Rohingya, A National Threat And Dog-fight Politics

Following the tweet to provide the EWS flats to Rohingya muslims living in the national capital, by the Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on August 17, 2022 which creates storm across the nation. Calling it a landmark decision, the union minister said that the flats meant for the Economically Weaker Section in the Bakkarwala area of Delhi will have all basic amenities, police protection and they will also be provided UNHCR IDs.

The entire media outlets started questioning about the double standards of the NDA that came into power in 2014 and 2019 respectively to resolve all such national security related issues that have been widely ignored by the power so far. The power corridors of India have always ignored and risks the national security for vote banks.

While this announcement was welcomed by a section of ecosystem, while it triggered massive outrage among the other section on social media, the primary support base of BJP. People were not only outraged but also confused, because the comments of Hardeep Singh Puri went completely against everything the government has been saying about Rohingya Muslims. In courts, in parliament, and in press statements, the govt has been saying that Rohingyas are illegal foreigners, security threats, and they will be deported. While govt had already started to deport them, a Supreme Court stay order is preventing it.

The Modi govt has been saying that as India is not a signatory to the UN’s refugee convention, the country is not obliged to shelter them. The home ministry is also labelling Rohingyas as a security threat. Therefore, Puri created massive confusion by talking about respecting UN Refugee Convention of 1951.

However, the storm died down when the union home ministry essentially said that the union housing and urban development minister was providing wrong information. In a statement issued clarifying the matter, the MHA said that it has not given any direction to provide EWS flats to the Rohingyas. Calling them illegal foreigners, the home ministry reiterated its position that the Rohingyas will be deported to their country of origin, Myanmar.

The MHA also informed that it was the Delhi government which had proposed to shift the Rohingyas to a new location, but this was rejected by the MHA. The ministry has directed the Delhi govt to keep at the present location, and they will stay there till the matter of deportation is taken up with Myanmar.

The home ministry further informed that instead of EWS flats, the Rohingyas will be kept at detention centres till their deportation. The ministry also has asked the Delhi govt to declared the current Rohingya camps as detention centres immediately.

It is notable that the home ministry didn’t use the term to describe the Rohingyas, calling them illegal foreigners instead. This makes it clear that there is no intention of the Modi govt to grant refugee status to them, regardless of the claims of minister Puri. The govt clarified that the Rohingyas will be deported to their home country, and there is no question of sheltering them in flats.

The Rohingya Problem and Its Effect in India

The Rohingya people, most of whom are Muslims, are a group of stateless people based in the Rakhine state in Myanmar. Originally from East Bengal/Bangladesh, most of them are not recognised as citizens of the country by Myanmar, and therefore they are stateless people as they don’t have citizenship of any country.

The Myanmar govt calls them Bengalis and does not accept the term Rohingya as the name of the community. In 2014, the govt had asked them to change their ethnicity to Bengali in the census, but almost all of them refused, claiming that they are living in Rakhine for centuries. But they could not produce any document to prove their claim.

The action against the community culminated in the Rohingya genocide in 2016-2017 by the Burmese military. While the military crackdown was mainly against Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya terror group, civilian Rohingyas were also targeted by the military.

Myanmar govt also accuses them of being involved in terror activities, and there are evidence of genocides of Hindus by the Rohingyas in Myanmar. As a result, in 2012, the military started to evict them from their villages on various charges. Since then, Rohingyas had started to flee to neighbouring countries, mostly Bangladesh.

Following the crackdown on Rohingyas, millions of them fled to neighbouring countries. Most of them settled in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, creating the world’s largest refugee camp, the Kutupalong refugee camp. Some of the Rohingyas entered other countries including India, Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries in the region.

While Bangladesh has around 9 lakh Rohingyas, who refuse to return home due to fear of persecution, it is estimated that around 40,000 Rohingyas are living in India at present. While initially their entry went un-noticed and they were largely concentrated in the north-eastern states bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar, slowly they started to show up in several other states including West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

Rohingyas Muslims Are Illegal Foreigners, Not Refugees in India

Since the beginning, the Indian govt has made it clear that Rohingyas are illegal immigrants and they need to be deported. The govt’s position is that all foreign nationals living in the country without valid travel documents are illegal immigrants and they are to be treated as per law.

