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