Governments world over are ingenious in inventing arguments in support of a policy and use all possible means at their command to defend its intended objectives behind the policy. The Indian government is no exception to this general rule as is evident in New Delhi’s handling of the Rohingyas crisis.
First, let us look at some facts. There are currently about 40,000 Rohingyas refugees in India of which 16000 are registered with the United Nation’s refugee agency. Rest of them are migrants. They are Muslims. They have fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine region face of persecution and violence and have settled in India. The Centre terms them “illegal”.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on 21 September that the Rohingyas are not refugees but illegal immigrants who would be deported. Rohingyas had entered India without following procedure and not one of them had applied for asylum, the Home Minister said at a seminar in the capital.
“To get the status, one needs to follow a certain process. None among them has followed that procedure”, he said even though the country’s apex court is hearing a case on the issue and is likely to come out with its judgement soon. In its affidavit in the Supreme Court, the BJP government has called Rohingyas a “security risk”. Deporting Rohingyas is an “executive policy” and the Supreme Court must not interfere, the Centre said in its written submission.
The affidavit further said: Some of the Rohingyas with a militant background are also found to be very active in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mewat, and have been identified as having a very serious and potential threat” to national security.
“Many of the Rohingyas figure in the suspected sinster designs of Pakistan’s ISI and IS (Islamic State) and other extremist groups who want to achieve their ulterior motives in India including that of flaring communal and sectarian violence in sensitive areas of the country”, the affidavit states.
The affidavit has also pointed out that Rohingyas are a “serious potential threat and possibility of eruption of violence by the radicalized” elements against Buddhists in India.
There are already media reports that the Centre has asked state governments to identify Rohingyas and the BJP ruled state governments have already begun the process that would eventually lead to deportation if the Supreme Court does not restrain the Centre from doing so.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has said that the Centre’s stand on Rohingya Muslims are a security threat is a post 2014 development at least in his home state, where a large section of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have been living for a long time is not justified. No such intelligence input ever came up for discussion in Unified HQ meetings, he stressed in his tweet immediately after the filing of the Centre’s affidavit in the apex court.
Rohingyas have faced several rounds of purges at the hand of Myanmar’s security regimes. There was hope that return of democratic government in Myanmar would end the persecution but instead of solving the problem of Rohingyas the government led by the party of Aung San Suu Kyi has been continuing with the old policy. Buddhist majority has been forcing the government to be tough on Rohingyas.
The issue of Rohingyas came in sharp focus after flow of Rohingyas increased in the wake of violent attacks by the Myanmar Armed forces increased. The United Nations has called it “ethnic cleansing. While majority of Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh, India too has them.
There has been an influx of Rohingyas to Bangladesh. Myanmar does not recognize Rohigyas and has not granted them citizenship rights. Myanmar government calls Rohingyas as Bengalis completely overlooking the fact that Rohingyas have been living in Rakhine region for over 400 years.
The NDA government’s decision to deport “illegal” Rohingyas seems to be the part of an understanding arrived between India and Myanmar. In a give and take, New Delhi and Napyidaw have decided to take care of each other’s security concerns. There is a real problem related with deportation of Rohigyas. New Delhi cannot deport them to Myanmar since, Naypyidaw does not accept them as their citizens and Bangladesh would not have them. So where would they be dumped.
Despite the fact that India had to face problem of refugee’s right from the time of its independence existence in 1947, no government cared to frame a law to deal with the problem of refugees. In absence of a law of refugees, successive governments in New Delhi, until now, have dealt with the refugee question on case-to-case basis.
Tibetan refugees were given the Registration Certificates and the Identity Certificates. Refugees, who came from East Pakistan, were largely kept in camps and majority of them returned after Bangladesh came into existence. Illegal migration from Bangladesh has been continuing but there has been no policy to deal with the problem.
The Sri Lankan Tamils, who fled their country to escape persecution by the government forces when Colombo was dealing with the LTTE insurgency, were classified as “camp refuges” and “non-camp refuges”. There have been minority refugees-Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians-from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have been allowed to stay in India on long-term visas.
India cannot remain oblivious of the miseries of Rohingyas. New Delhi should try to persuade Myanmar along with other countries to grant them citizenship. It would be wrong to abandon country’s traditional policy of accepting people in distress or persecuted at the hands of undemocratic and autocratic regimes.
At the same time, there is an urgent need to have a law in place that could deal with such problems in future.
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.