Home » The Commonwealth of Nations

Category Archives: The Commonwealth of Nations

What Assistance can the UK offer to Bangladesh & the Rohingya Refugees?

by John Brian Shannon

As of this writing, over 450,000 Rohingya muslims from Myanmar (also called Burma) have fled violence and their burned-out villages to land across the border in Bangladesh, and after all the appropriate hand-wringing by political leaders and the media it appears that not one bit of international assistance has been rendered to help the refugees, nor to help Bangladesh afford all the costs of hosting such huge refugee numbers.

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheik Hasina, is a wonderful lady and seems to want to help the Rohingya people.

But her idea is for diplomacy and negotiations to solve Burma’s domestic strife. And in a normal situation that’s the first step of a long process.

However, the Rohingya are a tiny minority in the country (2.2 million remain in Burma) and every day, tens of thousands race for their lives to the Bangladeshi border. By the time diplomacy and negotiations get rolling there won’t be a single Rohingya muslim left alive in the country — they’ll either have fled to Bangladesh or they’ll have been killed by Buddhists who don’t want them in Burma, period. Full stop.

Because the situation in Burma is so toxic, there is absolutely zero chance that any Rohingya that remains in Burma won’t be killed by Buddhist mobs or (purportedly) by the Burmese military. Therefore, my respectful advice to PM Sheik Hasina is to begin preparations TODAY, to house, feed, and employ, the remaining 2.2 million Rohingya that will surely arrive in the coming weeks.

The question is; What assistance have the UK, The Commonwealth, or the United Nations offered to Bangladesh where 450,000 people have shown up with only the clothes on their backs, and another 2.2 million following over the next few weeks? The silence is deafening.


On the Ground in Burma

Due to high levels of harassment, intimidation and conflict deaths in Myanmar (also called Burma) that is openly carried out by hostile Buddhists and (purportedly) by Burmese government troops, almost half a million Rohingya muslims have fled in recent days to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The refugees are arriving in southern Bangladesh tired, afraid, hungry and disoriented as they flee their burning villages. Sixty per cent of those are women and children.

In Burma 4.3 per cent of the country are Muslim (about 2.6 million in total) while 88 per cent (46 million) are Buddhist and 6 per cent are Christian.

What’s different for the Muslims in Burma is that due to arcane Burmese law, they aren’t allowed to own real estate (land or buildings) because they aren’t recognized as citizens due to the fact they can’t prove their ancestors lived there prior to 1823. The Rohingya are… human beings without a country.

In recent decades over 100,000 have fled to nearby countries to work or to ask for refugee status. Most of them didn’t qualify for Burmese citizenship in the first place — and therefore arrived in a totally new country with no birth certificate, passport, other reliable identification, or even a family address. Intolerable, doesn’t begin to describe it.

Which is why hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have landed across the border in Bangladesh since August 25th. Up to 2.3 million more may arrive in the coming months if all Burmese muslims flee the country.

If the present situation is any indication, it looks like all of them will leave Burma.


Why Not Just Go Back?

Burmese Rohingyas have nothing to return to, only burned out villages and increasingly hostile citizens. And once having crossed over into Bangladesh, they can’t cross back into the country in which they were born because they have no legal identification to show to Burmese border guards other than a long-distance telephone calling card (if they’re lucky) and no family address recognized by Burmese authorities.

Myanmar laying landmines on Bangladesh border (Al Jazeera) (so the Rohingya can’t return)


Following Burma's fleeing Rohingya


Bangladesh: The Promised Land for the Rohingya

For decades, the Rohingya have been leaving Burma for Bangladesh and other southeast Asian nations, seeking employment and a chance at a new life.

In those places, if they can find employment they can eventually apply for citizenship and become an actual citizen, with an actual street address, and be a person with an actual job and a real life. If you’re a factory owner that hires a Rohingya, you know they are highly motivated to succeed and that they will be the least problematic of your workers.

However, even a successful economy like Bangladesh can’t accept millions of refugees in a matter of weeks. The country is doing relatively well for a developing nation and continues to improve its infrastructure and the lives of its citizens every year.

Bangladesh is ranked surprisingly highly by development agencies, and is often referred to ‘one of the next-11’ countries after the G20 countries.

