Rohingya Refugee Crisis : National Security or Humanity ?

Published : Nov 15, 2017 12:05 pm | By: M D Sridharan

While the pathetic situation of the stateless Rohinyas demand attention and help on the humanitarian grounds, at the same time the national security cannot undermined as the displaced Rohingyas are vulnerable to multifarious threats including radicalization.


The domestic unrest in Myanmar has caused huge concern for India both on the humanitarian grounds as well as the security of the country. The fact remains that the Rohingya issue has not surfaced out of the blue in Myanmar as the political conflict between the Muslim-dominated Rohingya community and the country’s majority Buddhists has been boiling for decades. But, as the violence in Rakhine escalated recently in August 2017, it had an impact on the neighbouring India as well. What originally started as an internal problem of Myanmar has escalated in to a deep crisis that calls for an international attention.  It is also true that crisis has snow balled in to a massive humanitarian crisis and stares at India. With India being a major player in Asia, the Indian government faces a daunting challenge whether to accept Rohinya refugees or deport them. Is deporting Rohinyas, will be perceived as a symbolic way of asking Muslims to leave the country?

With Rohinyas denied basic rights and restrictions placed on marriages, employment and religious choice by the Myanmar government, the Rohinyas have been living a miserable life. Decades of oppression, coupled with abysmal poverty and lack of development in the Rakhine region, the Rohingyas in order to escape the dire situation, regularly try to illegally enter Southeast Asian states, looking for humanitarian support from potential host countries

Who are the Rohingyas?

The Rohingya are Myanmar’s (Formerly known as Burma) Muslim minority group who reside in the northern parts of the Rakhine region (Formerly known as Arakan, a geographically isolated area in western Burma, bordering Bangladesh. The Rohingyas have their ancestral roots within the pre-colonial borders of Myanmar after the British annexed the Rakhine region. But Rohingya are ethnically, linguistically and religiously different from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist community. So, successive Burmese governments have maintained that the Rohingyas are illegal migrants from India and Bangladesh and refused to recognise Rohinyas as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups.  It is estimated that around 1.2 million Rohingyas live in Rakhine region. The Rakhine region is Myanmar’s least developed region, with more than 78 per cent of households living below the poverty line.  Over the years, the Government of Myanmar stripped Rohingyas of their nationality and basic rights and rendered them stateless. The Rohingya people lack legal protection and are regarded as mere refugees from Bangladesh and continue to face strong hostility for many decades. Internationally Rohinyas are often described as one of the most persecuted people on earth.  

Why Rohingyas are fleeing Myanmar?

In the recent times Myanmar has been witnessing a surge of Buddhist nationalism and the Rohingyas have become the targets of violence perpetrated by both the state as well as Buddhist nationalist groups. The incidents of religious intolerance and incitement have increased across the country, with Rohinyas and other minority communities  frequently attacked. The crisis escalated in 2012, when Buddhist nationalists burned Rohingya homes and killed more than 280 people and displaced tens of thousands in retaliation for the alleged rape and killing of a Buddhist woman. This arson had fuelled Rohinyas to  set up their own insurgence group called Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA) to protect its own people against the of the Myanmar government.

The Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA), attacked the police and army posts killing nine police officers in retaliation of the Myanmar army’s systematic abuse against the Rohingyas. The blatant attack on the military further infuriated the Myanmar government intensified its crackdown on Rohingyas. Subsequently, the Buddhist nationalists retaliated by killing and burning the Rohingya homes. But, the public is largely supportive of the army campaign against the  insurgents and there is little sympathy for the other minority communities. The Myanmar security forces and allied Buddhist mobs would often embark on campaigns to ethnically cleanse the nation of the Rohinyas.  

The government forces were accused of arson, rape, extra judicial killings and human rights abuses that they not only denied, but portrayed Rohinyas as "threat to race and religion". It is estimated that more than 300,000 Rohinyas have been forced to flee their ancestral homeland in Myanmar's western region of Rakhine amid a campaign of murder, torture, arson and mass rape.   According to the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 123,000 Rohingya refugees have fled western Myanmar since August 25, 2017.

