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Should India accept Rohingya Refugees


The Rohingya are the world's biggest stateless ethnic group. There are about a million of them, most of whom live in northern Rakhine state of Myanmar. They are Muslim by religion. The Rohingya trace their origins in Rakhine to the 15th century or earlier, but official name for them today is "Bengali", intended to underline that they came to Rakhine as part of the British East India Company after it defeated the Burmese king in 1826. Under Myanmar's discriminatory 1982 citizenship law, only those who trace their residence in the country to before 1823 or Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan ethnic groups, qualify for full citizenship. Myanmar's official list of "national races" consist of 135 communities but do not recognize Rohingya as one of them.

An estimated 300000 plus Rohingya refugees from Rakhine state in Myanmar have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in just about a fortnight. This latest wave of refugees is a direct result of the crackdown by security forces in Myanmar after attacks by a terror group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on August 2017 that killed a dozen security personnel.

Myanmar's army has carried out "clearance operations" in the north of the western state to root out insurgents accused of deadly raids on police border post.

Response by International Community

UN has described the "Rohingya of Myanmar as one of the world's most persecuted people in the world". The economic backwardness of Myanmar, presence of two powers i.e. India and China and low strategic importance in terms of resources, made western countries reluctant to get involved in this humanitarian crisis. Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh PM, at UN general assembly speech urged international community for creating a "safe zones" for the Rohingya in Myanmar, but she failed to obtain any diplomatic backing from major and great powers. Suu Kyi has been criticizedinternationally for her attitude towards the Rohingya, and there have been calls for withdrawing the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to her for her fight for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. International Pressure compelled her to appoint commission under former UN secretary Kofi Annan. Though her office has welcomed the report but the powerful military has, however, more or less rejected the report.

India should accept Rohingya Refugees

India should come forward to help the refugees. The reasons are 3-fold: maintain a tradition of generosity, economic and strategic factors.

A welcoming nation, not only as a major power in the region but also as the largest democracy in the world, there are expectations that India should extend help to the fleeing Rohingya, at least on humanitarian grounds, and contribute to help resolve the conundrum. India has been historically known to be benevolent to refugees. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, it welcomed thousands of refugees from Myanmar. New Delhi not only provided basic necessities such as food and shelter but also provided refugees the necessary logistics to continue their pro-democratic movement from India. Another extant example of India's magnanimity in welcoming refugees is the presence of approximately 120,000 Tibetan refugees, residing in different parts of India. It is understandable about the concerns in some quarters in India that the Islamist terrorist groups may expand their networks through some hardline Rohingya. Bombings in Bodh Gaya in 2013 has been considered as the revenge attack by Rohingyas against the Buddhist majority in Myanmar.

Projects at stake, peace and stability in the Rakhine state is important for India's economic investment. The continued violence in Rakhine state is affecting India's Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport project, aimed at developing transport infrastructure in south-west Myanmar and India's northeast.

India shouldn't accept Rohingya Refugee

Refugees are the most vulnerable section, they can be easily exploited, threatened and forced into activities that they may not willing to do. They need food, shelter, protection, healthcare, education, counselling, training, jobs and slow integration. India being itself a developing country and acc. To UNDP India has 51% people living under Multi-Dimensional poverty, couldn't have the sources to guarantee all of that.

India, being a highly diverse country has also learnt some lessons from the past. Most refugees from the neighboring countries have some cultural and linguistic similarities to one or more of its own states (ex: Bangladesh-West Bengal, Sri Lankan Tamils- Tamil Nadu). The refugees often leave the camps and enter the largely unrecorded general population and eventually find ways to become an Indian citizen (during elections for exchange of votes or through other ways illegally, yes agents that facilitate this have been arrested in the past).

Insurgent groups in North-East region of India has been fighting against the Indian government with a major issue of migrating population. The influx of Bengalis in plains of Assam, Chakma and Hajong refugee's from Bangladesh in Arunachal, Bru migrants in Tripura from Mizoram etc. has spread a feeling of hatred against Indian administration for not being able to regulate such migration, which made these native residents to reduce to minority in their ancestral lands. Signing of Assam accord, Naga accord etc. has guaranteed that illegal immigrants would be deported and future influx of non-local would be closely monitored.

Change in India's stand

India has been criticized for showing lack of interest in Rohingya issue and just focusing on economic interest. Indian government was also planning to deport back 40000 illegal Rohingyas living in India. The concern was that these illegal migrants might get influenced by terrorist organization, but except a case of theft reported in Jaipur in which a Rohingya was convicted no other police case has been registered against Rohingyas in India.

Burdened by the swarm of refugees at a time when the country is also battling floods and disappointed with India's stand, Bangladesh finally decided to let its displeasure be known. Therefore, India has now decided to modify its stand and acknowledge the concerns related to the outflow of refugees. The statement issued by the ministry of external affairs still stops short of censuring the Suu Kyi government for the reasons enumerated earlier.

But the modification is due to another set of reasons. One, like Myanmar, Bangladesh too is important to India's counter-insurgency efforts and Act East policy. Two, the massive rush of refugees has triggered a domestic backlash by the opposition against the Sheikh Hasina government, which is perceived to lean towards India. An unhelpful Indian attitude would only deplete Hasina's position in Bangladesh and strengthen her rival Khaleda Zia, who is known for taking anti-India stands. Three, there has been a history of Hasina's rivals-Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami-working with Pakistan's rogue and anti-India intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)

Conclusion

India is caught in a difficult spot. It is not trying to balance the contradictory interests of Myanmar and Bangladesh, it has its own reasons to worry about the onslaught of refugees. India realizes that no. of Rohingyas will also land up in its own territory. It fears radicalization of this group. India is facing a difficult choice between letting an "errant" regime creates problems in the neighborhood and inviting greater Chinese involvement in the region by accepting coercive tactics. A perception of India's unhelpful attitude should not become a reason for Zia upstaging Hasina in the 2018 elections.

India's philosophy of VasudhaivaKutumbkamthat promotes the feeling of 'one world' and "Athithi Devo Bhava" that teaches us that guest is a god and should be treated with utmost respect in order to fulfill "Athithi Rina" i.e. debt toward guest. India since centuries has accepted the persecuted communities, for ex. Persians, Jews, Tibetans, Sikhs etc. and these communities has not only helped India to become a colorful society but has contributed to develop "cultural pluralism" and made Indians "tolerant" towards other religion and accept them as their brothers and sisters.

When there are growing calls from the international community to the Myanmar government to end violence in Rakhine state and address the Rohingya conundrum, it would not be a wise strategic move for India to ignore them. While the government may take a conscious decision to publicly support Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, at the same time it should gently prod her government to adopt a positive attitude toward resolving the Rohingya problem with the help of the international community.

-Rohit Singh Raghuvanshi