Rohingya Muslims have faced decades of discrimination and repression in their own country - Myanmar, as well as other countries where they sought refuge. In this video, we attempt to shed light on their heartbreaking journey, their current status in Myanmar and India, and the recent uproar over Union Minister Hardeep Sing Puri's tweet.
On 17 August 2022, Union Urban Development Minister Hardeep Sing Puri put out a tweet, welcoming those who have sought refuge in India, and also announced that all Rohingya Refugees will be shifted to Economically Weaker Section (EWS) flats in the Bakkarwala area of New Delhi. The tweet led to an uproar on Twitter and among the supporters of the Bharatiya Janta Party. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing group, was up in arms and demanded that the government instead of housing Rohingyas should throw them out. Responding to Hardeep’s tweet, Aam Aadmi Party’s spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj said that the Delhi government would not let Rohingyas settle down in EWS flats at any cost. After a storm of criticism, Amit Shah: Minister of Home Affairs issued a clarification denying that flats were being given to Rohingyas and asked the Delhi Government to declare the areas where Rohingya live as ‘detention centres’
So who are Rohingya Refugees?
Rohingya refugees are a Muslim ethnic minority from Rakhine state in a predominantly Buddhist country, Myanmar. The Rohingyas are not recognized by Myanmar as an official ethnic group and have been denied citizenship since 1982. They are one of the largest stateless populations and the most persecuted minority in the world. The Myanmar State has committed grave atrocities against them such as mass killings, persecutions and sexual assaults, which led them to flee to neighbouring countries like India and Bangladesh.
Current Status of Rohingya Refugees in Myanmar
UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in its report in October 2019, warned Human Rights Council stating that the Genocide threat for Myanmar’s Rohingya is greater than ever. The report highlighted that 600,000 mainly-Muslim Rohingya still in Myanmar “remain the target” of Government efforts to remove them from the country. The report also insisted that many of the conditions that led to “killings, rapes and gang rapes, torture, forced displacement and other grave rights violations” by the country’s military, that prompted some 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh in 2017, are still present. A case of Genocide against the Myanmar government is pending at the International Court of Justice.
Rohingya Refugees in India
According to the Indian Home Ministry, an estimated 40,000 Rohingyas sought refuge in India and around 20,000 are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, India. Right-wing groups have accused Rohingyas of being agents of what they call "Islamic terrorism". Rohingyas within India do not have the right to seek ration, jobs, housing, education etc. As a result, most Rohingyas are involved in unskilled and unorganised jobs. Due to the conspiracy theory of the right-wing that paints Rohingyas as potential terrorists, they face discrimination and state prejudice.
Indian Government’s attitude towards Rohingya Refugees
India has been selective when it comes to giving shelter and support to refugees. On one hand, Tibetan and Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka are welcomed and receive support from the government. On the other hand, India considers Rohingyas illegal and a serious threat to internal security. There are several incidents where the government of India deported Rohingya refugees back to their home - Myanmar. Most recently, on 18th August 2022, India's home ministry said that Rohingya refugees in the capital New Delhi would be held at a detention centre and then deported.
India’s International Law Obligations
India is neither a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention nor to the 1967 Refugee Protocol. However, India is obligated to respect refugees and treat them with dignity as many parts of the Refugee Convention are considered to be customary international law. This law binds a state even though it may choose not to sign a treaty. Refugees also have the right to not be sent back to the country from where they escaped. This rule is also a part of Customary International Law. So when Indian Government officials or ministers talk about sending Rohingyas to Bangladesh or Myanmar, they risk violating international law. Besides, India is also a signatory to several treaties requiring states to ensure access to basic human rights and human dignity for all and provide basic protection to people seeking asylum in India. Some of these are - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT).
Despite all these legal and moral obligations, the Indian government has failed to recognise and act on its responsibility to protect Rohingya refugees seeking refuge in the country. Instead, in 2015, the BJP-led government erected societal and legal barriers to the arrival and acceptance of Rohingya refugees in India by amending the Passport Act of 1967 and the Foreigners Act of 1946. The amendments prohibit Muslims from entering India without a passport or in search of asylum but allow other minorities (Non-Muslim) from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan to stay in India if they seek shelter due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution. These changes were challenged in the Supreme Court but are yet to be heard.