However, several political parties are trying the prevent deportation for their political benefits. It is alleged that the TMC has settled a large number of people from the group in West Bengal. Similarly, there are allegations that AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan and Kejriwal’s Delhi govt systematically settled 300 illegal Rohingyas in Delhi. Today’s MHA statement also shows that the AAP govt is planning to keep them permanently or for a long term by shifting them from the camps.

There is no blanket stay order from the Supreme Court on the deportation of Rohingyas from India, there are still hurdles to it. Every time some Rohingyas are selected for deportation, they approach the courts, and the courts grant a stay order, delaying the deportation almost indefinitely.

As an unaccepted community, the Myanmar govt is also generally unwilling to accept them back in the country. In the initial years after the crisis, the Junta govt had flatly refused to accept them back. While the Myanmar govt last year finally agreed to take them back, they have said all the Rohingyas need to be scrutinised before allowing them to enter the country, which has delayed the process.

Moreover, the Rohingyas themselves are not willing to return home. As they are not given citizenship, and also due to fear of further persecution, the Rohingyas prefer to live in refugee camps instead of returning to their homeland. As a result, the Rohingyas continue to live in India and other countries. While their official number in India is around 40,000, the actual number will be much more, because as already seen with Bangladeshi immigrants, it is almost impossible to keep track of illegal foreigners.

International organisations and left liberals want India to give shelter to Rohingya Muslims, the stand of the Indian govt is clear, that they are a security threat and they need to be deported. Indian govt also argues that as the country is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention of the UN, the country is not bound by it to shelter them as refugees.

MoS (home) Nityanand Rai said in parliament last year, “India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the status of refugees and the 1967 protocol thereon. All foreign nationals (including refuge seekers) are governed by the provisions contained in The Foreigners Act, 1946, The Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939, The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and The Citizenship Act, 1955, and rules and orders made thereunder.

Foreign nationals who enter into the country without valid travel documents or whose travel documents expire while staying in India are treated as illegal migrants and are dealt as per the existing legal provisions.” However, the home ministry clarification reiterates this position that Rohingyas are illegal foreigners and they need to be deported.

India’s Stated Position on Refugees and UNHCR

While India does house refugees, like the Afghans that fled Afghanistan last year after the Taliban took over the country, the govt retains the right to decide whom to deport and whom to allow to stay.

Even though around 20,000 Rohingyas have registered themselves with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and have been issued refugee ID cards by the organisation, govt of India says it does not give any right to the Rohingyas and the govt is not obliged to accept them as refugees.

On the issue of Rohingyas registered by UNHCR, the Indian government’s position is that while it can’t prevent UNHCR from registering the Rohingyas as refugees in India, the govt is not bound to accept them as refugees.

As far as we are concerned. they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is illegal migrant will be deported,” then MoS Home Kiren Rijiju said in 2017.

This shows that the government’s position on the issue has not changed from the beginning, as the govt is consistently saying that Rohingyas are illegal foreigners and will be deported. Therefore, it is not clear what made Hardeep Singh Puri make those statements causing massive outrage and confusion. As he heads the housing and urban development ministry, people had assumed that his ministry might have been involved in shifting the Rohingyas to the EWS flats, but now it is revealed that the central govt is not involved in any such plans.

Puri had shared an ANI report from 16th August claiming that the Rohingyas will be moved to the flats, and with the MHA clarification, it seems he was misguided by the media report. The report claimed that the decision was taken in a meeting attended by senior officials of the Delhi government, Delhi Police and Ministry of Home Affairs. However, now the MHA has denied its involvement in the decision, and said that it has directed the Delhi govt to not shift the Rohingyas.

It is notable that even as per UNHCR, refugees can’t choose their country of asylum, they have to live wherever they are accepted. The Rohingyas crossed over from Bangladesh, where the Bangladesh govt with the aid of international agencies is running the refugee camps. Therefore, if the Rohingyas don’t want to return to Myanmar, they need to go back to the recognised refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Rohingyas in Bangladesh

It is interesting to note that due to continuous violence, crime and overall lawlessness, the Bangladesh govt is shifting refugees from the overcrowded Cox’s Bazar refugee camp.

The Bangladesh govt has built 1440 buildings on the island to house around 1 lakh Rohingya refugees. However, both the refugees and international aide workers refused to relocate to the remote island despite having better facilities, preferring to stay in Cox’s Bazar city instead.

The govt has already started the process of relocating some of them to Bhasan Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal which was formed just 20 years ago and was earlier uninhibited. However, some Rohingya refugees have relocated and are living on the island now, earning their livelihood from farming, fishing etc activities.