Rohingya – The ‘illegal foreigners’

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    In Context

    • Recently, the Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs said Rohingyas are “illegal foreigners” and will be kept in a detention centre until their deportation.

    More about the news

    • Govt of Delhi’s proposal:
      • Delhi Govt. had recently proposed to shift the Rohingyas to a new location. 
    • Ministry of Home Affair’s stand:
      • MHA has directed the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) to ensure that the Rohingya illegal foreigners will continue at the present location. 
        • MHA has already taken up the matter of their deportation with the concerned country through MEA.
      • Illegal foreigners are to be kept in Detention Centre till their deportation as per law. 
      • The Government of Delhi has not declared the present location as a Detention Centre. They have been directed to do the same immediately.
    • Supreme Court’s foregoing stand:
    • The plea:
      • A plea was filed in the court to “release the detained Rohingya refugees immediately and direct the Union Territory government and the Ministry of Home Affairs to expeditiously grant refugee identification cards for the Rohingyas in the informal camps”.
    • Court’s observation:
      • The rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 are available to all persons who may or may not be citizens. 
      • But the right not to be deported is ancillary or concomitant to the right to reside or settle in any part of the territory of India guaranteed under Article 19(1)(e).
        • Article 19 (1) (e) of the Constitution guarantees every citizen of India the right “to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India”.

    Who are Rohingya?

    • About:
      • Rohingya are an ethnic group, representing the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar and predominantly live in the Western Myanmar province of Rakhine.
        • They speak a dialect of Bengali, as opposed to the commonly spoken Burmese language.
      • They are described by the United Nations (UN) as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
    • Conflict:
      • The Rohingya population is denied citizenship under the 1982 Myanmar nationality law
        • They have also denied the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality.
      • Myanmar’s military launched what it called a clearance campaign in Rakhine state in 2017 in the aftermath of an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group.
        • More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighbouring Bangladesh 
      • Myanmar’s security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and torching of thousands of Rohingya homes.
    • Bangladesh:
      • The flow of Rohingya from Myanmar intensified in 2017 and the coast near the Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazar was taken over by refugee settlements.
      • Recently, Bangladesh started relocating Rohingya refugees from overcrowded camps at Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char Island, which is an ecologically fragile area prone to floods.

    India’s Refugee Policy

    • India’s approach towards refugees is customary and a dynamic one having regard to prevailing socio-political conditions
    • Though India is not a party to 1951 convention or 1967 protocol it acceded to various Human Rights treaties including the UNHCR and it is obliged to protect the rights of refugees.
    • As per Indian law, there is no law to deal with refugees
      • Both illegal migrants & refugee categories of people are viewed as one and the same and are covered under the Foreigners Act, 1946. 
    • The constitution of India protects the refugees’ right to life with dignity that includes
      • Right against solitary confinement and custodial violence, 
      • Right to medical assistance and shelter.

    Implications of refugee

    • The refugees put tremendous pressure on the resources of the area and have also disturbed the local demographic profile.
    • Internal security compromises.
    • Huge resources and time for maintaining data about them.
    • Allowing refugees further leads to refugee traps.
    • The country cannot send back the refugees nor keep them in their land.

    Way Ahead

    • The only long-term solution to the situation in Rakhine state was socio-economic and infrastructure development.
    • The question is how India can make its approach work more effectively to ensure that it helps prevent renewed conflicts in Rakhine, facilitate the safe return of the refugees to Myanmar, and mitigate any potential terror-related activities involving the Rohingya refugees. 
      • Active and effective roles in these areas can help reposition Delhi in the lead role in finding an enduring solution to the crisis.
    • At the national level, India needs to ensure that no Rohingya refugee in India is deported back to Myanmar until it is safe to do so.
      • At the same time, ensuring basic amenities in refugee camps will be critical.
    • Moreover, given its historical bent towards protecting refugees, India must rise to the occasion and demonstrate that it is not driven solely by narrow domestic political interests.

    Source: TH