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Back and forth in government on the Rohingya is dispiriting. It also highlights need for a refugee law

Can a country aspiring for global power status afford to discriminate among the vulnerable? In fact, in Dongh Lian Kham & Anr. vs Union Of India & Anr. (2015) the government told the Delhi High Court that the country has won accolades for its sensitive handling of refugees.

Hardeep Singh Puri, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Rohingya, Rohingya crisis, Myanmar, Myanmar Army, Indian express, Opinion, Editorial, Current AffairsThe Rohingya exodus has intensified since Myanmar's military overthrew the country's democratically-elected government in February last year.

On Wednesday morning, Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri announced what seemed like a welcome shift from the Centre’s non-accommodating policy towards the Rohingya who have made their way to India after facing persecution in Myanmar. Invoking the principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, he tweeted that the “refugees” will be shifted to EWS flats in Bakkarwala in Delhi, where they will be provided basic amenities. They will also be given UNHCR ids and accorded round-the-clock police protection, he said. Seven hours later, in a series of tweets, the Union home ministry clarified that the government does not have any housing scheme for the Rohingya, that it regards people from the community as “illegal immigrants” and plans to deport them to their home country. This has once again cast an unflattering light on the BJP-led government’s outlook on the humanitarian problem that has been unfolding in Myanmar since 2017 after the country’s army launched a brutal crackdown on the Rohingya on the pretext of curbing terrorism. Tens of thousands of people from the disenfranchised community who have reportedly crossed the border into India face an uncertain future with the Centre issuing regular threats of deportation.

The Rohingya exodus has intensified since Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s democratically-elected government in February last year. In October 2021, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the General Assembly that more than 15,000 Rohingya had crossed over to India in the eight months since the coup — Myanmar shares a 1,600-km border with the four North-eastern states of Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. In April last year, the Centre had asked these states to “take appropriate action as per law” and “maintain a strict vigil at the border” to prevent a Rohingya influx. The state governments were told that they did not have the authority to declare anyone as “refugees” since India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention of 1951. This lack of generosity and compassion is a blemish on India’s record of treating communities under siege in its neighbourhood – Tibetans, people from erstwhile East Pakistan and Sri Lankan Tamils for instance. It’s apparent that the Rohingya, being Muslims, do not fit the BJP government’s bill of a persecuted community — the CAA Act, even though it doesn’t apply to Myanmar, leaves no doubt that religion is a criterion for deciding who gets fast-tracked citizenship among those seeking sanctuary in India.

But the government should ask itself: Can a country aspiring for global power status afford to discriminate among the vulnerable? In fact, in Dongh Lian Kham & Anr. vs Union Of India & Anr. (2015) the government told the Delhi High Court that the country has won accolades for its sensitive handling of refugees. However, the absence of a refugee law means that communities such as the Rohingya or the Chin refugees from Myanmar have to search for security in ad-hoc policy changes and judicial interventions. The latest controversy on the Rohingya should impart urgency to conversations for such a law.

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First published on: 19-08-2022 at 03:55:29 am
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