The violence in Rakhine State and the refugee exodus is the biggest crisis the government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced since it came to power last year in a transition from nearly 50 years of harsh military rule. Today Aung Suu Kyi has faced unprecedented criticism over the violence and calls for her Nobel Prize to be withdrawn. She has denounced rights violations and vowed that abusers would be prosecuted and called for all sides to obey the law.

Migration to India and Minority Appeasement

India has a long history of illegal migrants. Will taking stringent measures against illegal Muslim migrants, upset Indian Muslim citizens? Opposition parties think so. For decades political parties in India are involved in appeasement politics.  Time and again they play the minority card and have used the religion as a tool of appeasement. They look at the refugees as a formidable vote bank.

Traditionally, India has been shown tremendous compassion to refugees fleeing their countries in the times of crisis. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s thousands of Tibetan refugees took refuge in India. The then government under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised all assistance during their stay in India and today 1,20,000 Tibetan refugees live in India Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.  Around 60,000 Afghan refugees came to India after Russian invasion. Government allowed UNHCR to continue its programme.


It is estimated that around 10 million East Bengali refugees entered India during the early months of the war between East Pakistan and West Pakistan in the seventies mainly in to Assam and West Bengal , of whom 1.5 million may have stayed back after Bangladesh became independent. In 1971, after the Pakistani crackdown in East Bengal, more than one million refugees sought shelter in Assam. Due to the large-scale influx Bangladeshis, over the years Assam witnessed a demographic transformation which generated the feeling of linguistic, cultural and political insecurity among the people of Assam. It became a major issue in the early eighties when it became clear that a large number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had become voters in the state. Now, it is a pity that the indigenous population has become a minority in Assam in their own land.

On the other hand In West Bengal, for decades the Left Front government supported immigrants and even continue extend a helping hand. Currently, West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) wants to grant citizenship to Bangladeshis who have been living in India for more than five years.  

Over 1 lakh Sri Lankan Tamils had sought refuge in Tamil Nadu during the worst crisis in Sri Lanka when the war broke out between LTTE and the Sri Lankan army in the early eighties. Since then an entire generation of Sri Lankan refugees stay in Tamil Nadu over three decades. Today even eight years after peace returned to Sri Lanka, over 60,000 refugees continued to stay in Tamil Nadu. Already Assam and West Bengal are flooded with refugees from Bangladesh.

In 2015, government granted citizenship to about 4,300 Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Around 400 Hindus from Pakistan are still living in India as refugees.


According to the Ministry of Home Affairs that already around 40,000 Rohingya immigrants have taken shelter in  West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir There is widespread dissatisfaction prevailing among general public that by allowing Rohinyas in to Jammu & Kashmir, the demography of Hindu Majority Jammu may change and as a result lead to violence in the future. Experts warn the government of repeating the “forced migration” of Hindu families from Kashmiri Pundits by Kashmiri Muslims in the 1990s. Still, after decades after that  Hindu carnage, still successive governments have failed  make provisions for the re-settling of the Kashmiri Pandit families who were forced to flee the Valley  which is very much part of their own country.

Parties like TMC and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) raise their voice against the government on the Rohinya issues and want to toe the UN line of humanitarian perspective.  Also, both Congress and CPM are against deporting the Rohinyas. It was not in the distant past that some opposition parties hoarsely claimed that India is a country unsafe for Muslims, but they now join hands to welcome them. They argue that the Rohinyas should not be seen as Muslims and the government of India should treat them with humanitarian compassion.  It is said on behalf of the Rohingyas that they are refugees and “not mere illegal immigrants” and that they are entitled to protection under many international conventions to which India is a signatory including those based on the principle of Non-refoulement.  But the argument does not hold water in the first place, as the Rohingyas are not refugees and not entitled to the rights available to such individuals. Secondly, they have illegally entered India and spread themselves across the country like millions of Bangladeshis. The fact remains that the Rohingyas are not refugees and not entitled to the rights available to such individuals. Moreover, India is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Nor is India a signatory to the 1967 Protocol Relating to Refugees.

Why Should India Suffer?

