Rohingyas: A Community With Nowhere To Go And Seen As ‘Nobody’s People’

by Shatakshi Gupta
Published: Last Updated on

On February 11, 81 Rohingya Refugees, consisting of 64 women and 26 men, boarded a boat from Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar. On 15 February, the boat engine failed, since then they have been wandering in the sea.  According to the Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Shrivastava, India had sent food and medical assistance to these people with the help of Coast Guards. Of the 81 people, 8 died due to starvation and extremely challenging conditions.

Now, Bangladesh is refusing to take back the Rohingya refugees who have fled the refugee camps in the Cox Bazar. Most of these refugees are women. India sees this as the insensitivity of Bangladesh and wants it to take these people back. Whereas Bangladesh wants its responsibility to be shared with India. India has issued a note to Bangladesh but no response has come from Dhaka. This month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going to visit Bangladesh, so this issue could create a diplomatic problem between the two countries.

Also read: Coup D’Etat Rears Its Ugly Head in Myanmar Again

Bangladesh is trying to get rid of this responsibility

Last Saturday, there was a Home Secretary-level conversation between India and Bangladesh. India strongly stated that Bangladesh should take back these refugees. But Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momin told Reuters, “They are not Bangladeshi nationals and the fact that they are citizens of Myanmar. They were spotted 1,700 kilometres from Bangladesh’s maritime border, so we have no responsibility to take them not.”  When Momin was asked if Bangladesh had lost the responsibility of keeping and settling all the Rohingya people around the world, he said, “No, that’s not the case.”

Questions are being raised on UNHCR

47 people on board the boat have ID cards issued from the UNHCR office in Bangladesh which state that they are displaced Myanmar citizens and have been registered with the Government of Bangladesh for the UNHCR. 

The incident also raises questions about the activities of the UNHCR, whose responsibility is to monitor the refugees, especially if the trafficking was intended.

Bangladesh is failing to handle the Rohingya refugees

 Maybe this incident is anisolated event. It is also possible that this is the beginning of a trend. The fact is that Bangladesh is not able to handle the Rohingya refugees crisis. When the community was persecuted in 2017, then Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasinawelcomed these refugees in Bangladesh. 

In her welcome move, the world helped Bangladesh in everything from money to other matters. India has sent help for Refugee Camps more than five times. According to Bangladeshi security officials, the population of Refugee Camps in Cox’s Bazar is increasing by 64,000 every year. Myanmar has refused to take them back saying they are of Bangladesh origin. Both China and India have not been able to convince Myanmar of this. Western countries have imposed various restrictions on Myanmar but this has not helped in repatriation. Now the challenge is getting bigger

Bangladesh is facing a big crisis

 The first crisis is political because the anger among Bangladeshis is increasing.  Second, there is increasing fanaticism among refugees, which makes them vulnerableto Islamic radical groups in Pakistan. The government has begun preparations to settle the refugees on an island named Bhasan Char. The move has been opposed, but the Bangladesh government is moving forward. If Bangladesh starts ignoring these refugees fleeing from there, it will not only deteriorate its relations with India but will also taint Dhaka’s image in the world.

Bangladesh is seeking New Delhi’s Assistance

In its independent history, most of the time Myanmar remained a military dictatorship, with only some little period of inclusive politics playing out over the last decade. Since 2017, Bangladesh is bearing the brunt of the exodus with nearly a million Rohingya refugees coming to seek shelter. So, Bangladesh wants India to share the responsibility of these refugees.

India has several other concerns regarding these refugees. So, India is focussing more on development assistance and building homes in the western coastal Rakhine state area to facilitate the possible repatriation of these refugees. In its assisting efforts, India has recently entered into a trilateral agreement with Japan to develop infrastructure for 15 schools in Rakhine.

India’s stand on these refugees

According to statistics from the Ministry of Home Affairs of India, about 40000 Rohingya refugees are living in India. They have reached India from Bangladesh. India considers all Rohingya refugees to be illegal migrants and is looking for an effective repatriation agreement to send them back to their country of origin. 

Today the refugee crisis in South Asia is increasing. In such a situation, if India supports the Rohingya, then in some form or the other, the pressure will be increased to give protection to the Tamils, Madhesis and the Chakmas.  In such a situation, India’s national interests will be affected. Keeping all these things in mind, India has not signed the United Nations Refugee Treaty, 1951. India is conscious of its internal security as well. India has faced a large number of Chakma refugees from Bangladesh in Assam and the challenges they pose.

The security relationship has a different and larger dimension in the context of the Rohingya. The crisis has affected the interests of the three nations and India must take concrete steps on the repatriation of the Rohingya in order not to let tension erupt in bilateral relations. The question is how long the Rohingya will remain in the foreign country.

Myanmar’s military coup made it more difficult for India

For now, New Delhi is watching closely the situation. Unlike sanctions imposing countries, India is not seas away from Myanmar.India is the only country sharing land borders with both Myanmar and Bangladesh. So, India cannot simply impose sanctions on Myanmar. India is walking on a thin line between calling for support for the restoration of democracy and then to work towards actually restoring it.