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Rohingyas in Myanmar: India's Options

 Who are the Rohingyas?

The Rohingyas are a minority community in Myanmar, living in the   western Myanmar, the State of Rakhine along the coast. Often   called the “world’s most persecuted minority”, most Rohingyas   are Muslims who have lived amongst the Buddhist community of  Myanmar for years. The South East Asian countries are home to   approximately 1.1 million Rohingyas[1].

The community has been denied the citizenship of Myanmar since   1982 and is not considered a part of the 135 ethnic groups   recognized officially. In essence, the Rohingyas are basically stateless. They are confined to Rakhine, forced to live in camps,   which are often compared to German ghettos, without basic opportunities and services. The Rohingyas have lived in this area for centuries; some historians even say the 12th century.
During the British rule, labourers migrated from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar for work and at that point, this migration was deemed to be internal. The native population did not take this positively and condemned this. Following the end of the British Rule, the government declared this migration as having been illegal. A Human Right Watch Report from 2000[2] has said that this is the reason the Myanmar government denies them citizenship. In fact, many Buddhist refer to this community as Bengali, rejecting the term Rohingyas on the ground that this name has been created for political reasons.

A report from 2015 by the Yale Law School[3], the Union Citizenship Act was passed after Myanmar’s independence. The Act allowed certain communities and ethnic groups to apply for citizenship; the Rohingyas were not one of those allowed. However, Rohingyas whose families had been living in Myanmar for two generations or more were allowed to apply for identity cards. Things became worse in 1962, following the military coup under which the Rohingya’s were given foreign identity cards, limiting their educational and employment opportunities. However, post the new citizenship law from 1982, they were completely denied citizenship rendering them stateless. They now live in Myanmar with severe restrictions on education, employment, travel, practising their religion, health services and even marriages.

Several crackdowns on them have lead to thousands of Rohingya's fleeing the country and seeking refuge elsewhere. Reports have claimed that most of these crackdowns have involved rape, torture and murder by the security forces. Over the years several individuals and organization, including a UN official in 2016, have claimed that the Myanmar government has been carrying out an “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingyas, which has been denied by the government. These crackdowns are usually imposed following some violence or vandalism against security forces or other infrastructure in the Country.
Data from the UNHRC[4] has shown that since 2012 more than 168,000 Rohingyas have fled the Country. Many are believed to have fled to Bangladesh. Between 2012 and 2015, it is believed that more than 112,000 Rohingyas made a dangerous journey to Malaysia, crossing the sea by boats.

Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)
The organization was previously known as the al-Yaqeen Faith Movement. The group has known to rebel against the security forces. The group is considered as a “terrorist” group by the Myanmar government formally as of 25th August. The ARSA claims to be an ethnic armed resistance group fighting the government. They disguise as civilians and use forcefully recruited villagers to conduct attacks. The tactics used by them are quite similar to guerrilla warfare, often compared to be like that of the Naxalites in India.

The group is led by Abdus Qadoos Burmi a Pakistani man of Rohingya origin. He is known to have close links with state-sponsored terrorists from Pakistan Lashkar-e-Taiba. Though they deny it, most people believe that the ARSA has links with not just LeT but also Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups who have often called for Jihad against Myanmar as vengeance for the suffering of the Rohingyas. Several reports have claimed that the ARSA has been joined by insurgents from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thai Muslims and even Malaysia. Their training is conducted along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and northern Sumatra, Indonesia.

What Does the Government Say?
The government’s approach has usually been to deny any accusations of ethnic cleansing.
Currently, Nobel laureate for peace, Aung San Suu Kyi is the de facto head of Myanmar as the State Chancellor. Her government does not recognize them as an ethnic group either and violence is blamed on the Rohingya “terrorists”. The international community criticizes Suu Kyi for her failure to even criticize the acts of violence against them. The government responds by saying that domestic investigation was underway and they “the right to defend the country by lawful means” in the face of “increasing terrorist activities”.

Former UN Chief Kofi Annan, in September 2016 was entrusted by Suu Kyi to head a commission to come up with recommendations to heal the rift with the Rohingyas. The report was released in August last and the government accepted them saying that the report would be given “full consideration with the view to carrying out the recommendations to the fullest extent ... in line with the situation on the ground”.

On 19th September, in a televised address, Suu Kyi condemned “all human rights violations” occurring in Rakhine and said that the state would verify the status of anybody who had fled in the last month as a result of violence, “at any time”. However, there was much criticism since no clear-cut process for verification was given and no proper explanation was rendered for those who could return.

How does Bangladesh take the Refugee crisis?
Currently, more than half a million refugees stay in Bangladesh in temporary camps, most of whom are unregistered. Those living outside the camps have been tagged as having “illegally infiltrated”. The security forces in the country have often attempted to stop Rohingyas from crossing the border and entering.

