India is considering deporting about 40,000 Rohingya refugees living in the country illegally and is in talks with Myanmar and Bangladesh to come up with a feasible solution, a government official confirmed Monday.
“Diplomatic talks are [being] organized by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) regarding this issue. An advisory to the states has already been issued,” K.S. Dhatwalia, spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs, told BenarNews.
The Home Ministry last week wrote to the governments of all Indian states and union territories directing them to identify and monitor all Rohingya living in their territories illegally.
“These illegal migrants not only infringe on the rights of Indian citizens but some also pose grave security challenges. Illegal migrants are more vulnerable for getting recruited by terrorist organizations. Infiltration from Rakhine State of Myanmar into Indian Territory, especially in recent years, besides being [a] burden on the limited resources of the country, also aggravates the security challenges posed to the country,” the advisory said.
“All States/UT administrations are, therefore, advised to sensitize all the law enforcement and intelligence agencies for taking prompt steps in identifying the illegal migrants and initiate the deportation processes expeditiously and without delay,” it added.
Meanwhile, an official at the home ministry told BenarNews on condition of anonymity that talks with the neighboring nations were already under way.
A military crackdown in Rakhine in October caused an estimated 75,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to southeastern Bangladesh. Newly arrived refugees reported witnessing killings, rapes and acts of arson carried out by government forces against their people – allegations Myanmar has denied.
The government of Myanmar does not recognize Rohingya, considered one of the most persecuted communities in the world, as citizens, and officials in that country often refer to them as “Bengalis.”
Rohingya are among more than 200,000 foreigners who have fled to India from conflicts in other countries. However, India has no legal framework that recognizes or protects them as refugees.
“During bilateral meetings with the concerned countries all issues of mutual interest and concerns are discussed,” Abu Mathen George, spokesman for the MEA, told BenarNews without going into the details.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque denied knowledge of any such discussion between India and Bangladesh.
“[We] have received a proposal from Myanmar on the repatriation of all Rohingya from Bangladesh. But I do not know whether India is associated with it. We have not got any proposal from India to discuss the issue,” Haque told BenarNews.
Asif Munier, a Dhaka-based analyst on Rohingya issues, said a three-way meeting among Bangladesh, India and Myanmar was the only way to find a reasonable solution.
“A huge number of Rohingya have been living in Bangladesh. So India and Bangladesh should come together to put diplomatic pressure on Myanmar,” Munier told BenarNews.
“There should be a tripartite meeting and such a meeting can bring out a solution to the problem,” he said.
16,500 registered with UN
About 16,500 Rohingya refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in India.
“The UNHCR has not received any official communication with regard to [the] deportation of Rohingya refugees,” the UNHCR’s New Delhi office said in an email to BenarNews.
“The principle of non-refoulement, or not sending back refugees to a place where they face danger, is considered part of customary international law and therefore binding on all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not,” it said.
Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said the UNHCR registration of illegal immigrants is irrelevant.
“They are doing it; we can’t stop them from registering. But we are not [a] signatory to the accord on refugees. As far as we are concerned, they are illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is an illegal immigrant will be deported,” Rijiju told Reuters.
Rohingya who settled in India said they feared being deported.
“In Myanmar, the current situation for us is still very bad and we fear going back at this moment,” Mohammad Salim of the Delhi-based Rohingya Refugee Association told BenarNews.
“Bangladesh, too, is a major problem for us as more than 400,000 Rohingya are already living there since the 1980s. And because it is a small country, the Rohingya population often have conflicts with the locals there,” said Salim, who fled to India from Rakhine in 2012.
The Rohingya community will seek a meeting with the chief of the U.N. mission in India this week to urge the Indian government to reconsider its decision, Salim said.
“If we are deported, we will ask the Indian government to ensure our security,” he said.
Jesmin Papri in Dhaka contributed to this report.