By Satish Sharma
Declared as a ‘stateless entity’ by the country they call home, rejected by others, the Rohingyas are living in despair and desolation. Virtually stateless, they’ve been fleeing Myanmar, seeking refuge wherever destiny takes them.
In recent years, tens of thousands of Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries like India, Malaysia, Pakistan etc. amidst a military crackdown by the Myanmar army, on insurgents in the western Rakhine state. There are also reports that the army is burning villages and laying landmines along the border.
Horrifying stories of mass killing, rapes and arson have emerged, which has been refuted by the Myanmar government as being false and distorted.
About one million Rohingyas are estimated to live in the western Rakhine state, where they are a minority. After the outbreak of communal violence in 2012, more than 100,000 were displaced. Thousands of them were forced to settle in the camps where their movements were restricted. Unable to travel or even move out of the camps, many Rohingyas have been trapped at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border since August 2016.
Why is it happening?
Rohingyas claim that they are one amongst Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities, originating from Arab traders and other groups who have been in the region for generations.
The Myanmar government, on the other hand, has refused to accord them an ethnic minority status, has denied them citizenship and instead has declared them as stateless entities and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Being a predominantly Buddhist country under decades long military rule, there has been a longstanding history of communal mistrust, which has been exploited at times.
International take on the issue
Today hundreds of thousands of undocumented Rohingya are living in ignominy in Bangladesh, India and other neighbouring countries, after having fled there over many years.
A UN spokeswoman in 2009 described the Rohingyas as “probably the most friendless people in the world”.
Today the plight of the Rohingyas has briefly captured the world’s attention and seen some strong criticism and protests emerge from Myanmar’s Muslim-majority neighbours.
The UN human rights office recently said, for a second time this year, that abuses suffered by the Rohingyas could amount to crimes against humanity. It also said that it regretted that the government had failed to act on a number of recommendations it had provided, including lifting restrictions of movement on the Rohingyas.
It has called for an investigation into the recent allegations of rights abuses, as well as for humanitarian access and aid to be given to them.
India’s take on the issue
As part of ‘Operation Insaniyat,’ the Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday , September 2017, sent relief aid to Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh following fresh violence in Rakhine State.
India’s relief measure comes after Bangladesh put pressure on the Indian government, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lukewarm response to the Rohingya crisis during his recent visit to Myanmar.
Although PM Modi talked about “extremist violence” perpetrated by Rohingya militants, he did not make any mention of the massive humanitarian crisis that has put tremendous pressure on Bangladesh to host incoming refugees.
Deputy interior minister Kiren Rijiju had claimed that India would deport 40,000 undocumented or “illegal” immigrants back to Myanmar, citing security threat reasons.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh recently said that Rohingya Muslims are illegal immigrants and not refugees who had applied for asylum in India. He further stated that there is a procedure to get refugee status and since none of them have followed this procedure, they will be treated as illegal immigrants and deported.
Why India considers them as a security threat?
The Rohingyas have been associated with a history of armed militancy since the 1940s, when they tried to secede from Myanmar and create a separate Islamist state.
Even in Indonesia, police say they have foiled an IS-linked bomb plot targeting the Myanmar embassy.
J&K police claim that here too, In India, they are involved with militant groups.
Burmese, Bangladeshi and Indian intelligence agencies have found Pakistan’s terror groups hiring Rohingyas from Bangladeshi refugee camps, training and arming them in Bangladesh and using them for terrorist activities in India.
After the 25th August 2017 incident in Rakhine, Kashmiri separatist leaders called for protests in the valley against the killings of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which turned violent. And people of Jammu find this connection worrying.
There are claims that many of these refugees have managed to get voter cards and PAN cards and other national identities, which is possibly a major threat to the security system of the country.
So what lies ahead?
The Rohingya issue is undeniably a massive humanitarian disaster. But such issues are best solved locally. Myanmar along with the UN and other international agencies, needs to find a solution to this issue.
Meanwhile, it is important for the neighbouring countries including India, to look at the Rohingyas, both from a humanitarian and security point of view, until a solution to this issue is found.