Rohingya Crisis – The Way Forward

Bangladesh has warned Myanmar over ‘unwarranted consequences’ to ‘provocative acts’ by Myanmar of Bangladesh air space violation, further straining the ongoing refugee crisis. Bangladesh has become a home to over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims after the crackdown by the security forces of Myanmar when Rohingya insurgents attacked almost 30 Police posts and an army camp killing over a dozen people in August. The fleeing has intensified with India refusing to be a home to the Rohingya Muslims. India is already burdened with nearly 40,000 Rohingya Muslims – of which only 16,500 are registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) – and has stated that it is keen to deport all of them as they are a security risk.

The Government of Arunachal Pradesh is facing a Dilemma as to how to cope with the grant of Citizenship to Chakma and Halong refugees who have over the years grown in number from 5,000 to 53,000 in the three districts of Tirap, Lohit and Subansari. In this regard, the CM stated while complying with the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, “I solicit your support in protecting the tribal rights and securing the sanctity of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) in Arunachal Pradess.” 45,000 Chakma refugees crossed over to Tripura and refuse to go back fearing persecution.

The Government of India has been wanting a political solution to the ongoing crisis since Bangladesh is facing a terrible strain accommodating and feeding the refugees on 2,000 hectares of land, allotted to the Rohingyas by Bangladesh. The stand taken by India is that it would want to deport the Rohingya refugees because our experience with the refugees earlier has led to a strain on limited resources, and to demographic changes causing law and order problems. The present crisis is linked to security issues. The Bangladesh High Commissioner to India, Muazzem Ali, has had numerous interactions with the Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar to prevail upon Myanmar to stop the violence and control the refugee influx. Meanwhile, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina assured the refugees that Bangladesh would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to them before she left Dhaka to address the annual UN meet in New York. In the interim, India is helping the Bangladesh Government with relief measures to help tide over the crisis. Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj is leading the Indian Delegation to the UN General Assembly.

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Rohingyas are not Myanmar citizens under the Myanmar Citizenship Laws of 1982. The Myanmar Army is united over the Rohingya issue and are hell bent on retaliating against those Rohingya militants who attacked the police posts and army camp on August 25th. They claim that Rohingyas were never Rakhine residents but Bengali Muslims who have migrated, and some have turned militant in a purely peace-loving, Buddhist-majority Myanmar. The world has condemned the atrocities committed by the Myanmar Armed Forces and want Aung San Suu Kyi to break her silence on the ongoing refugee crisis. Myanmar has never accepted Rohingyas as an ethnic group, instead referring to them as Bengali Muslims.

The Government of Bangladesh, despite its stand to help the refugees, has started regulating their entry into border areas with a view to prevent spreading an epidemic as the camps are overflowing with refugees beyond their capacity, and hundreds of thousands of children are yet to be immunised for measles, polio and rubella.

India supports the Myanmar Government in its endeavour to go after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) or any other insurgent Rohingya group to combat terrorism. India is desirous of a political solution to the ongoing refugee crisis and is looking to the Rakhine province to tackle the problem while opposing the act of pushing Rohingyas into Bangladesh or any other country. India is also concerned with Pakistan attempting to exploit the Rohingyas for terror activities using its notorious ISI or various militant organisations operating from its soil. Bangladesh is itself battling the terrorist problem and is deeply concerned with further radicalisation by terror outfits of these impoverished Rohingya Muslim immigrants.

The Government of India has submitted a detailed affidavit to the Supreme Court listing reasons for deporting the Rohingya Refugees. The case is to come up for hearing on October 3, 2017. However, it is generally believed that since many Rohingya refugees have links with the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan ISI, plans to deport Rohingya refugees are a policy decision and the Courts should desist from interfering. The Government is of the opinion that some of these illegal immigrants have procured Aadhar and PAN cards through a nexus operating in the border states, and their stay will deprive Indian citizens of their legitimate share of resources, and that their stay in India has serious security implications. The pressure of 10,000 Rohingya refugees in Jammu is being felt adversely, and these refugees have also found their way to Leh, but despite the support from Zakir Musa of Al Qaeda they have not ventured to settle down in the Valley. The security concerns of the nation are paramount today – even more important than they were in 1971, when India provided humanitarian shelter to nearly 10 million East Pakistani refugees. The resurgent nationalist sentiments in Buddhist Myanmar and Islamic sentiments amongst the Rohingyas are the root cause of the present crisis.