A peep in to history reveals that it is not only about Rohingyas. But, many times in the past like Palestinians or Syrians, all these Muslim refugees knock doors on non-Islamic countries to settle down. They really fail to reach the shores of the rich Muslim countries. Even with Rohinyas, some leading lights of Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia and Turkey are silent. The rich Islam nations come forward to offer financial support and also provide the resources. Most of the countries do not want Rohinyas to be settled in their own countries. The refugees are also aware that their life would be worst living in the rich Muslim countries as refugees. Further, in Muslim countries, they cannot play minority victim card and demand for human rights as they can do in India

Already globally countries, especially the rich and industrialized countries, are increasingly leaning towards the policy of "my country first” and implementing protectionist measures under the banner of nationalism. Brexit and US Visa Curbs are regarded as the protective measures by the respective governments. Under such a scenario, why should India open its doors to Rohinyas? Though India does not have a refugee law, India has shown tremendous compassion to such ethnic conflicts in the past. As a result already India is facing additional burden that continue to threaten to curb the overall development activities across the country. Is it acceptable to simply dump Rohinyas in India and then brand India as Anti- Muslim nation?

Already India is suffering due to many centuries of forced conversion and ethnic cleansing. In the nineties, the country witnessed ethnic cleansing in Kashmir. The Bangladesh refugees have been provided Aadhar cards and successfully converted as Indian citizens. Assam is already suffering due to illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and on the verge of losing its own identity.   Tamil Nadu is still groping with Sri Lankan Tamil refugees.

Today, terror organisation and anti National elements are creating havoc all over the country. The centre’s allayed fears that the country could become fertile ground for transnational terror groups cannot be blindly set aside. While India has always advocated peaceful means to resolve conflicts and has been a haven for refugees, when tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are infiltrating to India illegally, certainly the central government has reasons to feel concerned.

The opposition parties have not learned anything from history.  They simply advocate against the deportation of Rhongiyas which will further pave the way elimination of original residents of country. They slowly make inroads and multiply and after a period start forced conversion and ethnic cleansing. On the whole it will further divide the country and create riots and burden the economy of the country.

Rohinyas and Security Threat

Rohingya refugees are the easy targets for religious radicalization. The issue of Muslim marginalization in Myanmar has captivated the attention of Islamic State-inspired extremists. The international terrorists groups are ready to fund and train Rohinyas. Since 2014, Rakhine was declared a key region for jihad by ISIS. Recently, Pakistan based LeT has openly called for invitation to Rohinyas for jihad.    The concerns of the central government is genuine that as they are vulnerable for being influenced by the extremist stimuli.   Further, with Jammu and Kashmir being a very sensitive state witnessing violence time and again and facing constant threat from Paksitan based terrorists groups, the influx of the Rohingyas may pave the way for the terrorists groups to appease them and  carry out attacks on India.

The Government of India has made it very clear that the Rohinyas are not refugees but “illegal immigrants” who pose a threat to the sovereignty and security of the country. Already India is home to approximately 40,000 Rohingyas, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. About 16,500 Rohingya living in India are registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but their actual numbers are much higher. Surely, there are increasing concerns about the illegal inflow of the Rohingyas and the centre cannot follow the middle path as the national security is paramount and sacrosanct than the humanitarian concern.

The deportation of Rohingya Muslims has become a political issue in India. The opposition parties are opening up their “liberal hearts” and strongly condemn the government’s tough approach towards the Rohinyas. On August 9, 2017, the minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, told parliament that the government has issued detailed instructions for deportation of illegal foreign nationals including Rohingyas. On September 14, Govt of India began “Operation Insaniyat” as Humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh Govt to manage the huge Rohingya refugee influx. Indian foreign ministry stated that India will provide free food materials, tea, mosquito nets and technical assistance to Government of Bangladesh and Rohingya refugees.

Centre Vs Supreme Court

In the meanwhile, two Rohingya refugees have filed a petition challenging the government’s move to deport them. They claimed that they are entitled to fundamental rights, which were also available to “non-citizens”, but the government of India struck it down saying that such rights would necessarily extend only to those who were in India on valid travel documents. The government also pointed out:  “The framers of the Constitution of India would not have envisaged a situation where thousands and thousands of people would be flowing into this country, entering illegally without any valid travel documents, and start cleaning fundamental rights as non-citizens. Further, the right to move and settle anywhere in India was guaranteed by the Constitution to Indian citizens, and the right was not available to illegal migrants like the Rohingya”.

