India press­ing Myan­mar for Ro­hingya re­turn

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New Delhi: Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj has ex­pressed sol­i­dar­ity with Bangladesh over the Ro­hingya cri­sis, and as­sured that India is putting pres­sure on Myan­mar to take back refugees who have fled the Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity na­tion, Dhaka has said. The is­sue is likely to dom­i­nate the pro­ceed­ings of next week’s United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly (UNGA) ses­sion that Swaraj will be at­tend­ing.

Dhaka also said that Swaraj termed that cri­sis “an in­ter­na­tional is­sue by now” and said India is try­ing to put pres­sure — both bi­lat­er­ally and mul­ti­lat­er­ally — on Myan­mar to stop per­se­cu­tion of eth­nic mi­nor­ity Ro­hingya Mus­lims.

This comes a day af­ter the Union Home Min­istry’s draft af­fi­davit, which cited na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns over Ro­hingyas’ in­volve­ment in ter­ror ac­tiv­i­ties, got into pub­lic do­main, four days be­fore its sub­mis­sion be­fore the Supreme Court. India has said Ro­hingya refugees must be sent back from its ter­ri­tory, but sent 53 tonnes of re­lief ma­te­ri­als to Bangladesh for the refugees on Thurs­day.

Union Home Min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh, how­ever, said on Fri­day that the gov­ern­ment will re­veal

its stand on the is­sue be­fore the Supreme Court on Mon­day. Re­fus­ing to com­ment fur­ther, he said, “Wait for the af­fi­davit to know the gov­ern­ment stand. What­ever af­fi­davit we have to file, we will file on Septem­ber 18,” he said.

The gov­ern­ment told Par­lia­ment on Au­gust 9 that more than 14,000 Ro­hingyas are liv­ing in India. Ro­hingyas en­ter from Bangladesh’s border with India and spread out to Delhi-NCR, Jammu, Hy­der­abad, Haryana, Ut­tar Pradesh and Ra­jasthan.

“She (Swaraj) called our Prime Min­is­ter last night and con­veyed her coun­try’s sol­i­dar­ity with Bangladesh over the Myan­mar refugee is­sue,” Bangladesh Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina’s Deputy Press Sec­re­tary Nazrul Is­lam said.

Is­lam said Bangladesh was forced to of­fer shel­ter to the refugees on hu­man­i­tar­ian ground as they fled their home in Myan­mar’s western Rakhine state to evade atroc­i­ties. There was no con­fir­ma­tion from the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs (MEA) of Swaraj’s phone call. Is­lam, how­ever, said that Hasina ex­plained to her the help­less­ness and mis­eries of the refugees, par­tic­u­larly of the mi­nor chil­dren and women, and said Bangladesh is try­ing to ad­dress their ba­sic needs. “She (Hasina) told Swaraj that Bangladesh re­quired ex­ter­nal sup­ports to han­dle the refugee is­sue and re­turn them to Myan­mar,” Is­lam said.

Hasina said her gov­ern­ment al­lo­cated land for makeshift shel­ters for the Ro­hingyas “but, it will cer­tainly cre­ate a big prob­lem for Bangladesh if they stay for long”. He fur­ther said the In­dian High Com­mis­sioner in Dhaka, Harsh Vard­han Shringla, was also present at Hasina’s Gan­ab­ha­ban res­i­dence when Swaraj called.

India’s worry also stems from the fact that the is­sue is likely to dom­i­nate the pro­ceed­ings of the UNGA ses­sion start­ing next week. Swaraj is fly­ing to New York on Septem­ber 17 to stay there for seven days for back-to-back en­gage­ments with world lead­ers, in­clud­ing her first meet­ing with US Sec­re­tary Of State Rex Tiller­son.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the ac­tions of the gov­ern­ment of Bangladesh in mak­ing every ef­fort to deal with the ur­gent re­quire­ments of food, cloth­ing and shel­ter for the large num­ber of refugees that have placed a huge de­mand on its re­sources,” Shringla had said.

“It is in this con­text that the gov­ern­ment of India, in con­sul­ta­tion with the gov­ern­ment of Bangladesh, has de­cided to pro­vide ur­gent hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to sup­port the ef­forts of Bangladesh.” Diplo­mats here said once the gov­ern­ment de­clares Ro­hingyas a se­cu­rity threat in a court doc­u­ment, then ques­tions would be asked about send­ing aid to Dhaka.


A Ro­hingya refugee fans her child with a piece of paper in Cox’s Bazar.

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