India has taken the right decision to not bow down to international pressure and, instead, repatriate Rohingya refugees. It must now formulate a refugee policy
India is neither a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor to the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that came to force in 1967. Still, refugees continue to pour and the country has more than 3,00,000 refugees from 30 different countries. The number of illegal refugees may be much more.
According to reports, about 11 lakh Rohingyas have already reached Bangladesh and many may try to infiltrate into India. The UN termed it as “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya in Myanmar while the Army over there said that military action is against terrorists and that they are not averse to civilians. Unqualified Rohingya refugees are unacceptable as they are regarded as a burden on the economy. A majority of the Buddhist community in Myanmar considers Rohingyas as illegal Bengali migrants. No citizenship rights were given to the Rohingyas and numerous restrictions were imposed on them. Rohingyas are Sunni Muslims and have fought for an independent country in the past. In 1947 and 1971, they struggled to join East Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively.
Rohingya Muslims have also constituted a few terrorist organisations, including the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, the Harkat-al Yaqin, the Arakan Rohingya and Salvation Army (ARSA) to wage war and establish an independent Muslim state. Unfortunately, a few Muslim terrorist organisations, especially in Pakistan, started assisting these terrorist outfits. Besides Pakistan, few Muslim organisations in the Middle East also pumped petro dollars into the coffers of Rohingya terrorist outfits.
In fact, the present crisis erupted when the Myanmar Army took reprisal of the attack on August 25, 2017, by ARSA terrorists on 30 police posts and one Army base in which about 12 security personnel were killed. Before this major assault, Rohingya terrorists also attacked Government offices in 2016 and killed about nine police personnel. Prior to these attacks, they also killed Buddhists and Hindus who were residing in the area of their control. Intelligence sources claim that when the Myanmar Army took control of the Rohingya dominated areas, mass graves of Hindus and Buddhists were unearthed.
ARSA was formed by a Pakistani residing in Saudi Arabia; and as Rohingyas were living below the poverty line in Myanmar as well as in Bangladesh, they were vulnerable and were exploited by Islamic extremists. The Islamic State (IS), which has put a massive hate material on the Internet, was able to recruit a few Rohingya Muslims who went to Syria and Iraq to fight in conjunction with the IS. There are also reports that the IS and the lashkar-e-Tayyeba are trying to recruit Rohingyas staying in Jammu while the Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent has also supported the Rohingyas.
Aqa Mul Mujahidin, the terrorist outfit of Rohingya Muslims, has links with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and leT. There are also reports that the Rohingyas, settled in Jammu illegally, helped terrorists of JeM in the reconnaissance of the Army camp in Sunjuwan. JeM attacked the Army camp on February 10 in which six Indian Army personnel were martyred.
India shares a porous border with Bangladesh and, hence, it is expected that a large number of Rohingya Muslims will cross the border. This is hazardous. According to official figures, about 40,000 Rohingya refugees have already entered the country while analysts believe that the actual number is much more. Both Bangladesh and Indian security personnel claim that Rohingya Muslims are a big threat to the security of the region as a large number of young Rohingyas are thoroughly radicalised. The camps of Rohingya refugees are in Chittagong area of Bangladesh which is infamous for Islamic extremism and secessionist activities. In the past, terrorists from the North-East took shelter in this region before and after terrorist attacks in India. After Sheikh Hasina came to power, these terrorist camps were destroyed.
Unfortunately, a large number of NGOs, working with the Rohingyas, have Islamic extremist leanings and inculcate radicalism in them. As this is the election year in Bangladesh, the present Government is not wanting to take any action against Islamic terrorists. China is also augmenting its influence in Rakhine Province as well as in Bangladesh by assisting it in the gargantuan Rohingya refugee problem. China, which wants to keep foreign powers away from the Rakhine state, is silently trying with Myanmar and Bangladesh to solve the refugee problem amicably with an ulterior motive of enhancing its influence and keeping India away from both its neighbours. Hence, India has to be very cautious. On the one hand, it must boost its influence. On the other, it must see to it that China does not increase its sway, thereby mitigating India’s position.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement in November last year to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees but the Accord did not deliver desired results. The present Government, on the basis of analysis of intelligence agencies, stated in the Supreme Court that a few Rohingya refugees have terrorist background and were active in Delhi, Jammu, Hyderabad and Mewat. It is important to note that Rohingya Muslims have settled in Jammu where non-Kashmiris are not allowed to settle. Second, their helpers settled them in Hindu populated Jammu and not in the Valley. Rohingya refugees are scattered in several places across the country. This will make their repatriation very difficult.
The Government of India has taken the righteous decision to not bow down to international pressure and instead, to repatriate Rohingya refugees. The Government should now be firm in dealing with biased Muslim organisations, NGOs, human right activists and hypocrites who do not think before criticising the Government. India has limited resources and huge population. Hence, people have full right on resources. Second, India is already fighting with terrorism at several places, including Pakistan-sponsored terrorism as well as left Wing Extremism. Hence, India cannot afford a large number of radical Rohingyas in diverse parts of the country.
New Delhi very rightly chalked out a long-term plan to deal the crisis. India sent 7,000 tonne of relief material to Bangladesh under operation Insaniyat and also sanctioned $25 million to Myanmar for the development of infrastructure in Rakhine State so that Rohingya refugees can return back to their homeland. Indian authorities are also negotiating with officials in Myanmar to pave the way for the return of the Rohingyas.
Rohingyas do not have citizenship rights, Myanmar authorities have formulated a very stringent verification criteria and because of their past history, there exists severe anti-Rohingya sentiments in Myanmar. Hence, it will be difficult to repatriate them. It is, therefore, important for Indian security agencies to enhance vigilance on the border areas.
Several Rohingyas have obtained documents like Aadhaar card, pan card and even voter-ID cards through fraudulent means. Unfortunately, there are a few NGOs and so-called human rights activists who go out of the way to assist these illegal immigrants and render assistance in their illegal settlement with ulterior motives. They may start a legal battle; raise slogans and organise demonstrations in favour of Rohingyas and, hence, make their deportation difficult.
At present, India has no refugee policy, the country must formulate a detailed refugee policy so that illegal immigrants can be handled properly. In a nutshell, India is not responsible for the present exodus. Hence, the Government must resist pressure —international as well as national — and not allow Rohingya refugees to settle in India. Several of them may turn jihadists or may work as ‘lone wolf’ and carryout terrorist activities.
(The writer is member, United Services Institute of India, and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses)