People of Nowhere: A Look into India’s plan to Evict Rohingya Refugees
Who Are the Rohingyas?
According to the Rohingyas and some scholars, they are indigenous to Rakhine State, while other historians claim that the group represents a mixture of pre-colonial and colonial immigrations. The official stance of the Myanmar government, however, has been that the Rohingyas are mainly illegal immigrants who migrated into Arakan following Burmese independence in 1948 or after the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971.
Rejected by the country they call home and unwanted by its neighbors, the Rohingya are impoverished, virtually stateless and have been fleeing Myanmar in droves and for decades.
The Begining :
On October 9, 2016, about 400 armed men attacked three Border Guard Posts on Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh in the northwestern state of Rakhine, home to 8,00,000 to 1 million Muslims who call themselves Rohingya. Nine policemen were killed; eight of the attackers lost their lives.
Myanmar blamed the Aqa Mul Mujahideen (also known as Harakah Al Yaqin or Organisation of Faith) and launched a massive crackdown on the Rohingyas. Fearing for their safety, thousands of Rohingyas fled across the border to Bangladesh; the International Crisis Group estimated that about 27,000 of them had reached by November.
Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the rampant and systemic violations against the ethnic Rohingya in Burma. The estimated 1.2 million Rohingya, most of whom live in Burma’s Rakhine State, have long been targets of government discrimination, facilitated by their effective denial of citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law. The Rohingya have faced longstanding rights abuses, including restrictions on movement, limitations on access to health care, livelihood, shelter, and education; as well as arbitrary arrests and detention, and forced labor.
An estimated 120,000 people, the vast majority Rohingya, are currently displaced in camps in Rakhine State as a result of violence in 2012 that amounted to crimes against humanity and “ethnic cleansing.” The displaced Rohingya live in squalid, prison-like conditions in these camps. An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Rohingya are living in Bangladesh, where the vast majority have also been prevented from filing refugee claims. The Burmese government refuses to use the term “Rohingya,” with which the group self-identifies, but often uses the pejorative term “Bengali,” implying illegal migrant status in Burma.
Human Rights Watch has documented numerous abuses associated with recent military operations following attacks by alleged Rohingya militants in October 2016 in Rakhine State, including widespread arson, extrajudicial killings, systematic rape, and other forms of sexual violence. The United Nations estimates that more than 1,000 people were killed in the crackdown. A February report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that the attacks against the Rohingya “very likely” amounted to “crimes against humanity.”
In March 2017, the UN Human Rights Council, of which India is a member, passed a resolution establishing an independent international fact-finding mission with a mandate to investigate allegations of recent human rights abuses in Burma, especially in Rakhine State. The government has stated its intention to deny the mission access to the country.
Refugees under International Refugee Laws (IRL):
Initially, during the first half of the twentieth century, IRL was country-specific – i.e. its instruments only targeted those persons forcibly displaced from certain states. It is only in the aftermath of World War II, within the new United Nations context, that states have put in place the current system for the protection of refugees. This system is universal in its scope and composed of two pillars: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), created in December 1950; and the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Convention), defining those who can benefit from the refugee status and containing the rights attached to it.
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.
The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its Additional Protocols and other General Assembly resolutions from the crux of the International Refugee Law.
Recent Developments in India:
On August 9, 2017, the Indian minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, told the parliament that “the government has issued detailed instructions for deportation of illegal foreign nationals including Rohingyas,” noting that there were around “40,000 Rohingyas living illegally in the country.”
About 16,500 Rohingya living in India are registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The government contends that tens of thousands are unregistered. Minister Rijiju told Reuters news agency, “They [UNHCR] are doing it, we can’t stop them from registering. But we are not signatory to the accord on refugees.” He added: “As far as we are concerned, they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is an illegal migrant will be deported.”
Rijiju’s statement does not accurately reflect India’s obligations under international refugee law. India has not signed the 1951 Convention, but India is still bound by Customary International Law, and Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was adopted in 1948, guarantees the right to seek and enjoy asylum in other countries.
The basic principle of refugee law, non-refoulement refers to the obligation of States not to refoule, or return, a refugee to “the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”(1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, art. 33(1).) Non-refoulement is universally acknowledged as a human right. It is expressly stated in human rights treaties such as Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Article 22(8) of the American Convention on Human Rights.
Sending back Rohingyas to Myanmar, where they have credible threats of being executed by the Government, makes India, not a silent bystander to an act of ethnic cleansing, but an accomplice. And if and when, Myanmar is taken to the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court for such crimes, the role of India, would surely be questioned in the International community. India has always had a rich history of welcoming and helping refugees, whether Buddhists from Tibet or Tamils from Sri Lanka. And in the current international community, where there is a rampant anti immigrant feeling in Europe and United States, India was expected to be the voice of reason. What reason the Central Government has and where do we send 40,000 human beings, is yet to be found out.