Political lines are once again being drawn up in India over refugees, this time from Myanmar. Though over 3,13,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to their ancient homeland Bangladesh from Rakhine State in Myanmar, several thousand may spill over the porous border into the Northeast. Anticipating an influx, Manipur government has already tightened security along its border with Myanmar. The issue has already stirred up divisions in that State with the Meitei Youth Front asserting that Muslims of Myanmar and Manipur are different, while questioning the ‘motive’ of some Muslim organisations there demanding refugee status for Rohingyas. The Central government, meanwhile, has taken the position that the Rohingyas are illegal immigrants and must go back. But New Delhi is in a piquant position with Myanmar unwilling to accept them and the Rohingyas desperate not to return. Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju has ruled out using force to deport them. “We are not going to throw them in the middle of the ocean or shoot them. Why are we being accused of being very inhuman?” he asked recently, clearly exasperated with criticism from rights groups and political opponents. So how will the Centre go about it? Apparently, it has pushed the ball into the court of State governments, issuing an advisory to set up task forces ‘to identify and deport all illegally staying immigrants, as they pose a threat to tiol security’. And what is this threat perception? Reportedly, the Central government has decided to consult the tiol Security Advisor and chiefs of intelligence agencies and security forces. Referring to these recent developments, former BJP leader KN Govindacharya last week petitioned the Supreme Court seeking deportation of Rohingyas on the ground that terror outfits like Al-Qaeda is trying to use the Rohingya community as a shield to carry out jihad and cause ‘another partition of the country’.
Yet another refugee crisis
The Supreme Court is already hearing a plea seeking a direction to the Central government not to deport around 40,000 Rohingya refugees back to ‘certain torture or death’ in Myanmar. In previous eruptions of violence in Rakhine, fleeing Rohingyas crossed over to India and have been housed in settlements in Jammu, Delhi-NCR, Hyderabad, Cheni, and parts of Harya, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Meanwhile, the tiol Human Rights Commission, seeking a report from the Union Home Ministry on reported moves by the Centre to deport Rohingyas, has taken the stand that the fundamental right to life and liberty enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution — applies to all, irrespective of whether they are citizens or foreigners. In terms of diplomacy, India has been understandably treading very cautiously over the situation in Rakhine after the Rohingya insurgent group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched a series of attacks on police outposts on August 25, killing 13 security forces personnel along with 14 civilians. The Myanmar army counter attacked, though the United tions, Islamic tions and various rights organisations have alleged of ‘excessive’ use of force and even ethnic cleansing to drive away Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar. With over 1,000 lives lost in the spiralling violence and a humanitarian crisis emerging, India has called for ‘restraint’ from Myanmar government, while focusing on the welfare of civilian population ‘alongside those of the security forces’.
This is in line with the nuanced position the Indian side took against terror during Prime Minister rendra Modi’s visit to Myanmar last week. New Delhi further signified its intent by refusing to be a part of the recent Bali Declaration against the violence in Rakhine and call for ‘respect to human rights regardless of faith and ethnicity’. Considering the festering threat of Northeast ultra groups still operating from Myanmar soil, there is no way for New Delhi to be soft on Rohingya insurgency, despite this ethnic group’s tag as ‘the most persecuted and friendless people in the world’. Not being a sigtory to the United tion’s 1951 convention on refugees and also its 1967 protocol, India has been taking case-by-case policy on refugees. This is the root of the problem, given the fact that this country has no specific and separate law on refugees. After the exodus of populations during partition, India had to house over 1 crore refugees from East Pakistan, of which Assam is still bearing the brunt. Governments at the Centre took similar policies to allow refugees from Tibet, Myanmar and Sri Lanka; the present NDA regime is all set to push through a law granting citizenship to Hindus and other minority groups fleeing ‘religious persecution’ in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The stress on religion while having concerns about terror links are playing havoc with the very concept of refugees. There is a crying need for introspection here, so that the country does not take positions against refugees both bad in law and morality.