An interesting note about Bangladesh is that they are the largest contributor in the world to UN peacekeeping missions — providing tough, fully trained troops for many UN operations. (The UN pays the wages of the Bangladesh soldiers while under its command and supplies many of the tanks and APC’s that Bangla soldiers use while on UN peacekeeping missions, which is a standard practice of the United Nations)


What Will it Take to Help the Rohingya?

  1. Plenty of international aid money
  2. Acceptance by Bangladesh citizens

In the southern region of Bangladesh, 450,000 Rohingya are being held in camps stretching along the border with Burma. While 60 per cent of the refugees are women and children, Bangladeshis worry about young Rohingya males who may have been exposed to extremist thought and could conceivably at least, act against Bangladesh citizens in the future. So far, nothing like that has been reported.

However, keeping hundreds of thousands of refugees in miserable and makeshift camps in hot and humid weather isn’t going to help anyone’s mood.

Even if the Rohingyas arrived there never having imagined a terrorist thought in their life, a year of living under those conditions won’t help to keep violent acts out of the minds of young men, who, like young men everywhere, are prone to acting on a perceived problem without properly thinking it through.

‘No words’ to describe Bangladesh camps, Red Cross says (abc.au)

Rohingya refugee camp, Bangladesh - August 2017. Image courtesy of Australian Broadcast Corporation

If Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina can convince UN donors to generously fund the effort, her country has a good chance of accommodating the sudden flood of refugees; Assisting them to find jobs, homes, and helping to build the strong sort of communities that are an asset to any country — but if it doesn’t happen in this manner, that region of Bangladesh is on the same path as the extremely hurtful (to all sides) Israeli/Palestinian conflict was at its very beginning. Nobody wants that.

Or do they? We’ll see what the response is after UN General Assembly meets this week in New York.


What Jobs Can the Rohingya Do?

If Bangladesh elects to help the Rohingya fleeing persecution in Burma, the best way forward is to employ them as farm labourers in the southern part of the country. Many of these people have lived in rustic conditions and it will take some time before they will be getting jobs as CEO’s, airline pilots, or automobile designers. But that’s not to say they can’t make a valuable contribution to the Bangladesh economy — they can!

Starting the Rohingyas working in the fields will allow them to acclimatize to the new country and cement their place as valuable workers in Bangla society.

The most important thing for the Bangladeshi authorities to remember after taking care of food, shelter and medicine for the new refugees is to provide a sense of community.

Just dumping these people on a hunk of land and feeding them every day isn’t going to solve anything, but the eventual result will be a social crisis on the scale of what we’re witnessing in the Philippines today.


What Kind of Housing for Working Rohingya Families?

Refugees that want to work should have access to temporary living quarters. You simply can’t get any sleep in a refugee camp (you know this if you’ve ever visited one!) and therefore, you won’t keep your job very long. Therefore, it’s important to relocate Rohingya workers to suitable accommodations for workers until they can save enough money to purchase their own dwelling.

There are thousands of used portable offices and portable crew quarters in the world available at any time. Not only that, but the UN could purchase thousands of new ATCO-type portable trailers to house Rohingya workers and ship them to southern Bangladesh.

In that way, the Rohingya that are able and willing to work will have appropriate accommodation. The benefit of these portable buildings is that they are prewired for electricity, and stoves and heat are provided by natural gas tanks located on the exterior of the unit.

One point to remember about this kind of living quarters is that they can be lifted via crane and placed on top of solid stilts — this is important in Bangladesh as many areas of the country are prone to flooding during the annual monsoon season. Many Bangla homes are placed on stilts to avoid being flooded or carried away in the floodwaters.

Portable ATCO trailers could house Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

It seems Shaikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh sincerely wants to assist the Rohingya refugees and that’s admirable.

However, it’s going to take a few billion dollars just to meet the needs of these desperate people until the end of the year. After that, rather than allowing the miserable conditions of the refugee camps to become the fuel for conflict, the Rohingya must be urged to find local work on the many farms in the region. It’s really the only option in this case.

Getting refugees employed is almost as important as sheltering and feeding them as they stream across the Bangladesh border.


