The crisis going on for the past few days on account of Rohingya refugees staying in India has several layers and dimensions. But only a limited side of this crisis is presented and discussed. This is not only wrong but if other dimensions are not addressed in time it could lead to even more complex problems in future.
The argument of this issue is principally revolving around human rights of Rohingyas against India being a non-signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, 1951. However equally important is the background of Myanmar and the current situation in the South Asian and Southeast Asian Region.
Rohingyas are from the Rakhine state in Myanmar. They are Muslims in a Buddhist majority Myanmar. In Myanmar this issue is dealt from two angles. One is Buddhist majority versus Muslim minority. The other angle is that Myanmar does not recognise Rohingyas as citizens of Myanmar. The reason given is that they have migrated to Myanmar from Bangladesh and India and are originally inhabitants of those two countries.
Now, with respect to Myanmar, not too long back, Myanmar was a military dictatorship. Only recently the country has ‘returned to democracy’. When Myanmar was ruled by the military it faced ‘isolation’ from the world in general and the western countries (US and its allies) in particular. There were several countries, apart from Myanmar, that faced such situation like North Korea, Iran and Cuba. Out of these countries Myanmar and North Korea were the most isolated countries. Over the period of time Myanmar, Cuba and Iran have come out of the isolation while North Korea still continues to be a problem.
It is important to note that despite resistance from the western countries with respect to dealing with Myanmar, China has always maintained close relations with the former. In fact China never restricted itself from dealing with Myanmar, Iran, Cuba and North Korea if its own interests were met. China has always gained an advantage in this manner since it can use these countries against its competitors and rivals. North Korea is a current example.
To come to the present situation, China continuously maintained close relations with Myanmar. India also had friendly relations with Myanmar, but India is looking to strengthen these relations further after restoration of democracy. So Myanmar has essentially become a competing ground for both India and China to increase their respective influence. China’s aggressive expansionist ambition makes it adopt different means to forward its interests and at the same time prevent its competitor from moving ahead by creating distractions. China’s support and provocation to the Rohingya crisis cannot be entirely ruled out unless there is concrete evidence to the contrary. This crisis started in Myanmar and later on spread to India and Southeast Asia. So refugee crisis could be one of the ways of distraction employed by China against its competitors. This is the external dimension of this problem that India must guard itself against.
As regards to internal dimension, there are several questions as well. The first one is that of legality. India is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, 1951. Therefore the government has argued that it is not bound to shelter these refugees. However opposition and human rights groups are insisting the government to allow the Rohingyas to stay in India since their safety in Myanmar is at risk. However given the security risks that India itself is facing, it is not totally wrong to prioritise the national security aspect. And there are reasons for not considering only human rights dimension in this case. Out of about 40000 Rohingya refugees staying in India, almost half are staying in Jammu and its nearby places. The choice of this place must be questioned since Jammu is at a remote location from the Myanmar border. Not only it is far but Jammu also defies the logic of refugees taking shelter in a big or a metro city which would be better equipped than a smaller place. 20000 refugees staying in a sensitive area would only increase the security risk. It is worth mentioning that while human rights issues of the Rohingyas staying in Jammu are advocated, one cannot find any mention of human rights issues of Kashmiri Pandits who fled their homes because of terrorism. Thus security is a major and even the most important aspect while taking decision on the Rohingyas.
Another internal dimension of this issue is politicisation. It would only be a matter of time when Rohingyas would be used as political instrument and as vote bank by political parties. The past experiences with respect to Bangladeshi refugees and Tamils from Sri Lanka should be enough to prevent the repetition of this phenomenon.
Thus the Rohingya issue must be dealt with after taking into consideration various external and internal aspects.
(The Author is an Independent Researcher based in Vadodara and can be reached at – firstname.lastname@example.org)
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)