Human rights groups have condemned the Indian government’s decision to deport 40,000 Rohingya Muslims.
Groups like the Human Rights Watch (HRW) have urged the Indian government to abide by its legal obligations and protect the refugees who face persecution in Myanmar.
The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group from Myanmar’s western Rakhine state. Their origin can be traced back to the 15th century, when thousands settled in Myanmar from Arakan Kingdom. Practicing a variation of Sunni Islam, there are reportedly one million Rohingya in Myanmar. The government of Myanmar has however, refused to recognize them as one of its ethnic groups. They do not get legal protection from the government. The processes for them to get a citizenship is incredibly hard and often impossible.
Given their persecution, thousands have fled the region in boats. Due to violent riots, since 2012, over 110,000 Rohingya left Myanmar and headed to countries like Thailand and Malaysia. The number of refugees increased exponentially in 2015. Thein Sein, the Burmese President from 2011 to 2016 did little to offer relief to Rohingya.
A UN report has said that the treatment of Rohingya was tantamount to ethnic cleansing. Researchers from the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), published a report citing compelling evidence of mass annihilation and genocide. Personal accounts by refugees paint horrific tale of rape, pillaging and violence.
Kiren Rijiju, India’s Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, had issued a statement to the Parliament noting that “the government has issued detailed instructions for deportation of illegal foreign nationals including Rohingyas.” Reportedly they are currently 40,000 Rohingyas living in India illegally. However, given the persecution they face in their home country, the HRW has urged the Indian government to fairly evaluating their claims as refugees on compassionate grounds.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of HRW in a statement noted, “India has a long record of helping vulnerable populations fleeing from neighboring countries, including Sri Lankans, Afghans, and Tibetans. Indian authorities should abide by India’s international legal obligations and not forcibly return any Rohingya to Burma without first fairly evaluating their claims as refugees.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had also expressed concern about India's plans. There are 16,500 Rohingya living in India who are registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Amnesty International has slammed the decision taken by the Indian government. Raghu Menon, advocacy manager at Amnesty International India said, “Indian authorities are well aware of the human rights violations Rohingya Muslims have had to face in Myanmar and it would be outrageous to abandon them to their fates. It shows blatant disregard for India’s obligations under international law.”
Our assessment is that if the Rohingya population is deported back to Myanmar, they will most certainly face persecution in their homes. Even though India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out states’ responsibilities towards refugees, perhaps the country can show compassion to the plight of those who are stateless.