New Delhi, Sept 7: Amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, Centre’s decision to deport 40,000 illegal Rohingya immigrants has faced flak from some sections of the civil society and opposition parties. The move has also come under judicial scrutiny, with petitioners approaching the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the government’s decision to deport the Rohingyas.
As the top court continues to deliberate upon the matter, experts remain divided over the Centre’s approach towards the persecuted refugees from Myanmar.
“Had the issue been more humanitarian if the 40,000 immigrants were Bangladeshi Hindus instead of Rohingya Muslims? Would the government had deported them if they were from the other community?” questioned Irfan Engineer, Director, Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution.
“Unfortunately, the issue is being seen through the prism of religion by those in power,” he added.
On being asked by India.com, whether the approach of New Delhi towards Rohingya refugees is pragmatic, considering the interests of the nation, Irfan replied, “It depends on what are the interests of the nation. The India which I know cannot remain a mute spectator to the genocide being committed in its neighbourhood.”
“The Indian ethos will not allow us to shut the doors for those subjected to inhumane, barbaric violence in their homeland. We should stand by Vasudhev Kutumbakam (the whole universe is my family),” he further said.
However, his views were contradicted by former High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Veena Sikri. The ex-diplomat claimed the stand taken by Centre was justified, if viewed from the prism of national security.
Sikri said India could not be compelled to accept refugees, as it was not a signatory to any UN pact in this regard. “We consider the refugee influx on case-by-case basis,” she added.
Citing the 2016 report of former UN general-secretary Kofi Annan, Sikri said the Rohingyas are vulnerable to be recruited by terror groups in neighbouring countries.
“The report of Kofi Annan clearly states that Haraka al Yaqeen and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army are two radicalised militant outfits, being funded and armed by their lords in the Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the decision of the government is very much in line keeping our security interests at the helm,” she said.
Irfan, however, claimed the extremism angle was being “blown-out of proportion”. He attributed the rise of two insurgent outfits to the “state-sponsored” violence being committed against the Rohingyas. “When people are being treated in sub-human, perhaps sub-animal manner, there could be a counter-reaction. While we condemn both, we cannot say that our doors should be closed for those genuinely seeking refuge from the brutal oppression,” he stated.
The argument was sidelined by Sikri, saying, “Sometimes, we need to look at the issue with long-term historical perspective. The Arakan region has been strategically used by the Al Qaeda and the ISI,” she said, adding that the settlement of Rohingya migrants in Jammu region could further destabilise the situation in Kashmir Valley.
To validate her point, the career diplomat cited the 2016 report prepared by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which raised alarm over the threat posed by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in Myanmar and adjoining region.
“Even Bangladesh is tackling the threat posed by the Rakhine-based militants. It is one of the reasons why they are wary to take in more immigrants from the region,” she added.
A balanced approach to the crisis, said Sikri, was articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his statement in Myanmar on Wednesday.
“Very thoughtful statement was made out by the PM. Three key points were underlined by him. There is need for talks with all stakeholders. Secondly, the territorial integrity of Myanmar should be respected, and third, the security implications for Myanmar and neighbouring nations should be kept in mind.”
Sikri, who has also served as the High Commissioner to another ASEAN nation – Malaysia – said India would offer no resolution to the crisis by adopting a lenient approach towards immigration. “The crux of the problem should be addressed by Bangladesh and Myanmar,” she said, adding that Dhaka should crackdown on infiltration from its soil, whereas, Naypyidaw should grant citizenship to those Rohingya Muslims living in Rakhine region for over generations.
Irfan, however, said the immediate response of the Indian government should be the registration of the refugees with the UNHCR, rather than deporting them. “Once they have the UNHCR cards, the United Nation would provide the ration, clothing and resources needed for keeping them in India,” he said, adding that it “won’t cause an unbearable burden on the Indian government as being propagated by the right-wing outfits.”