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Rohingya Crisis

The Rohingya refugee crisis which arose in 2015 was regarding the forcible displacement of Myanmar nationals from the Rakhine state of Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh. The Rohingyas who were collectively referred to as "boat people" by international media are the Muslim majority population, who have lived for centuries in Buddhist majority country Myanmar. However, Rohingyas despite after residing in Myanmar were considered as stateless Entities as the Myanmar government does not recognize them as “Ethnic Group”.

After Myanmar got independence in 1948 and the Union Citizenship Act was passed starting which ethnicities could gain citizenship but it did not include Rohingyans. However, it allowed those families who lived in Myanmar for at least two generations to apply for identity cards. But after the military coup, things changed dramatically and all citizens were required to obtain national registration cards. The Rohingya, however, were only given foreign identity cards, which limited the jobs and educational opportunities they could pursue.

In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed which again rendered the Rohingyans stateless. Under the new law, they were again not recognized as one of the country's 135 ethnic groups. In order to obtain citizenship, firstly they have to show proof that the person's family lived in Myanmar before 1948, and secondly fluency in one of the national languages. A huge population of Rohingya again were unable to apply for citizenship because they lacked such paperwork as it was either unavailable or denied to them. They were even denied from their right to cast vote.

The first incident of the crisis occurred in the year 2012 when a group of Rohingya men was accused of rape and murder of a Buddhist woman and Buddhist nationalists retaliated by killing and burning their houses. The Human Rights Watch Community responded by denouncing this "campaign of ethnic cleansing" but the government has consistently denied such accusations. In 2015, the government of Myanmar systematically isolated the ethnic minority which resulted in the migration of thousands of Rohingyas to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. Again in 2016, Myanmar Military started exploitation against Rohingyas which resulted in their migration towards Bangladesh as refugees, and in this course, many refuges camps were burned by special forces at Myanmar border. Many Rohingyan women were gang-raped, men and kids killed. The refugee boats were gun fired by the Military.

Most Rohingyans sought refuge in nearby Bangladesh, which has limited resources and land to host refugees. As of October 2018 according to the UN Report, eighty thousand Rohingyans were in Malaysia. They have no legal status, unable to work, and with no access to education and health care, their families are left cut off. Thailand serves as a common transit point for Rohingya. They have also sought refuge in Indonesia, although the number of refugees from Myanmar there remains relatively small because they are treated as illegal immigrants. Till now Rohingyans were not entering into India but when all the doors got closed for them they entered into India through various routes and spread over a large area across various states. They have their camps in Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala.

Most of the Rohingya Muslims living in India are registered with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), known as the UN Refugee Agency. International organizations have appealed to India not to deport the Rohingyas. But, the government has stated that its decision to deport Rohingyas concerns the state of security. Further, India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention of the UN or the 1967 Protocol and does not have a refugee specific law and the matter falls under the Foreigners Act of 1946, which makes the undocumented physical presence of a foreigner in India a crime and also empowers the government to detain a foreigner living illegally in the country till that person is deported.

Based on this, the MHA has issued Long Term Visas to persons recognized as “refugees” by the government or UNHCR. These included people from various countries, religions, or ethnicities. However, in 2015 and 2016, the government amended The Passport Rules and the Foreigners Order, thus exempting Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, seeking shelter in India due to religious persecution these discriminatory notifications conspicuously omit Muslim refugees and became the precursor for the Citizenship Amendment Act passed in 2019.

In the last hearing of the Rohingya matter in October 2018, the Honorable Supreme Court refused to stay the deportation of seven Rohingya men detained in Assam since 2012, despite having constitutional protections, humanitarian obligations, and binding international law commitments. This resulted in the first return of refugees to Myanmar since the outbreak of extreme violence. The Supreme Court refused to interfere in deportation despite these claims being grossly incorrect. The treatment of Rohingya refugees by this government, read along with the notifications amending the Passport Rules and Foreigners Order of 2015-2016, and the CAA, all display a discriminatory and hostile attitude towards them. 

So far, there is no notable improvement in the solution. The international sides have not yet shown any interest to come to a unified agreement regarding Rohingya. The aids and human rights organizations are the only ones working with the government of Bangladesh in providing food, clothes, and other necessities. But, the real solution lies in the returning of these people either to Myanmar with all basic citizen rights or arrangement of permanent shelter in some other countries as refugees recognized by those governments.


Kriti Sakuja is currently a 3rd-year student of Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies School of Law (GGSIPU).

Editor: Jayant Upadhyay

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