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“Migration, Terrorism and Democracy: Lessons and Challenges Across Asia and Africa”

  Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS) Public Forum 

Migration, Terrorism and Democracy: Lessons and Challenges Across Asia and Africa

 Tuesday, 31st January 2017 at 9.00-11.00a.m.  .....................................................................................................................................................................................................

Video : “Migration, Terrorism and Democracy: Lessons and Challenges Across Asia and Africa”

Part 1:




Opening Remarks

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana

Dean, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

H.E. Mr. Abdelilah El Housni           


The Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco


H.E. Mr. Youssef Amrani

Former Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation

Former Secretary General of Mediterranean Union

Member of The Cabinet of His Majesty King Mohammed VI

The Kingdom of Morocco

H.E. Mr. Kasit Piromya

Member of the National Reform Steering Assembly

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Kingdom of Thailand                                   


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Director of ISIS Thailand

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

        Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana

Dean, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Migration, terrorism and democracy are global issues that they have far-reaching ramifications for our societies and for our lives. expertise in water and river management in North Africa. 

I take this opportunity to thank Ambassador Housni for his past work with ISIS Thailand and for his efforts in promoting Thai-Moroccan relations which have become much more robust under Ambassador Housni’s time. The two kingdoms, one in Africa and the other in mainland Southeast Asia have much to learn from and share with each other. Indeed, Thailand and Morocco are a kind of axis in promoting SOUTH-SOUTH cooperation between two large regions.  In addition, Ambassador Housni has made considerable effort to link up Morocco with ASEAN, and we welcome this effort and hope that Morocco can be the closest African partner ASEAN can count on in the future.

Migration is big news everywhere from America, Africa, to Europe and Asia.  Around here, we have had what we call “irregular migration” in the Indian Ocean involving Muslim Rohingya from Rakhine State in Myanmar as well as Bangladeshi Muslims who have left their homes in search of better livelihoods in Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere, often transiting through Thailand. Around the Mediterranean Sea, there have also been migration challenges from North Africans seeking better living in Europe. These two migration trends pose challenges to democratic rule and to the efforts to combat terrorism.  Migration is made more difficult because of the rise of global terrorism, but at the same time we still need migration to continue because of economic necessities and humanitarian concerns.

H.E. Mr. Youssef Amrani

Former Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation

Former Secretary General of Mediterranean Union

Member of The Cabinet of His Majesty King Mohammed VI

The Kingdom of Morocco

The ways that Thailand tackles the problems associated with migration is very similar to that of Morocco. Countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe are all targeted by the challenges of migration, terrorism, how to build up coherent and democratic states. Approaches to find solutions may be different, but all countries need to work together to solve these challenges. In the 21st Century, no country is safe. Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Islamic State have global visions. They do not have traditional ‘frontiers’ in their actions; they can be active in London, Paris, Casablanca and in Bangkok. We have to be extremely careful.

Five years ago, Morocco had a temporary seat in the United Nations Security Council, where we presented the first Resolution on Syria. This Resolution was vetoed by Russia and China. At that time, there was no Islamic State, but because the Security Council was divided and we did not act accordingly to face the challenge, we find ourselves today before a monster. The problem could have been solved before it started.

The Middle East and North Africa are essential for the stability of the world. We must come to terms with the difficult realities in the region. Violent conflict in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq impacts not only the Middle East, but also neighbouring regions; this violent conflict is directly linked to migration, which has caused substantial political chaos in Europe.

The Palestine issue remains of utmost importance, however, recently it has been relegated in the priorities of the international community. Palestine is at the heart of the grievances across the Arab Muslim world.

Countries of the Middle East should not only blame others or outside powers for the situations in our region and respective countries. We have a responsibility to ourselves to promote good governance, transparency, development, and to create jobs and meet the expectations of the next generations in our young region. What is most essential, however, is democracy. We cannot move in our region if we do not have a strong, democratic state. Failed states are a vacuum for extremists like Islamic State and Boko Haram.

Islamic terrorist groups have taken hostage and hijacked Islam to promote the culture of hate and exclusion, and they exploit the fears of disenfranchised individuals. This is something that must be dealt with calmly and through cooperation between like-minded partners.

These concerns are enormous, and they require collective action and cooperation to resolve. No country alone can find exact solutions for this crisis. It is imperative that we come up with an alternative or reformed model for the United Nations Security Council. We need to have a more representative membership of the UNSC which reflects current realities.

We need a model of global governance based on the specificities of each country and region. In doing so, we have to respect some parameters; respect for the territorial integrity of other countries, for example, is essential. We need to promote deeper regionalism. Regions such as Latin America, on the Mediterranean, and the Middle East and North Africa have a lot to learn from the experience of ASEAN to create a zone of prosperity and stability. 

We must work together to deconstruct the jihadist narrative. It is important to fight terrorism, to intervene militarily, promote internal security and sharing of intelligence. But it is not sufficient if we do not also work on the ‘culture and the cultural values’ to create an appealing and peaceful alternative to the jihadist narrative. We need to do it for ourselves, but also our partners. It is not only Middle East and North African countries which are targeted, but it is increasingly easy for terrorists to spill across borders into France, Spain and the UK. Even in Southeast Asia, the jihadist narrative poses a threat, and some countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are already taking steps to deconstruct the jihadists narrative, and trying to promote the real values of Islam.

