What can India do with Rohingya Muslims

Rohingya flee again - this time from India

Bangladesh is seeing a growing influx of Rohingya from India. They want to prevent deportation to Burma.

In the first two weeks of January 1,300 Rohingya left India and sought refuge in Bangladesh. Since more than 900,000 members of the Muslim minority are already staying in mass camps in Bangalore, the number mentioned by the aid organization, the Inter Sector Coordination Group, seems small. The question is of course: What drives people who fled to India from religiously motivated persecution in Burma to move on to a third country with completely overcrowded camps?

Allegedly voluntary return

According to estimates by private organizations, most Rohingya in India fear being forced to be deported to Burma, where they do not enjoy civil rights and cannot hope to return to their villages. Their fear is not unfounded: In 2017, the Indian government classified Rohingya as “illegal migrants” and ordered their deportation.

Last October, the authorities deported a first group of eight people. You were arrested for illegally crossing the border in 2012 and have been in prison ever since. The UN Special Rapporteur on Racism and Discrimination, Tendayi Achiume, indirectly accused India of denying the persecution of the Rohingya. Delhi, on the other hand, insists that those affected have voluntarily returned to the Burmese state of Rakhine.

At the beginning of this year, a family of five was expelled despite protests by the UN refugee agency. This had previously unsuccessfully requested access to the family in order to clarify whether the victims consented to return.

Hindu nationalists' mood-making

In view of the systematic displacement in Burma, the number of Rohingya in India has quadrupled within three years, to around 40,000. They were tolerated for a long time, but now the stateless Muslims are being led by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) classified as a security risk or close to terrorism. While Delhi wants evidence that there are links between Rohingya and Pakistani extremists and the Islamic State, opposition circles believe this is a source of public opinion.

There have already been attacks on refugee camps on various occasions. In 2017 a leading member of the BJP youth organization participated in an arson attack on a Delhi settlement. The man boasted on Twitter that he had burned down the homes of "Rohingya terrorists". It appears that the hardliners in the BJP acted as intellectual arsonists. Refugees' tents were set on fire in Jammu, northern India.

The mindset of the Indian leadership is clearly manifested in the revised civil rights law recently passed in the House of Commons. It gives members of threatened minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan the opportunity to apply for Indian citizenship. It is aimed at Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsees and Christians who live in India without a regulated residence permit. However, explicitly Muslim communities such as the Ahmadis harassed in Pakistan or the Rohingya from Burma remain excluded.

Since India did not sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Rohingya do not have refugee status. And because elections are taking place in a few months, BJP politicians outdo each other with announcements that they will expel “illegals”. The party president Amit Shah, who compared the unwanted immigrants to termites, set a verbal low point. The current tone contrasts with the openness India has shown to refugees in the past, such as Buddhist Tibetans.

Paper tigers instead of actionable agreements

Because of the influx of Rohingya, the burden on Bangladesh is increasing. The predominantly Muslim developing country feels left alone in the refugee crisis. An agreement with Burma on repatriation turned out to be a paper tiger, as the displaced people refuse to return home voluntarily due to a lack of security guarantees. Also, the country directed by Aung San Suu Kyi and the military makes no move to accept the Rohingya as citizens with equal rights.