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.