External Affairs

India Has Asked Myanmar to End Rohingya Persecution, Claims Bangladesh

Bangladeshi media says that India’s modified policy towards the Rohingya crisis came through a Thursday phone call between Sushma Swaraj and Sheikh Hasina.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. Credit: PTI

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: India has apparently told Bangladesh that it will “pressurise” Myanmar into ending the security crackdown in Rakhine and into taking back the Rohingya refugees.

This was allegedly conveyed to Bangladesh Prime minister Sheikh Hasina during a phone conversation with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday.

The phone call took place on Thursday night and was announced by the Bangladesh government. However, as of Friday evening, the ministry of external affairs did not announce or provide a readout of the call.

Bangladeshi news agency UNB quoted Bangladesh Prime Minister’s deputy press secretary, Nazrul Islam, who informed the local media that Swaraj had expressed full support to Bangladesh with regard to the Rohingya issue.

It quoted the Indian minister as having told Sheikh Hasina that “Rohingya problem is not an issue for Bangladesh only, rather it has turned into a global matter from a regional one”.

Not only has she given full backing to Bangladesh’s position, but Swaraj has apparently also stated that India will do more.

“Sushma said the Indian government is trying to create a pressure bilaterally and multilaterally on Myanmar to stop the persecution of Rohingya Muslims as well as take back the refugees who have taken shelter in Bangladesh,” said the UNB report.

According to BDnews24, Islam has indicated that Swaraj’s statements meant that Myanmar should end its security crackdown. “What India is saying is that Myanmar must stop atrocities against Rohingyas,” he said. There has been no public confirmation or denial from the Indian side about the content of the conversation as reported by Bangladeshi media.

Importantly, the Indian government’s public statements to date have not acknowledged that the refugee crisis is due to “persecution” by Myanmarese authorities. Swaraj’s phone call with the Bangladesh PM, if true, would mark a modification in India’s position. 

Any reference to “persecution” or “atrocities” would be an implicit criticism of Myanmar government, which India has avoided so far scrupulously.

It would also contradict the Indian government’s own stance on deporting Rohingya refugees, which has referred to them as “illegal immigrants”. When the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein accused New Delhi of lacking “basic human compassion” for attempting to expel people who were at serious risk on return,  India had struck back by pointing out that “illegal migrants” could pose “security challenges”.

India has traditionally backed Myanmar over its handling of Rohingya issue in Rakhine state, even defending it at various international fora. Until now, Bangladesh’s views have not been a factor in India’s Myanmar policy. Dhaka itself has also only dealt with the Rohingya issue with Myanmar bilaterally so far. 

But, with the number of refugees growing alarmingly large, Bangladesh has realised that Myanmar would require more hard prodding to take back the Rohingya refugees. As per UN estimates, more than 400,000 Rohingyas have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar since Aug 25. The International Organisation for Migration believes that it could reach 1 million by year-end.

Myanmar doesn’t consider the Rohingya as citizens, as their citizenship was taken away by law. However, in previous major influxes in 1978 and 1991, Myanmar was persuaded to take back most of the Rohingyas under Chinese and US pressure.

According to the Bangladeshi PM’s deputy press secretary, Hasina told Swaraj that while Dhaka had given temporary shelter on humanitarian grounds, Myanmar must acknowledge the Rohingyas as their nationals.

She further told Indian foreign minister that any long-term stay by the Rohingya refugees would “create a big problem for Bangladesh”.

Modi Myanmar visit

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Myanmar after the influx had started. However, he only referred to “extremist violence” in Rakhine in his public remarks and the India-Myanmar Joint statement only mentioned the terrorist attack by Rohingya militants against security personnel on Aug 25.

With the stream of unending refugees coming across the border, Bangladesh had not been happy with the lack of acknowledgment of the humanitarian aspect from New Delhi. This was especially when the Sheikh Hasina government was under a lot of pressure from civil society and opposition to internationalise the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Faced with an upset Dhaka, India modified its position on September 9, when it issued a new press release acknowledging for the first time that the there was an “outflow of refugees” from Rakhine. 

Since then, New Delhi stepped up even more – announcing the start of Operation Insaniyat to provide relief assistance to Bangladesh. The first plane carrying 53 metric tonnes of relief aid reached Chittagong on Thursday afternoon, and the second consignment reached on Friday.

External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is leaving for New York to United Nations General Assembly, where Bangladesh and other OIC are expected to raise the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Deporting refugees

Meanwhile, home minister Rajnath Singh on Friday said that the Centre would file an affidavit in the Supreme Court over its plans to deport Rohingya Muslims. The Supreme Court had asked the government to file the affidavit on a plea against the deportation of Rohingya Muslim immigrants to Myanmar.

“We will file the affidavit in the Supreme Court on September 18,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a function here.

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  • Anjan Basu

    It will be interesting to see how this pans out. The pushes and pulls in either direction will be many, and the Indian govt’s own ideological baggage will add weight in one one particular direction. But it is amusing to see that the Indian state’s obsession with ‘jumlas’ has now reached epic proportions. Thus, a modest relief supply to Bangladesh has to be proclaimed to the world as ‘Operation Insaniyat’.

    • it is amusing to see that the Indian state’s obsession with ‘jumlas’ has now reached epic proportions

      Anjan, what is wrong with you?

      There is nothing ‘amusing’ about this at all.

      We were looking for a Bengali translator. Your worthless book came under the scanner. It isn’t remotely faithful to the Bengali mise en scene. nor is it an English of any original or distinguished sort.

      You are a foolish man. You are an obvious and blatant liar. You aren’t really interested in how this pans out. Your claim to be amused by some non existent obsession on the part of the Indian State is equally foolish and self regarding. What is wrong with you?

      Indian Law prevents me from coming to settle on agricultutral land even in Tamil Nadu. It also prevents you from doing so. There is no legal basis for Rohingyas- even if Kashmiris prefer them to Pandits- gaining residence in India.

      You are a terrible translator. It’s like you don’t even care what words mean. What kind of Guilt would do that to a man?

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      The inhumanity and small-heartedness we have displayed is stunning. But that isnt much of a surprise, given how humanity and compassion is being drained out of our psyche and our so-called (and often mentioned with much pride in court judgements) collective conscience is conveniently awakened only for people who are “like us”.
      Come to think of it, the “status” given by the Myanmarese government on the Rohingyas and their persecution is perhaps a model which this government wishes to ape when it comes to our own minorities.

  • India did not sign the relevant Treaty. We can deport anyone, refugee or not, whom we feel will worsen our National Security.