7 PM | Rohingya deportation | 5 February, 2019

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India deported a few Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar in October 2018 by handing over them to Myanmar authorities.

Rohingyas migrants were staying in India since 2012 in a detention center in Assam.  As per Indian government more than 14,000 Rohingya people, registered with the UN refugee agency UNHCR, stay in India. However, unofficial agencies estimate about 40,000 Rohingya people in the country.

The Rohingya are Burma’s Muslim minority who reside in the northern parts of the Rakhine region (historically known as Arakan), a geographically isolated area in western Burma, bordering Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are ethnically, linguistically, and religiously different from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist community. About 1.1 million Rohingyas are said to live in Myanmar’s Rakhine region, which is Myanmar’s least developed region, with more than 78 per cent of households living below the poverty line.

The government’s stand to deport Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar has been criticized on following grounds:

  • Against international law: Although India is not a party to Refugee Convention 1951 or its 1967 protocol but as per Advisory Opinion on the Extraterritorial Application of Non-Refoulement Obligations, UNHCR, 2007, the principle of non-refoulement is binding on all States, including those which have not yet become party to the 1951 Convention or its Protocol.
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Article 14 of the Declaration provides that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. The UN believes that Indian government has an international legal obligation to acknowledge the persecution and gross human rights violations these people have faced in their country.
  • Against constitutional ethos:
    • Article 51 of the Constitution mandates the state to promote international peace and security.
    • Article 51(c) talks about promotion of respect for international law and treaty obligations.
    • Therefore, the Constitution conceives of incorporation of international law into the domestic realm.
    • Foreign citizens are entitled to the right to equality and the right to life, among others, in Indian constitution. Sending them back to Myanmar is akin to depriving them of their right to life and personal liberty and ensuring their near-certain death.
  • Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2019:
    • The bill excludes Muslims from its purview and seeks to provide citizenship only to Hindu, Christian, Jain, Parsi, Sikh and Buddhist immigrants persecuted in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
    • This limitation on the basis of religion is against ‘equality’ under Article 14 of the Constitution and against the basic feature of secularism.
  • Denial of citizenship rights: None of the 12 persons who have been deported so far have been given citizenship rights in Myanmar, although the Union government had assured the Supreme Court that they would be given these rights once they were returned.
  • Diverts from India’s cultural principles: Indian culture has always accepted the world as an extended family (Vasudeva Kutumbakam) and Rohingya are among world’s least wanted and most persecuted people who seek shelter in India, but their deportation is against established principles.

However Indian government’s deportation of Rohingyas can be justified on the basis of following facts:

  • Illegal immigrants: Rohingyas sneaked into India as illegal immigrants thus violating the Foreigners Act.
  • Socio-economic crisis: Sustaining a large population of Rohingyas is difficult for a country like India which already faces extreme poverty and has resulted into social unrest in North Eastern states.
  • Non-signatory to Refugee Convention: India is neither a signatory to the Refugee Convention 1951 nor its 1967 Protocol, hence is not bound to follow the principle of non-refoulement.
  • Relations with Myanmar: India’s support to Rohingyas and censure of Myanmar would antagonize Myanmarese government which will be an opportunity for China to forge closer ties with Myanmar. Also geo-strategic concerns like security to North East and its economy are closely linked with Myanmar.
  • National security threat: Rohingya Muslims have constituted a few terrorist organisations, including the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation etc. to wage war and establish an independent Muslim state under the guidance of few Pakistan based terrorist organisations.
  • Supported by Supreme Court: SC allowed deportation of Rohingyas as the court found them illegal immigrants who have been accepted by their country of origin (Myanmar) as citizens.

India’s actions make it clear that it would not compromise with the security concerns of the country while dealing with Rohingya issue. But simultaneously, India has also taken some measures to ensure safety of Rohingyas:

  • Taking a clear stand on the issue and a shift from its complacent stand, India, last year, categorically conveyed to Myanmar that it wants the “safe, secure sustainable” return of the Rohingya refugees.
  • Indian government extended help to Bangladesh in providing amenities to the fleeing Rohingyas, who are being relocated in camps there. India has sent relief materials for 300,000 Rohingyas in September last year under ‘Operation Insaniyat’ to support Bangladesh in its humanitarian efforts.
  • India and Myanmar have signed a Rakhine State Development Programme agreement in January 2018, with an objective of restoration of normalcy in Rakhine State, under which India would take up a project to build prefabricated housing in Rakhine State for returning Rohingyas.
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