BTH Insight Series Ep. 4: The Rohingya Crisis and Immigration Policy in Western Liberal Democracies

This is the fourth episode of the BTH Insight Series, where we examine various policy topics within the hour. Topics discussed include the Rohingya crisis with Jonah Kotzer interviewing former Ontario premier Bob Rae, and Tony Yin on immigration policy with University of Toronto Associate Professor Phil Triadafilopoulos.

The Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar

Bob Rae was the 21st Premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995. He later served as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada from 2011-2013 and is currently a Senior Fellow at the School of Public Policy & Governance. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed him as special envoy to Myanmar.  He has represented Canada throughout the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State with a mandate to promote accountability for the accused war crimes. He has spent significant time in South East Bangladesh, speaking with some of the displaced people, and learning about the situation first hand.

The history of the Rohingya population of Myanmar is one fraught with ethnic tension and spouts of violence. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, however it is made up of multiple regions, where minority groups make up a significant population. Many of these groups have received official recognition from the Burmese government. The Rohingya however, had their citizenship revoked in the 1980’s. Under British colonial rule, the Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh and is isolated from the rest of Burma by a mountain range, was porous and a popular migration route. Many Muslim migrants moved into the region at this time, though a Muslim population was present prior to that. From 1962-2008 the Burmese Military had absolute control over the government. In that period there were frequent violent clashes between the Burmese state and the minority populations, including the Rohingya. On Tuesday April 3, 2018 Bob Rae released his report on the situation in Myanmar. In the report he describes the current situation as follows:

“In August 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi established the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State with Kofi Annan as Chair to make recommendations on improving the conditions in Rakhine State. However, a series of attacks in October 2016 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (known as ARSA) triggered a heavy-handed military response, leading to violent fighting, the burning of many villages, allegations of rape and violence by the army against civilians, and the forced departure of tens of thousands of refugees. The Kofi Annan Report was published on August 24, 2017, the day before another ARSA attack on police posts and a military base that has been criticized in UN General Assembly resolution (A/C.3/72/L.48) as well as by the UN Security Council Presidential Statement. That attack was followed by a violent conflict and the destruction of more than 300 villages, according to reliable sources. It was at this point that the exodus of more than 671,000 Rohingya began. While this number has been disputed by some in the Myanmar military, it has been verified by UN agencies, which have a long history of monitoring the flow of refugees around the world. In addition, there were further restrictions on movement of those who stayed behind in north and central Rakhine.”(p. 10)

The rest of the report can be found here. In it he calls for investigations into the alleged crimes against humanity.  [interview at 1.00]

“I think you really have to look at the underlying military reality of the power structure [in Myanmar] and start to deal with that in a real way.” – Bob Rae, 21st Premier on Ontario, Special Envoy to Myanmar

Immigration Policy in Western Liberal Democracies

For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many western liberal democracies relied on discriminatory criteria to determine the suitability of immigrants. People of a certain race, ethnicity or culture were barred from immigrating into these countries or becoming citizens. However, this approach has significantly changed in the twenty first century. Restrictions based on racial and ethnic categories were no longer acceptable and exclusions aimed at preserving national homogeneity are subject to scrutiny and contestation. Countries, such as Canada and US, experienced a profound demographic reorientation due to the admitting groups of people they had previously. As a result, many western liberal democracies became more inclusive and adopted multiculturalism as part of their national identity.

Nonetheless, in recent years, these same western liberal democracies, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, and Austria, have retracted from their multicultural policies. This retraction was in large part motivated by the perceived economic costs of accepting immigrants as well as the fear that the traditional identities and values within these countries would be under threat. There is also the belief that immigrants have failed to successfully integrate into their host country; as a result, multiculturalism is merely a mirage. Overall, the anti-immigration sentiment has grown stronger since the 2000s where studies have shown a general decrease in support for multiculturalism. In some countries, such as Australia, the state has openly disavowed against multiculturalism while some other countries, such as the Netherlands, have adopted a more aggressive way of integrating immigrants through methods of civic integration.

“Successful immigration relies on a whole collection of successful public policies” – Professor Phil Triadafilopoulos, U of T Associate Professor of Political Science

Phil Triadafilopoulos is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is also Associate Director of the School of Public Policy and Governance. His research focuses on immigration and citizenship policy across Europe and North America. [interview at 25.30]


Kayla Ishkanian, Host
Jonah Kotzer, Senior Producer, Content Editor, Reporter
Julia Chan,
Senior Producer, Content Editor
Tony Yin, BTH Reporter
Amanda Lane, Technical Producer
Ian T. D. Thomson, Executive Producer

Music Credits
Not Dead 
by Fine Times
by Tegan and Sara
Fallin’ for you 
by Eva Avila

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