The Foreigners Act 1946 empowers the Indian government to take action against foreigners staying illegally in the country and makes it obligatory for the government to act in the matter. The process of identification and deportation of such foreigners illegally staying in India is elaborately laid in executive instructions which strictly follow established due process of law.

The Union Home Ministry has told the Supreme Court that it is completely “illegal” for Rohingya immigrants to stay in India and has submitted that their continuance in India would have serious national security ramifications and has “serious security threats”. The government of India has submitted a confidential report based on contemporaneous inputs from security agencies and other authentic material indicating linkages of some of the unauthorised Rohingya immigrants with terrorist organisations in Pakistan and others like the ISIS and LeT. 

Actually the influx of the Rohingyas started in 2012-13 and the involvement of some of these illegal migrants has been noticed in criminal activities, including fraudulent and illegally obtaining Indian identification documents and fake currency etc. Besides, it has also spawned a network of organised group of touts and agents who are involved in such rackets. The government stated that subject matter of the petition to stop deportation of Rohingyas is not justiciable, as the fundamental rights of Indian citizens would be adversely affected.

The centre also told the apex court that there is an organised influx of illegal immigrants from Myanmar through agents and touts facilitating (movement of) illegal immigrant Rohingya into India via Benapole-Haridaspur (West Bengal), Hilli (WB) and Sonamora (Tripura) and the situation is seriously harming the national security. The Centre added the large influx was concomitant to growth in stridency of Rohingya militancy that could further destabilise the fragile North Eastern corridor of India. Besides, radicalised Rohingya had the potential to pose a real threat of sparking violence against Buddhists who are Indian citizens.

The centre told the apex court in clear terms that there is a serious national security threat/concern and when a just and fair procedure prescribed by law exist for deportation, the apex court decline its interference and leave it to the centre to exercise its essential executive function by way of a policy decision in larger interest of the country.

With India  already and is attempting to address this situation in the larger interest of the nation and keeping the national resources of the country, requirements of India's own population, national security concerns and several other facts in consideration. Further India with its large population, surplus labour force and complex social/cultural/economical infrastructure will be further saddled with a very serious problem of illegal migrants.  By providing   facilities/privileges to illegal immigrants out of existing national resources, the government of India would deprive Indian citizens of their legitimate share in the employment sector, subsidised housing, medical and educational facilities which would thereby culminate in hostility towards immigrants, resulting into an inevitable social tension and law and order problems.

Centre’s stand on Rohingyas

Stating that while national security and economic interests need to be secured, innocent women and children cannot be ignored, the Supreme Court deferred the deportation of Rohingya Muslim refugees from India till its next hearing on November 21. The apex court has finally asked the centre to be sensitive to the plight of Rohingya Muslims and urged it to strike a balance between human rights and national security when it comes to dealing with refugees in the country.  The Supreme Court reminded the government that the Constitution is based on humanitarian values and the state has a multi-pronged role and must balance national and humanitarian values. Deferring the matter to November 21, the Supreme Court, however, allowed the Rohingya petitioners to approach it in case of any contingency.

As a matter of policy, the government of India does not support illegal migrants either in own territories or Indian citizens in foreign territories. Curbing illegal migration is a priority area for the government since it has major security, economic and social ramifications and impinges significantly on the basic rights of Indian citizens. The centre made it clear that it was bound to take action against the illegal migrants as per the law. It is in all likelihood that the stand of the government regarding deportation of Rohingyas would remain unchanged and will be deported accordingly. In sync with the centre's tough stand of deporting the Rohingyas, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi  Adityanath has taken a bold initiative and  directed the state police to identify, verify and deport any 'foreign nationals' living in the state without a proper documentation. The chief minister asserted that a state wide survey of foreign nationals, who are staying illegally in the state, will be conducted and accordingly they should be sent out. Following Yogi’s dictum in UP, it won’t be a surprise if centre asks all the states to conduct intensive campaigns to check infiltration of suspicious elements from their states and deport them accordingly.



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