The Rohingya crisis has created multiple implications for several countries including India. The Rohingya are minority Muslims in western Myanmar and have been fleeing their homes following an army crackdown on their villages that has left hundreds dead. Since Myanmar’s armed forces responded to attacks by militants on August 25 with a counteroffensive on the Rohingya, more than half a million of Rohingya Muslims have arrived in Bangladesh alone.
The Narendra Modi government has been maintaining that the Rohingya are not refugees who have applied for asylum in India but illegal immigrants who “will be deported”. India is home to many refugees from Sri Lankan, Afghanistan, Tibetan and Myanmar. The government also told the Supreme Court that some of the Rohingya were part of a “sinister” design of Pakistan’s ISI and terror groups such as the ISIS, whose presence in the country will pose a “serious” national security threat. In an affidavit in the apex court, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also said the fundamental right to settle in any part of the country was available only to citizens and not the Rohingya. It categorically stated that the apex court should not invoke its jurisdiction, as the issue of Rohingya “fell under the exclusive domain of policy decision of the executive”.
The affidavit was submitted as a response to a plea, filed by Rohingya immigrants Mohammad Salimullah and Mohammad Shaqir, claiming they had taken refuge in India after escaping from Myanmar due to widespread discrimination, violence and bloodshed against the community there. The Supreme Court has made it clear to the Centre and two Rohingya Muslims, who have challenged any move to deport illegal refugees to Myanmar, to desist from making emotional arguments and personal attacks and asked them to file documents, including international conventions. The apex court will next hear a batch of pleas for and against the Rohingyas on October 13.
It asserted that it will hear arguments only on the points of law as the matter concerned humanitarian cause and humanity which required to be heard with mutual respect. In his remarks at an open debate of the Security Council on Myanmar on September 28, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had said that the reality on the ground demands action – swift action – to protect people, alleviate suffering, prevent further instability, address the root causes of the situation and forge, at long last, a durable solution. “The situation has spiralled into the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare,” he said. Guterres called on the Myanmar authorities to take three immediate steps – to end the military operations, to allow unfettered access for humanitarian support, and to ensure the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of the refugees to their areas of origin. “The violence in Rakhine – whether by the military or radical elements within communities – must end,” he asserted.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), meanwhile, has issued a supplementary appeal for emergency response for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Declaring the crisis a ‘Level 3 Emergency,’ the appeal issued by the Office of the UNHCR seeks USD 83.7 million in urgent additional requirements from September 2017 through to February 2018 and is built on the respective elements of the preliminary response plan for the influx into Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. The preliminary response plan was initially drawn up by the Inter-Sector Coordination Group in early September. It had appealed for USD 77 million for the response and is currently under revision. Human rights group Amnesty International has blamed Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s government for “burying their heads in the sand over the horrors unfolding in Rakhine State”.
In August, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to the Centre over its plan to deport illegal Rohingya immigrants from Myanmar who are residing in various parts of India. The NHRC said that till today, the country has evolved a practical balance between human and humanitarian obligations on the one hand and security and national interest on the other. Stating that “India has been home to refugees, for centuries”, the Commission has held that from the human rights angle, its “intervention is appropriate” in the matter. The NHRC said that the Centre has to look into the situation, “keeping the fact into focus that the members of the Rohingya community, who have crossed into the Indian borders and are residing here for long, have a fear of persecution once they are pushed back to their native country”.
Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju had said in Parliament on August 9 that according to available data, more than 14,000 Rohingyas, registered with the UNHCR, are currently staying in India. There are about 1,200 Rohingyas in the national capital alone, some in Shaheen Bagh and the others in a camp in Madanpur Khadar. On September 21, a tough-talking Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, addressing a seminar organised by the NHRC, asked why some people were objecting to the deportation of the Rohingya when Myanmar was ready to accept them. The government has said that India would not be violating any international law if it deports the Rohingya as it is not a signatory to the UN Refugees Convention 1951. Singh said on September 14, India sent 53 tonnes of relief material to Bangladesh for the Rohingya, who poured into that country. With the government’s stand on the issue unlikely to change, it will be interesting to see what the apex court decides in the ongoing case.