Context:

Indian government plans to deport Rohingya refugees

Background:

  • According to the Human Rights Watch Report 2017, the ethnic cleansing campaign in Myanmar has been on since June 2012. It has become the most serious and widespread form of violence against the Rohingyas.
  • This has led to large scale exodus of the Rohingya population to neighbouring countries with a significant influx of Rohingyas in India.
  • In India, the Rohingyas spread over large areas across the states of Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
  • The maximum concentration of Rohingya refugees is reported to be in Jammu
  • According to the UNHCR, India has approximately 16000 registered Rohingya refugees. However, there are large numbers of illegal Rohingya refugees
  • India has always been sensitive to the refugee problem and effectively integrated various ethnic groups like Tibetans, Muslims from Afghanistan etc. However, Indian government has recently planned to deport Rohingya refugees.

Why is India planning to deport Rohingya refugees?

  • Immigrants are susceptible to recruitment by terror groups
  • Immigrants infringe upon the rights of Indian citizens
  • The pose great safety challenges
  • Influx of migrants leads to social, political and cultural problems
  • There is a need to ensure the demographic pattern of India is not disturbed
  • Another important factor is India’s relation with Myanmar. In fact this was the reason why India did not criticize the conduct of Myanmar even at a time when there was condemnation internationally.
  • Myanmar helps India tackle insurgency threats in India’s north-eastern states.
  • Myanmar is key to the success of India’s Act East policy

Why should India come forward to help Rohingya refugees?

  1. India should look at the Rohingya crisis from a humanitarian perspective and at present when the refugees have no home to return to, the government should reconsider the idea of deporting them.
  2. Peace and stability in the Rakhine state in Myanmar is crucial for India’s economic investment. India aims at developing transport infrastructure in South-west Myanmar and North-East India by the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport project. The project is getting affected by the continuous violence in Rakhine.
  3. At a time when International community has condemned the violence in the region and called for humanitarian intervention to stop the severe atrocities, strategically it would not be wise for India to ignore the issue.

Does India have a Refugee Law?

  • India has no refugee specific law
  • The matter falls under the Foreigner Act of 1946, enacted by the Central Legislative Assembly.
  • The Foreigner Act makes the undocumented physical presence of a foreigner in India a crime.
  • It also empowers the government to detail a foreigner illegally living in the country till that person is deported.
  • India is not a signatory to 1951 UN refugee convention, or its 1967 Protocol
  •  The government decides asylum pleas on ad hoc and case-to-case basis
  •  Asylum-seekers whose plea is accepted are given long-term visa (LTV) to be renewed annually.  Long-term visa gives them right to work in private sector and access to education and banking

What has been the reaction on India’s decision to deport Rohingya refugees?

  • Two Rohingya refugees have filed a petition in the Supreme Court which rest on two arguments:
  1. Any deportation would violate their fundamental rights to equality and to life, under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution
  2. Any action by India in returning them to Myanmar would infringe international law, particularly the principle of non-refoulement.
  • United Nations official has criticised India’s decision to deport illegal Rohingya immigrants and asked to follow “ customary law”

What is this “customary law”?

  • The U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee has the Principle of Non-Refoulement
  • The principle of Non-Refoulement is articulated in Article 33 of the 1951 U.N. Refugee convention
  • It mandates that no state shall expel or return a refugee to “ to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality or membership to a particular social group or political opinion”
  • However, this principle has an exception. There can be exception cases when a refugee is regarded as danger to the security of the country
  • The principle of Non-refoulement is regarded as a customary international law. These are internationalobligations arising from established state practice.

How should India address the Rohingya issue?

  • India should conduct a census to assess the socio-economic conditions of Rohingya refugees in India. This would provide with a better picture of the size of the problem.
  • India should improve border security and regulate inflow of illegal migration to tackle the security concern attached with the crisis.
  • The main problem in Rakhine is widespread poverty, poor infrastructure and rising unemployment which has aggravated the differences between Buddhist and Muslim communities. Thus, India should take initiative to provide funding to socio economic developmental projects in partnership with Myanmar government in the Rakhine region.

Way ahead

  • The Rohingya crisis is an internal issue of Myanmar but it needs to be looked from a humanitarian perspective.
  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) needs to abandon its consensus and non-interference approach and perceive the ongoing problem as a regional problem.
  • For India, it is high time to formulate a strong refugee policy. This would not only help to mitigate the present Rohingya refugee problem but provide a structure to be used whenever similar problems arise.
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