Extremists are experts in promoting a culture of hate. They are masters of social media and the internet, and they know how to ‘sell’ a message of home to disenfranchised youths by manipulating the real message of Islam. The same tools too can be used to spread a peaceful vision of Islam. The role of women is also essential to deconstructing the jihadist narrative. We need to have some readings of the religious element to ensure that their rights are ensure and their voices are heard.

States cannot do this individually. They must work together, exchange ideas and strategies, share information and work cooperatively to find opportunities for our young people. This requires an approach based on a realistic and comprehensive strategy that involves all the people concerned. The language or rhetoric of expelling Muslims or targeting Islamism only encourages Islamophobia, and actually hinders efforts to promote a peaceful and tolerant vision of Islam.

In Morocco, a comprehensive approach is being taken on building this vision. A citizen-based, grassroots approach towards tolerance, based on modernity, has been adopted by Morocco. Three elements are essential in achieving this vision. First, leadership is essential, at both the regional and political levels. Morocco did not wait for the Arab Spring to promote democracy, but it has long been encouraged and fostered in the country. Second, education is essential, especially as a Muslim country, to promote a culture of tolerance.

In Morocco’s experience, democracy, development, human rights and transparency are all mutually dependent. Democracy requires all sides to accept and respect the will of the people. Importantly, it also requires compromise. Morocco’s Constitution is progressive, it defines the country as a modern, multi-faceted country – African, Arab, Mediterranean and multi-religious – and promotes gender equality. Morocco’s reform process was proactive in responding to the expectations of the people themselves. Morocco has also joined the African Union. 

Migration is a key issue for Morocco. 20 years ago, Morocco exported migrants – more people left the country than those who came. This is no longer the case. It is not only because Morocco has controlled its frontiers and promoted democratic values, but also because it has provided capacities and opportunities for young to stay in the country. Now Morocco is facing challenges from Sub-Saharan migrants coming into Morocco. A new policy has been adopted by the government, aimed at giving dignity, rights, education and opportunities for new migrants coming into the country. This policy is guided by three fundamental principles; promotion of security, imperative of shared growth and the duty of solidarity.

H.E. Mr. Kasit Piromya

Member of the National Reform Steering Assembly

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Kingdom of Thailand 

The lack of and failures of democracy are the causes of migration and to a certain extent, radicalism and terrorism. When democracy is working, migration is not a cause for despair or crisis and radicalism does not have a chance to emerge.

Three countries can be looked at as case studies where democracy has worked. In the Asia-Pacific, Taiwan has successfully cultivated political and economic development in an open society. Political freedom and economic growth are two sides of the same coin. Taiwan’s modern development is second to none, comparable to Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand, other medium-sized democracies in the region. The feeling of openness, tolerance and inclusiveness permeates Taiwanese society.

There is a stark contrast between Taiwan and Mainland China, which has grown to become the world’s second largest economy without political freedoms and with a one-party system. Not long ago Taiwan had a similar political structure, dominated by the Kuomintang and military. But in the 1990s, the military decided that Taiwan should move towards a more democratic system. Now they are succeeding as a fully-fledged democracy in every sense of the word.

In Tunisia, compromise between religious, bureaucratic, military and political forces have fostered the conditions to allow democracy to prosper. The interests of all Tunisians, not just a particular minority, religious sects, business groups or outside powers, have been focussed upon.

If Taiwan, Tunisia and Morocco have successfully followed the path of democratic reform, why not Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore. Bangladesh is a cause for concern. Even India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka are experiencing challenges. If democracy is to take hold, with its principles of inclusiveness, tolerance, fairness and justice, then countries in the region should be able to surpass the middle-income trap, or avoid turning into banana republics or failed states. Once we become more democratic, migration will not cause crises and terrorism will not have fuel for its fire.

Morocco no longer exports labour. 30 years ago, Thailand exported a million labourers to the Middle East, Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. Now, Thai labourers abroad is no longer a major factor, as there are more opportunities at home, and domestic labour is no longer considered unskilled. It is imperative for all Thai governments to increase the domestic investment an increase domestic employment.

Thailand has about 5 million migrant workers, with most coming from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. These four source countries for labour are relatively suppressive regimes. Myanmar has the possibility to be open, but the leadership does not yet have the political will to solve the Rohingya Crisis. Myanmar is a country composed of minorities; how can the various minority groups in the country not have the affinity and empathy towards their fellow Rohingya minority? It is not just a problem of Aung Sun Suu Kyi and the military leaders, but the various minority leaders also must urge the central government to help their fellow minorities get citizenship.

The blame for terrorism should be targeted on all the religious leaders around the world, as they have not come forward in a forthright manner like Pope Francis, who tried to invite various religious leaders from around the world to come on the stage with him and declare that religious extremism or radicalism will not be tolerated. Religion is about peace, love and forgiveness, not hate.

