It has been five years since the mass exodus of over 730,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine State as a result of a military crackdown in 2017.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), over 3 lakh Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since then, with maximum taking refuge in Bangladesh.
About Rohingyas –
- The Rohingya people are a stateless Indo-Aryan ethnic group who predominantly follow Islam and reside in Rakhine State, Myanmar.
- Before the Rohingya genocide in 2017, an estimated 1.4 million Rohingya lived in Myanmar. However, the Myanmar government only recognised about 40,000 Rohingyas as citizens. The rest were dubbed “illegal Bengalis” or Bangladeshi immigrants.
- Beginning with the early 1990s, the Rohingya left Rakhine in multiple waves to escape the violent campaigns launched by the military.
Rohingyas as refugees in India –
- According to the UNHCR, a refugee is a person living in another country following persecution in his/her own on the grounds of “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
- According to the UNHCR, about 1,68,000 Rohingyas had fled Myanmar since 2012, when clashes with Buddhists erupted in the trouble-torn Arakan region. According to the Indian government’s estimate, over 40,000 of those Rohingyas, who fled Myanmar, have entered India illegally.
- The Constitution of India only defines who is a citizen of India and the subsequent laws also do not deal with refugees.
- In legal terms, a person living in India can be either a citizen or a foreigner defined under the Foreigners Act, 1946.
- India has also not been a signatory of the 1951 UN Convention or the 1967 Protocol – both relating to the Status of Refugees and included in the UNHCR statute.
Issues with Rohingyas in India –
- According to the Indian government, many Rohingyas have acquired documents meant for Indian citizens (like Aadhaar, PAN and Voter-ID).
- This raises the concern of naturalisation of illegal migrants by fraudulent means.
- Given the socio-economic complexities of Indian society and politics, identifying and monitoring Rohingyas will be difficult.
- Since intelligence agencies have warned that terrorist organisations are looking to exploit the vulnerability of Rohingyas, this could jeopardise India’s national security.
- Till now the successive governments have dealt with refugee questions on a case-by-case basis. India hosts the biggest number of refugees in the entire South Asia but it does not have a refugee specific law.
- In 2015, a Private Member’s Bill titled the Asylum Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The Bill seeks to provide for the establishment of a legal framework to deal with the refugee problem. But the Bill has not yet been taken up for consideration.