Related Articles:

  • ‘The scale is just vast’: Authorities, aid workers in Bangladesh overwhelmed by Rohingya refugees (CBC)
  • Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, Speech At UNGA United Nations | Sept 21, 2017 (YouTube)
  • Aung San Suu Kyi invites international help for Rakhine crisis
    (Frontier Myanmar)
  • Bangladesh restricts Rohingya refugees, starts immunization
    (National Post)
  • Rohingya Muslims are being wiped off Myanmar’s map
    (National Post)
  • Myanmar accused of crimes against humanity (CBC)
  • Myanmar’s front lines of horror (Globe and Mail)

Latest:

  • Indian Army strikes Naga insurgents along India-Myanmar border (LiveMint)

Why it’s Time to Lower Immigration from non-Commonwealth Nations

by John Brian Shannon

Well, ‘Brexit is Brexit’ as they say, and it looks like it’s going to take a while to finalize details between the UK and the EU. But no need to panic. Brexit will happen and the two sides will be legally divorced within 12-months.

It might turn out to be a good agreement, it might turn out to be a bad agreement, or negotiations might go so awry that the UK leaves without any agreement; In which case WTO rules would automatically apply until superceded by bilateral agreement.

Which wouldn’t be too bad actually, because with no time constraints to worry about post-Brexit, and with no concern about loss of face for politicians (on account of missing the Brexit deadline) powerful industries on both sides of the English Channel could then push their respective governments to create a number of à la carte bilateral agreements pursuant to their sector. Secondary and tertiary industries would then follow the lead of the powerful primary industries.

Eventually, every CEO would be heard by their respective government, and elected representatives on both sides would be compelled by their own political self-interest to present their case to the other side — a very pure way of streamlining trade between Europe’s (by then) newly divorced economies.

Whichever way it goes, in approximately 12-months Britain will be alone in the world save for its Commonwealth partners which it hasn’t cherished enough over the past 86-years, but it’s not to late to change that.

In fact, now is the time for the UK to take huge strides forward with its Commonwealth partners and begin to deliberately favour them over non-Commonwealth nations, especially in regards to trade and immigration.

“The latest net migration statistics show that in the year ending December 2016, net migration to the UK was 248,000.” — Migration Watch UK

The majority of immigrants to the UK since 1999 came from eastern Europe and the benefit for British employers is that these workers accept low-paying jobs and (although it is unethical and in some cases illegal; regardless, it still happens) that a farm or factory could replace all UK-born workers and on the next week hire immigrants who work for far lower wages. This can save companies significant amounts of money especially in the case where the UK-born employees have years of seniority and full benefit plans.

(Want to save 25% on your annual labour expenditure? Fire everyone below the level of General Manager and fill those positions with immigrant workers. Sure, it may be hairy for a while until the newcomers learn their jobs, but think of the money you’ll save! Even with having to pay significant severance pay to UK-born workers that have seniority, and maybe a bit of ‘hush money’ — over time the company will show better profits. If you think this hasn’t been done, you’re naive in the extreme. Whether it’s legal or not, whether it’s ethical or not, or whether it’s the ‘right thing’ for Britons to do to their own countrymen and countrywomen is a completely different matter)

In the end it hurts the UK economy, although it helps UK businesses to earn higher profit, but much of the money earned by the immigrants is sent to their families in eastern Europe or wherever they migrated from.

The name for these kinds of transactions is ‘foreign remittances’ and billions of pounds sterling leave the UK economy for foreign nations every year. That money is gone and is never returning.

The amount of wealth leaving the UK every year via foreign remittances is astonishing and may total as much as £20 billion annually (or more) and as the accounting is imprecise it’s almost always found (years later) that the estimates were extremely low.

The UK is one of the Top-Ten foreign remitting countries in the world

UK - Remittance flows from Britain 2015 - Pew Research
Although foreign remittances are only estimates, at least $24,878,000,000 in remittances were sent from the UK to other countries in 2015. Image courtesy of Pew Research.

In some countries with heavy remittances from the UK, the amounts are so large that certain developing nations receive up to 6% of their GDP via foreign remittances, and the UK is one of the top-ten foreign remitting countries in the world.