Efforts at promoting development at the international level are flailing. The previous United Nations Secretary General has not been effective. During his administration, the UN has promoted institutions to assist with development and peace in the Third World. However, the UNDP and World Bank have not done its job to close the income gap and reduce poverty levels. There has been little news of the World Bank and the UNDP as the core consortium to provide development assistance to vulnerable regions like Africa. Donor countries have not been forthcoming with their funding, as there seems to be a dramatic drop in the enthusiasm for aid and poverty reduction schemes (except for Chancellor Merkel from Germany). These international bodies and donors must start working together again.

Developed and major developing countries should follow the approach laid down by China. Birth control is no longer the order of the game. If you do not produce enough citizens, then there is a need for migration. Low birth rates in the West have led to negative socio-economic factors, which has allowed far-right leaders like Donald Trump and Marine La Pen to rise.

Question and Answer Period

Public Question: How can a country like Morocco face all of these challenges – democracy, terrorism and migration – within the context of a continent and a period of time where unpredictability is common? Also, how can dialogue be promoted in the Western Sahara context?

H.E. Mr. Youssef Amrani: Dialogue, stability and security are the major dimensions of the Moroccan foreign policy. Even when we left the African Union, we continued to try to strengthen our relationship with Africa. We are the major contributor to peace-keeping forces in Africa, we are the second major investor in Africa today, and we believe that Africa is the continent of the future.

Moroccans are coming back to the family as an African nation, but our foreign policy will not change. We will still seek to promote growth, create jobs, and facilitate stability and peace.

With regards to the Sahara issue, we will continue the dialogue process within the United Nations, to try to reach a compromised position on the spirit of realism and pragmatism.

Moderator: This year is the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN. How do you think that ASEAN is going, and what can ASEAN learn or draw from other regions, such as the African Union?

H.E. Mr. Kasit Piromya: I have been urging the ten ASEAN leaders to meet as frequently as possible. It will not be until they meet each other and know each other’s personalities when ideas about how to push up ASEAN will bloom. The meetings of the ASEAN leaders have been a sort of formality, and sign off on what the bureaucrats have already prepared. What has been lacking has been is a ‘global vision.’ They have to be on a personal, a friendly basis. By meeting each other, they can try to work together to resolve the internal problems, the challenges in the Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asian regions.

Moderator: Unlike previous generations, ASEAN leaders have not been leading ASEAN. We have leaders of ASEAN who do not see eye-to-eye or have the camaraderie as in the past. This may explain why ASEAN does not have the same momentum.

Public Question: These are all challenges that we face in Africa – migration, democracy and terrorism. We have to take this time to welcome Morocco back into the African Union. Morocco is a country which is incredibly important for Africa, it is a pillar of stability, it is a good economic and political exemplar.

We should all subscribe to the idea that democracy is probably the best antidote to terrorism because it provides outlets for people to air their grievances. In fact, the most insidious challenge to democracy comes from itself, by tampering with civil liberties and emphasising security over freedom. The challenge is to have a multi-faceted solution – there is no one template that will fit all countries.

In Africa, there is a terrible mix of issues that give the terrorists the upper hand. Kenya is one of the most democratic countries – it has a vibrant media, a bill of rights – but how do Kenyans deal with the problems in their country? To they roll back their democratic gains in pursuit of security? It is a big debate, a major issue, and I am happy that you have opened debate on these issues.

Moderator: Do you think that the need to address terrorism undermines the fabric of democracy by stripping back civil liberties?

H.E. Mr. Youssef Amrani: “One size fits all.” This is not possible anymore. We need a comprehensive and holistic approach based on the respective situations in our own countries. One country alone cannot fight terrorism, and democracy is essential. When there is frustration, lack of freedom, poverty and exclusion, this creates the fertile breeding ground for terrorism. We need to have stable countries, possibility of cooperation and compromise, and good communications strategies.

The big issue is working on the minds of the people. Terrorists have hijacked Islam. Radical terrorism and violence has nothing to do with Islam. Islam never asks people to kill others. This is the interpretation of extremists and radicals. That is why we need to work on the narratives, the religious leaders on board to work on the interpretation and understanding of the texts. Democratisation is the means through which we try to promote and communicate these peaceful narratives. Today, Islam is compatible with democracy, it is compatible with human rights. Communication, education and peaceful narratives are the tools we need to fight Islam, not removing civil liberties.

Moderator: Indonesia is one of the biggest Muslim countries in the world, and is considered a successful, secularised democracy. In Malaysia, however, there has been some worrying reversals of democracy, perhaps due to the influence of Islamist elements. In Thailand, we are also concerned about this influence spreading in Southern Thailand.

H.E. Mr. Kasit Piromya: On Malaysia, I think that Najib is playing dirty. He cannot keep holding onto power by playing the ‘Islamic card’ to deny votes from the non-Muslim opposition. This will be destructive for Malaysia as a whole. The party should try to modify and moderate the instincts of the leadership.  


The President of Indonesia should be more forthcoming. He has come through the democratic route successfully. He should not allow any parochial, nationalistic Islamist elements to get a foothold in the country. He should recall the five principles of Pancasila. The secular leaders, past and present, should come out together to really deter any extremism that might be emerging on the Indonesian political scene.