THE NOWHERE PEOPLE
Described by the United Nations in 2013 as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, Rohingyas are an ethnic community from Myanmar’s western Rakhine state. Though they trace their history to the 8th century, Buddhist Myanmar considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh and does not recognise them as a national race. The 1982 Burmese citizenship law denies them citizenship while also restricting them from freedom of movement, state education and civil service jobs. The Rohingyas have faced military crackdowns in 1978, 1991–1992, 2012, 2015 and 2016.
In the latest crackdown by Myanmar security forces after coordinated attacks on police posts and an attempted attack on an army base in August 2017, an estimated 270,000 Rohingyas have fled Rakhine state that borders Bangladesh. The statesanctioned persecution of the community is being described by the UN and Human Rights Watch as ethnic cleansing, with warnings of an unfolding genocide. Yanghee Lee, the UN special investigator on Myanmar, believes it wants to expel its entire Rohingya population.
According to Home ministry estimates, there are around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims living as undocumented refugees in various parts of India, like Delhi, Nuh (Haryana), Jaipur (Rajasthan), Hyderabad, UP and Jammu. More than 10,000 are said to be in Jammu, where their presence is the subject of hot debate.
India, however, does not officially recognised Rohingya Muslims as refugees. India is one of the few democracies that has not ratified the Refugee Convention, which governs how distressed refugees are treated in nations where they seek asylum. Ironically however, India has been granting citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan for years. More than 1,20,000 Tibetans, 30 lakh to 2 crore Bangladeshis and about 10,000 Sri Lankans live in India as refugees.
On April 3, Home ministry reportedly discussed plans to identify “illegal” Rohingya settlers, for possible arrest and deportation under the Foreigners Act.
Following this, Amnesty International called upon India to sign and ratify the international Refugee Convention of 1951, as well as the 1967 Protocol Related to the Status of Refugees, which the government refused.
India’s national security fears are based on intelligence reports linking the radical Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al-Qaeda offshoots. Key individuals in ARSA, and its front organisations such as Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, are allegedly close to Hafiz Saeed. RSO also has a Pakistan chapter, and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa front Falah-eInsaniyat has a presence in Rohingya refugee camps since 2012. Myanmar itself says that terror outfits have infiltrated Rohingyas and that it is difficult to sift militants from genuine cases.
The signs are evident in India too. In 2015, Chhota Burmi, a militant of Rohingya ethnic group was killed in an encounter in Kashmir. Today, both Kashmiri separatists and militants favour Rohingyas living in Jammu. Early this year, head of Ansar Gazawat-ulHind in Kashmir, Zakir Musa in a 10-minute-long audio clip, expressed solidarity with Rohingyas of Jammu and warned the government against deporting them from India.
The support to Rohingyas from terror outfits has made the government’s case for deportation of the illegal refugees stronger. It says that the presence of such a vulnerable people in India poses security risks to the country.
Besides coping with nearly a quarter of a million refugees can be tough even for the biggest of economies.