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Cox’s Bazar is the homeland to thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing every day to Bangladesh. The makeshift camps are a pathetic site and it won’t be too long before an epidemic may break out. India is supporting the efforts of Bangladesh Government and UN agencies by providing drinking water, self contained food packets, and medicines to prevent stampede, and shelter to tide over the crisis.

Restraint by Tatmadaw – the Military as they are known in Myanmar – may reduce the carnage as the present retaliation by the Myanmar Army is in response to the attacks on the police posts and army camp. The Myanmar Army is largely composed of Burmese Buddhists who do not understand the local language of the Rakhine province and comprise nearly 75 percent of the 51 million population of Myanmar. Reportedly, the Japanese methodology of Sanko Seisaku resulted in the migration of half the Rohingya population from the Rakhine province, amounting to a million plus Rohingyas. Besides migrating  over land to Bangladesh and India, some migrants travelled by boat to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

The retaliation by Myanmar is due to the raising of an insurgent group called the Arakan Rohingyas Salvation Army (ARSA) who, though poorly armed, were responsible for attacks on police posts and an army camp on August 25th. They are called Bengali-speaking Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, and not ‘Ethnic Minority’, by Myanmar. Bangladesh refer to the Rohingyas as ‘Illegally infiltrated’. Myanmar recognises 135 ethnic groups but not the stateless Rohingyas. Since the late 1970s, the UNHCR claim over 1 million Rohingyas have fled Myanmar to countries like Saudi Arabia (200,000), UAE (10,000), Pakistan (350,000), India (40,000), Bangladesh (785,000), Myanmar – Internally displaced (1,20,000), Thailand (5,000), Malaysia (150,000), Indonesia (1,000).

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has termed the present crisis as a “humanitarian catastrophe”; the UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein has called it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”; the international community has labelled Rohingyas as “the most persecuted minority in the world”; Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has condemned all human rights violation and maintained that the attack on police outposts in August were terrorist attacks, and that she does not fear international scrutiny. She further stated that she is prepared to start a refugee verification process for those who wish to return from Bangladesh. In her address to the nation on September 19th breaking her long silence, she promised to restore peace and stability and to bring harmony in Rakhine communities.

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Related: Kashmir – Let The Truth Be Told by Sanjay Kulkarni

Islamic scholar and peace activist Maulana Wahiduddin Khan said, “From the 9th century onwards, Arabs and other traders have visited the Rakhine state, formerly Arakan, on the Western coast of Burma (Myanmar), and in the early days, a group of them settled there. As a result of interaction with the local population, Islam gradually spread, until a large part of the Rakhine state became Muslim. For centuries, the Muslims of Arakan lived peacefully with the rest of Burma.” He further stated that in 1947, the desire for self determination by the Muslims, and subsequently again in 1971, the separatists misled and distanced Muslims from the majority Myanmari Buddhists and ruined the Rohingya Muslims standing, rendering them stateless, as a separatist movement would be unacceptable to any nation. Muslims constitute 4.3 percent of the population, Christians 6.2 percent, and Hindus half a percent. Burma got separated from India in 1937 and became Independent in January, 1948.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, which prohibits deportation to a country where the refugees are not safe (Non-Refoulement). What is alarming is the deep-rooted radicalisation of the Rohingya Muslims which has led to 150 militant organisations world wide coming out in support of the Rohingya Movement. Pakistan based terrorist organisation has given a call to raise a Jihadi Army comprising 100,000 volunteers in support of Rohingyas, and to kill the Prime Minister of India and Myanmar.

The Rohingya crisis is both a humanitarian and security issue. The terror links of ARSA to foreign terror groups is a cause of concern not only to India but also to Bangladesh and Myanmar, that is why India has taken a strong stand to deport the illegal Rohingya refugees and Bangladesh has started registration of the Rohingya population. The softening of the Myanmar Government is a step in the right direction to resolve the Rohingya humanitarian crisis. Rohingyas must also ensure that they do not get influenced by the misguided Rohingya leadership wanting an Islamic state and denounce the terror links of some amongst them. The Rohingyas must learn to live peacefully in the Rakhine Province and consider themselves not Bengali Muslims but Myanmarese, first and always. Let bygones be bygones and instead make a fresh start facilitated by the UN.


The author, Lt. Gen. Sanjay Kulkarni, is a retired officer of the Indian Army.

He served as the Commanding Officer in Leh, Laddakh, and planted the first Indian flag on Siachen in 1984.


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