Bangladesh has been taking in refugees but has made it clear that they are not keen on handling them for very long. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on international community to put further pressure on Myanmar to end the crisis and allow the refugees to return. She said that Bangladesh would shelter the refugees temporarily and provide them with aid, however, Myanmar should soon “take their nationals back”.

Those living in the refugee camps have claimed that the government aid is either inadequate or non-existent. Refugees aren’t allowed to leave the border areas and strict surveillance through police check posts has been put in place to ensure that they don’t venture into other parts of the country.

India on the Rohingya matter                       
Bangladesh expected stronger support from India. The Indian government has made it clear that they intend to deport the 40,000 Rohingyas that stay in the country. The government has claimed that these refugees are illegal immigrants and they are to stick to their plan of deportation. However, the Supreme Court has been brought into the debate.

India has also condemned the Myanmar government for their failure to control the situation, however, there is very little that can be done by the Indian government can do to pressurize the Myanmar. India has begun to offer assistance by airlifting relief material and other things as needed. On the 23rd of September India also sent 1,000 tonnes worth relief  material which capable of catering to 62,000 families[5].

India also needs to be more watchful of the Rohingya militants; the presence of Pakistani jihad could be an indicator of their ISI’s involvement which could be an attempt at destabilizing the government in Bangladesh. At the same time, China has declared open support to Myanmar, which is yet another attempt by them to establish themselves in countries in India’s neighbourhood.

Currently, government estimates say approximately 40,000 Rohingya refugees are in India right now. In the last few weeks, the government has announced and thereafter reiterated its intention to deport these refugees. For this, they have received severe criticism from citizens, international agents and other concerned parties alike. The government seems unlikely to budge from their stance. The government isn’t the only party that wants the Rohingyas gone. Many people have also said that they should be gone. Their reasons are primarily the following:

1.      The links to terrorist organizations can prove to be disastrous. India already has no dearth of insurgent and terror activities. On top of that if new agents were to enter it would only make matters worse. The National security of the country and its people is the top priority of a sovereign.
2.      Provisions of the Foreigners Act and Passport Act justify the deportation of the Rohingyas. A procedure exists under the Acts for the detection and deportation of illegal immigrants.
3.      The North Eastern corridor could become even more fragile by insurgent Rohingya militants.
4.      The potential for violence against the Buddhists residing in India by radicalized Rohingyas.
5.      Taking care of the Rohingyas will be an additional burden on the government; a government already weighed down by the responsibility of more 1.34 billion population that is struggling with basic facilities and amenities like education, sanitation and even employment for that matter.

However, at the same time, several people have argued that on humanitarian grounds, India needs to protect the Rohingyas and grant them, refugees. Their claims are based on just humanitarian facts, but also a legal basis. Citing the fact that immigrants may be either economical or refugees; while economical immigrants can be denied entry and deported, refugees cannot. The explanation behind this is that refugees are people seeking shelter and protection from their own state which has failed to do the same for them or has been persecuting them.

At the same time, many supporters have also said that the Indian Constitution enshrines the Article 21 and the right to life it provides. In view of the Article 21, it would be unfair and hypocritical if the Indian government is to deport these Rohingyas and deprive them of a life with dignity.

It is the general belief that the Rohingyas have been decent members of the society until now. Human psychology says that no creature, whether man or otherwise, will do any harm to you unless you do harm to them. It is this principle that fuels the belief of the general public that the Rohingyas be allowed to stay in the country with special refugee cards for the purpose of identification cards until they remain peaceful and do no harm. Should they change tunes and do anything to disrupt the peace and order, the government can take the necessary steps to push them out.  

Written By:

Harshita Chaarag
IV Year

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Blog.





[1] ‘Myanmar: Who are the Rohingya?’, 28th September, Al Jazeera. Available at http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/08/Rohingya-muslims-170831065142812.html (Last accessed on 28th September 2017).
[2] Human Rights Watch. Available at https://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/burma/burm005-01.htm (last accessed on 28th September 2017).
[3]LINBLOM, MARSH, MOTALA & MUNYAN, ‘Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine’s State? A legal Analysis’, October 2015. Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School. Available at http://www.fortifyrights.org/downloads/Yale_Persecution_of_the_Rohingya_October_2015.pdf (Last accessed on 28th September 2017).
[4] VIVIAN TAN, ‘Over 168,000 Rohingyas likely fled Myanmar since 2012 – UNHRC Report’, May 2017, UNHRC. Available at http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2017/5/590990ff4/168000-Rohingya-likely-fled-myanmar-since-2012-unhcr-report.html (Last accessed on 28th September 2017).
[5] ‘India sends 1,000 tonnes relief material for Rohingyas’, Economic Times, 23rd September 2017 (Last accessed on 30th September 2017).

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