Think how much money Britain’s governments (Labour and Conservative) have allowed to leave the UK via foreign remittances over the past quarter century…


Wouldn’t it be smarter to lower immigration from non-Commonwealth nations?

Why, yes it would. It would be much smarter.

Commonwealth nations have historic links with Britain and it looks better when former colonies (and new Commonwealth members that were never colonies of Britain) are faring well thanks to British largesse.

Following is a short list of UK benefits if immigration from non-Commonwealth nations is replaced by Commonwealth nation immigrants:

  • Tens of billions of pounds sterling will no longer leave Britain annually to be used by non-Commonwealth countries
  • Foreign remittances from the UK would go to Commonwealth nations instead of non-Commonwealth nations
  • Commonwealth nations might choose to source more military equipment, machinery, etc. from the UK
  • Commonwealth nations with boosted foreign remittances are more likely to stay within the Commonwealth
  • Immigrants to the UK from Commonwealth nations are more likely to understand the British worldview
  • Commonwealth immigrants are more likely to integrate well into British society
  • Commonwealth nation citizens will have a better opinion of the UK and of Britons
  • Commonwealth nation economies will see a corresponding economic benefit
  • UK GDP would increase, as would GDP in the other Commonwealth nations
  • Commonwealth nations would become politically strengthened
  • Commonwealth links between businesses are likely to increase
  • Links between Commonwealth citizens are certain to increase

And that’s just the short list.

Yes, billions of pounds sterling will still leave the UK but at least it will be going to Commonwealth member nations that have a similar worldview to Britons and are nations that are more likely to support British policies instead of opposing them.

If the money is going to leave anyway, the smart money would arrange to keep it ‘in the family’ with countries that don’t have adversarial relations with the UK.


Why should the UK be adding to the GDP of non-Commonwealth nations, when it could be adding to Commonwealth nations GDP?

The UK is a member of that august organization and membership itself implies that each member should favour other members.

Commonwealth governments, big business and consumers should always try to shop at Commonwealth businesses first, before trying anywhere else. If something can’t be found for sale in your own nation, then try to purchase it in another Commonwealth nation. If it can’t be found at all, then maybe it’s time for another Commonwealth member nation businesses to pool their resources and build/sell that product.

The UK should cut immigration from non-Commonwealth nations and simultaneously make it one order of magnitude easier for Commonwealth nation citizens to immigrate to Britain.

While the total immigration levels might stay the same, the definite bias should move quickly towards Commonwealth nations and NAFTA countries.

Commonwealth citizens should have UK visas fast-tracked after Brexit, MPs argue (The Telegraph)

Up to 200,000 immigration applications from Commonwealth and NAFTA nations should be accepted each year via a simple online form, a successful criminal records background check, and payment of an immigration fee of £100 per year.


One for all, and all for one!

Instead of strengthening people and nations that have no interest for or against the UK, Britain should quickly move to support Commonwealth members and NAFTA countries.

In this way, countries that are pulling for the Britain’s success will be rewarded by Britain — and vice versa.

The UK should respectfully request NAFTA associate membership the moment Britain formally leaves the EU. And within 5-years, all other Commonwealth nations should make the same request of NAFTA.

That’s how you Build a Better Britain, Build a Better Commonwealth and Build a Better NAFTA!

This Week in Brexit: Trump Promises a Trade Deal

by John Brian Shannon

On the sidelines of the G20 Hamburg summit, U.S. President Trump found time to meet with UK Prime Minister May and to offer welcome words that the United States will sign a bilateral trade deal with the UK as soon as Brexit is complete.

It’s very good news for the UK and also for PM Theresa May (who has had a rough time in domestic politics of late) and it was obvious that the U.S. president went out of his way to assure Ms. May that a reciprocal trade agreement — one that works for both America and for Britain — is one of his administration priorities.

So much of the UK’s post-Brexit success will hinge on bilateral trade accords because no matter how good the final Brexit agreement, there will be some amount of economic adjustment for Britain in the months following Brexit. A quick trade agreement with the United States will not only ease the Brexit transition, but also  improve the UK (and America’s) economy indefinitely.

