Refugee crisis in Myanmar

  • ‘The Rohingya crisis’ is a tragedy that was in the making for over several decades and concerns the plight of hundreds of thousands of people belonging to the Rohingya- community in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
  • Rohingya belong to Muslim sect, they are descendants of Arab traders who have been in the region for generations.
  • Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist country & does not recognise this community as its citizens and considers them “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh.
  • Militants suspected to be from the Arakan-Rohingya Salvation Army attacked military and police outposts.
  • Recent violence in Rakhine State has displaced several hundred thousand Rohingya within Myanmar and driven out some 700,000 of them to neighboring Bangladesh after the military launched a bloody crackdown triggered by militant attacks on security posts in late August 2017.
  • The United Nations (UN) has described the violence against the Rohingya community as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
  • The crisis has also acquired a security dimension with concerns being raised over the infiltration of Islamic extremism amongst the Rohingyas, who have grown increasingly desperate over their plight.
  • The massive refugee outflow has created a serious humanitarian crisis that carries implications on regional stability and security.
  • The Rohingya-Muslim community are doubly disadvantaged.
  • Unlike the rest of the other ethnic minorities, the Rohingyas are regarded as “illegal immigrants”.
  • The Rohingya suffer from the general negative sentiment against Muslims and are easy targets of vitriolic attacks and pronouncements from ultra-nationalist Buddhist forces.


  • Apart from impinging upon Myanmar’s internal security, the Rohingya crisis is also posing a security challenge to the South and Southeast Asia.
  • Although ARSA has reportedly denied any connection with the IS, suspicions persist about linkages between the two groups.
  • The systematic deprivation and gross violations of basic human rights have forced Rohingyas to flee their native land and seek refuge in neighbouring states including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and India.
  • They have been unable to rebuild their lives in most of these countries due to the lack of opportunities provided by the host nations.
  • The economic burden on receiving country emanating from the huge refugee influx.

The Rohingya crisis has raised several questions about India’s approach towards refugees, in general, and the Rohingya, in particular.

India’s Rohingya position has two aspects.

  • The first concerns the implications of India’s stand on the Rohingya refugees;
  • The second, how India can play a role in finding a solution to the crisis.


In India’s approach towards refugees, three phases are identifiable.



  • That began with the eruption of violent conflicts between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State in 2012.

What Is the Approach?

  • Delhi considered it an ‘internal affair’ but was sympathetic to Myanmar.
  • India also allowed Rohingya refugees to enter the country and did not make it an issue in its domestic politics or in its bilateral relations with Myanmar.
  • In 2014, new govt tacitly endorsed the position of the early government. In 2015, the Rohingya crisis assumed a regional dimension when Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia all turned away overcrowded boats carrying Rohingyas attempting to land on their shores, leaving hundreds in the high seas.


  • Delhi took the side of the Myanmar government because it was concerned that raising the issue publicly might push Myanmar towards China as it was building relations with the then newly formed quasi-democratic government.
  • India also has various economic and security interests



  • Began sometime in mid-2017 with the announcement of the government’s plans to deport the Rohingyas who have settled in different parts of India.
  • The one-sided position of the Indian government had to be nuanced when Bangladesh, sought India’s help.
  • India launched “Operation Insaniyat” to provide relief assistance for the refugee camps in Bangladesh, Delhi’s decision to extend help fits into its desire to de-incentivize Rohingya refugees entering into India.
  • In the second phase, geopolitics, humanitarian concerns, non-interference in internal affairs, the growing security concerns and the need for diplomatic balancing between Bangladesh and Myanmar are the factors appeared to have driven the Indian approach.



  • Began soon after China stepped in with its “three-step solution” to the Rohingya crisis and the subsequent signing of the repatriation agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar on 23 November 2017.


What Is the Approach?

  • India signed a MoU on Rakhine State Development Programme with Myanmar aimed at “socio-economic development and livelihood initiatives in Rakhine State” that included “a project to build prefabricated housing in Rakhine State to meet the immediate needs of returning people.”
  • India pledged US$25 million for a five-year development project in Rakhine State.
  • At the invitation of the Myanmar government, India joined the UNSC delegation that visited Myanmar along with three other neighbours—China, Laos, and Thailand.
  • On the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly, U.K. hosted a meeting and India abstained on a resolution calling for an end to military action and 135 countries voted in favour of the resolution with 26 abstentions.


There is a view that with the Western world embroiled in its own challenges, there is a lack of global leadership. China tried to fill in the leadership gap through three-step formula.

  • Myanmar and Bangladesh have to hold bilateral talks and reach a repatriation agreement.
  • Declaration of ceasefire in Rakhine to halt further displacement and bringing immediate relief to the state’s devastated Rohingyas.
  • China to provide economic assistance for the development of the Rakhine region.

China, in fact is playing a mediatory role. However, the Chinese three-step formula turned out to be of little consequence so far.

Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the return of Rohingya people, who fled the Rakhine state.

The Myanmar government has claimed that it is working towards a long-lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis.

Myanmar signed a MoU with the UN to allow hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to “return safely and by choice.”

The international community has urged Myanmar to speed up the process of repatriation, though concerns remain on the long-term political issues including “community reconciliation” and “citizenship status.”


National level

  • India needs to ensure that no Rohingya refugee in India is deported back to Myanmar until it is safe to do so. With the Rohingya refugees case now in the Supreme Court, any attempt to deport the Rohingya will be complicated
  • At the same time, ensuring basic amenities in refugee camps will be critical.
  • There is an urgent need to guard against further politicisation of the issue in domestic politics.
  • Lack of a national policy framework on refugees has complicated India’s handling of the Rohingya crisis thus we need to have a policy in this regard.


Bilateral level

  • Delhi continues its support to Dhaka with relief assistance for refugee camps in Bangladesh,
  • India has been working closely with both Myanmar and Bangladesh in the security sector. Sharing of information is a key element of security cooperation to prevent terror groups from trying to radicalize Rohingya in refugee camps.


Regional level

  • Delhi has not shown interest in making the Rohingya issue a part of the agenda for the sub regional grouping, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), despite prioritising its strategic focus on the grouping in recent years.
  • Delhi’s hesitation to initiate any role through the BIMSTEC grouping may have been influenced by its own experience in SAARC where bilateral issues—particularly the continued hostility between Delhi and Islamabad—has impeded the progress of the association. this strategy should be continued.
  • Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)- The bloc’s inability to deliver on various issues including the Rohingya crisis has come under heavy criticism. Yet, despite its shortcomings, Given the nature of the Rohingya crisis, the issue demands coordination and cooperation among the regional countries. India has a role to play here.


Global level

  • India will need to impress upon the West that sanctions are unlikely to work as Myanmar has alternative economic ties with countries such as China.
  • The most pragmatic approach is to engage both Naypyitaw and Dhaka