While we can all agree that harking back to a fascist past is decidedly a cure that is worse than the disease, is there not a case for contending that some of the blame for this state of affairs must be shouldered by those who are responsible for the disease in the first place?
On a recent trip to Germany, I could not help but notice some uncanny similarities surrounding the discourse on refugees and migrants vis-à-vis the question of Rohingyas in India. The post-2015 German experience might offer some interesting insights and lessons that we would be ill-advised to ignore. Even though I had no dog in the political slugfests that seem to have broken out in the country, I could not help but walk away with the sobering realisation that we could very well have the same scenario unfold in India. Also, given the fact that ours is still a developing country and rule of law is at best clumsy, the consequences are likely to be far more severe.
In 2015, as the civil war in Syria raged on, refugees poured into Europe by land as well as sea. The subsisting European Union protocol, embodied in the Dublin Agreement of 1997, very clearly states that persons who seek asylum in the European Union must remain in the first country that they enter. This agreement has also been used to circumvent the provisions of Article 16 of Germany’s Basic Law, which provides for an absolute ‘right to asylum’ to those who are being persecuted on political grounds in their respective countries. At this juncture, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took an almost unilateral decision to void the Dublin Agreement. As a result, Germany became the most preferred destination for refugees. The jury is still out on why she did what she did. There is speculation that she did it in order to ensure that Germany’s ageing population and dwindling workforce do not turn into a liability in the future. Others speculate that the sustained pressure to take in refugees from countries like Kosovo could be countered by juxtaposing the relative safety of the Balkans with war-torn Syria. Finally, some argue that she was actuated by purely humanitarian concerns. In any case, commentators from around the world praised her decision at the time.
However, the picture that has emerged since then is far from rosy. The influx of refugees has led to a rise in xenophobic sentiment, emboldening openly fascist outfits on the reactionary right like the AfD party, which has established electoral strongholds in provinces of the former Communist GDR. Further, it has also emboldened left parties like the Partie Die Linke; whose members, according to middle ranking functionaries I spoke to, do not believe in national boundaries or the need for a police force. At the time of writing, there is a fresh political crisis brewing: the German Interior Minister (who belongs to the CSU, a longstanding coalition partner of Angela Merkel’s CDU) has threatened to resign unless the Chancellor agrees to his proposal for turning away refugees registered in other European countries. The reason for mooting such a proposal seems to be the challenge that the CSU party is facing from the extreme right AfD. In the last federal election, the rise of the AfD was the biggest takeaway, inasmuch as it is now the third largest party in the Bundestag (The German Lok Sabha), and the ruling CDU/CSU coalition now has a 33 percent vote share compared to the 41 percent it had earlier.
To someone who is familiar with the history of the Weimar Republic, the rise of the AfD seemingly follows a trajectory that is similar to the one traversed by a certain National Socialist Workers’ Party. Needless to say, this could potentially have devastating consequences for Europe as well as the world. A series of terrorist incidents, most notably in Berlin, allegedly perpetrated by ‘refugees’ seems to have played a role in the rise of parties like the AfD. There was also a well-publicised incident of mass molestation on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, which could have been another catalyst for xenophobia in popular imagination. While we can all agree that harking back to a fascist past is decidedly a cure that is worse than the disease, is there not a case for contending that some of the blame for this state of affairs must be shouldered by those who are responsible for the disease in the first place?
Coming back to India, there are lawyers like Mr. Prashant Bhushan who are trying extremely hard to ensure that Rohingya refugees are allowed to settle in India. Their argument is that while India has not signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, the same would have the strength of customary law. For them, the legitimate concerns of the denizens of Jammu, who do not wish to be swamped by the Rohingyas in their neck of the woods, seems to be of no consequence. Just like some of the aforementioned Syrian ‘refugees’, a few of these Rohingyas, including those affiliated to the ARSA, seem to have fairly murky antecedents. It is worth noting that the psychological scars of Partition and the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits inflicted upon the Hindu denizens of the Jammu region are still fresh, and communal peace in the region now hangs by a thread. Although the matter is currently sub-judice before the Supreme Court of India, one would hope that the decision-making process would take into account experiences of other similarly placed countries.
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Mr. Raghav Awasthi is a graduate of the NALSAR University of Law and practises law before the Supreme Court of India. He is also a ...Read More +