The Rohingya people are a Muslim minority group, closely related to the Sunni Muslims, residing in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. They are considered “stateless entities” and are among the most persecuted people in the world. The Rohingya are considered to be illegal Bengali immigrants from Bangladesh and are thus denied recognition as a religion by the government of Myanmar. They are not recognized as one of the ethnic groups of the country and receive no legal protection from the government.
To escape their dire circumstances, the Rohingya illegally enter South East Asian countries begging for humanitarian support from potential host countries. With the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar hoping to keep their families breathing for just another day, international communities have come out to provide safe shelter for the refugees. Countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand Philippines, Gambia, and the United States have expressed their concern and intent to take in refugees as part of their efforts to help the people suffering untold misery.
India, however, has taken extraordinary efforts to stay on Myanmar’s good side and has resisted any show of sympathy to the Rohingya people. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern over “extremist violence” in Rakhine state. At the World Parliamentary Forum on Sustainable Development, Lok Sabha speaker Sumit Mahajan abstained from the Bali Declaration because of reference to “violence in the Rakhine state.” On September 7, 2017 Kiren Rijiju, Junior Home Minister, even went so far as to say – “All the Rohingya refugees are illegal immigrants and will be deported back.” The statement invited criticism from United Nations and in response, he said “India has the highest number of refugees in the entire world, hence India doesn’t need a lecture on refugee crisis and management.”
This stand that the Indian government took, was heavily criticized. Its decision to deport the 40,000 Rohingya refugees was condemned by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, high commissioner of the UNHRC. “The minister of state for home affairs has reportedly said that because India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention, the country can dispense with international law on the matter, together with basic human compassion,” Al Hussein said.
He added: “However, by virtue of customary law, its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the obligations of due process and the universal principle of non-refoulment, India cannot carry out collective expulsions, or return people to a place where they risk torture or other serious violations.”
Attacking the NDA government over its stance on Rohingyas, who are fleeing Myanmar’s violence-hit Rakhine state, AIMIM President, Owaisi, said, “Is it humane that you want to send back those who have lost everything? This is wrong.”
“When Taslima Nasreen became your sister, can’t Rohingya become your brother, Mr.Modi,” Owaisi, asked. The BJP government at the center should not see the Rohingyas as Muslims but as refugees, he maintained. “We want to tell the BJP government, don’t look at them as Muslims. They are refugees,” he stated. “India gave shelter to refugees from Tibet, those from Sri Lanka and Chakma refugees from Bangladesh,” Owaisi said.
Pushing back against the comments of the UNHRC chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the Indian envoy criticized the global organization for “tendentious judgments made on the basis of selective and even inaccurate reports do not further the understanding of human rights in any society. Like many other nations, India is concerned about illegal migrants, in particular, with the possibility that they could pose security challenges. Enforcing the laws should not be mistaken for lack of compassion.”
Bangladesh wants Myanmar to go after the terrorists, but spare the general population. Making a rare statement, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said that it was a problem for her government. Using Kashmir as a comparison point, she said, “Because (there is) a large Muslim community in India and in places like Kashmir, you had this trouble of sorting out the terrorists from the innocent citizens and all those who are not involved in the terrorist movement at all. So we have the same problem.”
But sifting through in congruent statements and according to senior government sources, a four-pronged policy is being worked on by the Indian government. This will find articulation in the statements by Sushma Swaraj, who will lead the Indian delegation to the UNGA for the second time running.
- India will continue to support Myanmar’s right to go after ARSA or AMM, or any of the other Rohingya terror groups. During the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Myanmar, he had expressed his concern at the casualties of security forces as well as other innocent lives. India will assist in the development of the Rakhine province as a means of tackling the problem at its source.
- India will push Myanmar to find a political solution to the crisis of legal identity of the Rohingya. As Sushma Swaraj told Sheikh Hasina in a phone conversation on Friday, India will oppose Myanmar’s acts of pushing Rohingya into Bangladesh or to other countries in the region. Increasing, substantially the possibilities of Pakistan-based terror groups like LeT, al-Qaida and even Islamic State exploiting them for terror activities. In Bangladesh, which is already battling its own terrorist problem, the radicalized Rohingya could be used by the Jamaat and BNP for their political ends, which would be incendiary coming just before elections in that country scheduled for 2018.
- The Indian government will defend its right to evict illegal migrants. The issue is politically sensitive for the BJP government which campaigned against such migration in the north-east states. In addition, the presence of Rohingya in Jammu has sparked more such fears among the Hindu majority. Others have pointed to terror leaders like Zakir Musa supporting the Rohingya, as reason to deport them.
- India will keep in mind the threat of terror outfit affiliations, like the Al Qaeda, ISIS, Jamaat-ud Dawa, AMM, LeT, the Rohingyas are reported to have. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is suspected of being linked to Gulf terror groups. ARSA militants have attacked military posts and security agencies suspect they have close links with jihadi outfits.
It is difficult to imagine, given the present circumstances, use of force to send the unfortunate, suffering people back as neither Myanmar nor Bangladesh will accept them. However, we obviously cannot send a message that India is willing to receive a huge number of displaced people from Myanmar. In the past, India was successfully able to undertake an expedition to peaceful relations in Myanmar. Good relations with the military government could be nurtured while maintaining a cordial relationship with the pro-democracy movement. The world expects India to contribute to a lasting solution to this problem. India’s Act East policy demands it. It should take an apolitical, pragmatic position that is free from ideological inclinations, be it political or communal.