It was a classy thing for Mr. Trump to do for Theresa May knowing that her domestic political fortunes have taken a hit. Let’s hope the Prime Minister is able to return the favour at some point during the Trump administration. That sort of respect makes for strong allies.

During WWI, but especially during WWII the relationship between America and Britain was raised to a very high level by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Harry S. Truman, and in the postwar era during a time of unprecedented economic growth, President Ike Eisenhower continued the wise course set by his predecessor.

However, it could’ve so easily gone the other way if the leaders hadn’t gotten along.

Both sides would’ve missed geopolitical opportunities of huge importance such as the formation of NATO, the establishment of the Nuremberg trials and the creation of other institutions and agreements such as Bretton Woods and the IMF. Without the ambition of the UK and the power of the United States those things simply wouldn’t have occurred.

Millions of Americans and Britons prospered over the past 72 years because their postwar political leaders *didn’t drop the ball* and made a conscious decision to *make the best of the postwar relationship* for their respective people.


What Kind of Free Trade Agreement Should Prime Minister May and President Trump pursue?

Present-day Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau was still in school when Canada first approached the European Union to ask about a bilateral trade deal, and that many years later it still hasn’t come into effect. (It’s about to, they say)

It will have taken eight years to hammer out and begin to abide by, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which arrives so late in the game and market conditions do change over time (remember way back to the 2008/09 financial crisis when the CETA agreement was first floated?) that some of the hard-won negotiating points are no longer relevant and may never be finalized.

Canada, EU to provisionally apply CETA in September (CBC)

I’m sure it’s a fine agreement and congratulations are due. However, with America and Britain at the controls of a mutually beneficial trade agreement between two friendly Anglophone nations, it should take less than a year from first discussion to signed agreement.

Though we don’t know what shape an Anglo-American trade agreement might look like from our vantage point in July of 2017, probably the best idea would be for both sides to embrace reciprocity and fair dealing in all trade matters as a way to enhance both economies, and as a way to later attract other Anglophone nations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand to sign on to such an agreement.

Hitting the Right Note with Commonwealth of Nations member India

What a great thing it would be if all Commonwealth nations eventually agreed to sign on to a U.S. / UK trade agreement. Commonwealth of Nations member India has 1.5 billion consumers alone!

Both America and Britain could add 5% to their respective GDP just on the improved trade flows of doing business in the booming Indian economy.

“Although India’s rapid population growth is part of what accounts for the forecasted jump […] that is only part of the story. Drastic improvement in terms of per-person productivity due to capital investments and better technology will play an even more important role.

“PwC predicts that India’s economy will grow by about 4.9% per year from 2016 to 2050, with only 0.7% of that growth caused by population growth.

“India’s economy is currently the third-largest in the world, and is expanding at an estimated annual growth rate of 7.1% for the 2016-17 financial year. —  India’s economy is forecast to surpass that of the US by 2040 (Quartz)

Both America and Britain just need to hit the right note with India — a respectful note — in order to profit from the massive growth that is available in that burgeoning country.

Working out an Anglo-American trade agreement with a view to adding all Commonwealth member nations within 24 months, guarantees that other powerful trade blocs don’t beat the Anglo-American alliance to supply the rocketing Indian economy with much-needed goods and services.

Projected growth for selected countries – As measured by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)

Projected GDP growth UK 2016-2050 PwC

Projected GDP growth UK and other countries 2016-2050. Image courtesy of Quartz.com


It’s so obvious but still worth repeating; ‘Hitch your wagon to the fastest horses if you want to place well in the race.’

Britain has the Commonwealth of Nations connections, Britain needs a trade agreement with NATO ally America and with Commonwealth partner India, and the United States wants to increase mutually beneficial trade with Britain and its 2-billion-strong Commonwealth partners.

In all of human history, rarely has such a synergistic match-up suddenly appeared where different but extremely valuable benefits are available to all three parties.

Just as nobody predicted the massive Japanese economic boom which began to form the day after WWII ended, an Anglo-American trade agreement, followed by a Commonwealth trade agreement (before other trade blocs grab the low-hanging fruit!) could match or exceed the massive performance statistics of the postwar Japanese economy.

Dear United States and Commonwealth of Nations, Let’s not miss this rather obvious ‘Win-Win-Win’ opportunity!