Are Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim Refugees a Threat to India?
The Rohingyas of Myanmar have long been damned. Their plight has borne them the sorrowful label of being the ‘most persecuted community in the world’.
Fleeing Myanmar, their country, they found fellowship in India. There are an estimated 36,000 Rohingya Muslims in India today, concentrated in the seven states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi.
Does the Rohingyas’ exodus to India make them a threat to national security?
Officials of seven states where the community has found shelter meet today to discuss the issue. They will discuss whether to monitor activities of the members of the community - out of fear that they may be prone to ‘jihadist radicalisation’.
But The Quint encountered a different side to the story during interactions with the Rohingyas living in a settlement colony in Rajiv Nagar, Jammu. Members of the community there told us how happy they were to be living in India.
Jammu, India and The Rohingyas
Almost 5000 Rohingyas live in the settlement colonies of Rajiv Nagar and Kassim Nagar, in the Narwal area of Jammu.
Many in this Rajiv Nagar settlement colony live here illegally. They live in tin-roof shanties and struggle for basic conditions like clean drinking water.
But the Rohingyas in India have found a bittersweet way to live in safety and misery. Members of the community in Rajiv Nagar told The Quint that India had been kind to them, while their own country (Myanmar) had inflicted torture on them. But they want the Indian government to do more.
A few among these Rohingyas have been granted refugee status; most, haven’t.
From Myanmar to India
The Rohingyas came to India from Myanmar from the rather porous India-Bangladesh border. An estimated 36,000 Rohingyas are believed to be living in India. Although in principle, all refugees in India have access to government health and education services, many Rohingyas struggle for these as they don’t have an official refugee status.
Us and Them: Where New Delhi Stands
Delhi’s stance on the Rohingyas is firm; they are welcome as long as the Rohingyas obtain a valid visa and have a refugee card. Without a refugee card, the Rohingyas can’t claim land, health benefits or education for their kids. According to a Reuters report, only 9000 of the 36,000 Rohingyas who live in India are registered.
The Quint raised the issue of the Rohingyas with the Ministry of External Affairs.
The Indian Government is concerned about the Rohingyas at a humanitarian level. As far as the issue of giving them refugee rights is concerned, you have to speak to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
–Vikas Swarup, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson
Despite The Quint’s efforts to reach out to the Ministry of Home Affairs for an official stance, there was no communication from their end.
Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR India told us that they are making sustained efforts for the protection of all Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers in India.
UNHCR registers the refugees and determines refugee status, and issues documentation to asylum-seekers and refugees. These documents are usually acknowledged by the authorities and help to prevent arbitrary arrests, detention, deportation or harassment.
UNHCR works closely with the government to ensure refugees are not deported to a place where their lives could be in danger.
– Shuchita Mehta, UNHCR Senior Communications/Public Information Assistant
No Place Called Home For These ‘People of Nowhere’
In May, thousands of Rohingyas from Myanmar were left stranded in their boats when Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand refused to allow them entry. The world looked at their despair and called them the ‘people of nowhere’.
The Rohingyas became stateless in 1982, when a law passed by the Myanmar government denied them citizenship rights. They then moved to neighbouring countries like India to flee persecution.
It is a sad truth that even though the Rohingyas in India are desperately poor and sometimes lack even the most basic benefits that the Indian state confers on citizens and legal residents, they still feel life here is still better than back in Myanmar.