights, and peacebuilding civil society organizations, and champions within the government to remain in solidarity with the IDPs.

We meanwhile urge the IDPs, especially the Rohingya and those from Marawi to explore and initiate partnerships, networking, and solidarity among themselves to be able to collectively assert their fundamental rights while learning from each other’s experiences.

Today, we pledge our unrelenting commitment to continuously stand in solidarity to help restore human rights, justice, freedom and peace for the Rohingya, the peoples of Myanmar and the internally displaced people of Marawi City. ###

#WorldRefugeeDay2024 , #WithRefugees, #WeStandWithRohingya, #WeStandWithMarawiIDPs, #SafeandDignifiedReturnInMarawi, #Kambalingan