The exodus of Rohingyas from Myanmar affected Bangladesh and India the most. But, there is little information that they made their inroads into Nepal.
During last few years, if any minority community in the world that has caught maximum international attention, it is the Rohingyas of Myanmar. With a population of nearly 1.1 million, the Rohingyas are predominantly Muslim ethnic group living in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. A smaller community of the Rohingyas also lives in countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. As per the estimate of the World Bank, 78 per cent of the Rohingyas live in abject poverty and are considered to be a most oppressed ethnic community in the world.
The Arakan Rohingya National Organisation view that Rohingyas have been living in Arakan, which is now called Rakhine, since time immemorial. But the Buddhists who constitute around 80 percent of Myanmar’s population view them as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh. They feel that those people came to the Rakhine state of Myanmar following its annexation by the British in 1826. <1> So they don’t even figure in the list of 135 officially recognised ethnic groups and are denied citizenship since 1982.
Reports are that the Myanmarese army and Buddhist mobs have been massacring the Rohingyas; while the latter have been attacking with arms on the Myanmar police and military posts. Violent attacks on the Rohingyas was common during the military junta rule in Myanmar, but the crackdown intensified following the incident in August 2017 in which the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which is labelled as a terrorist group in Myanmar, allegedly attacked border checkpoints and killed nine officers and nearly 400 people. <2> Since then, clearance operations resumed to establish the rule of law in Rakhine villages. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas had to leave Myanmar for neighbouring countries by land or boat to save their life. <3>
The rights groups hold the security agencies of Myanmar responsible for the killing of the civilian population in Rakhine. Echoing this voice, the United Nations Human Rights office also perceives that the security forces of Myanmar have brutally driven out half a million Rohingya from Rakhine state. Reports are that the homes, crops and villages of those people have been torched to prevent any attempt by them to return to their native land. <4> Even women are reported to have been raped. Therefore, the wave of Rohingyas exodus from their country continues unabated.
Recently, Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations, termed the situation in Myanmar as “brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority.” <5> However, Myanmar’s second Vice President Henry Van Thio has claimed that the internal situation in his country was improving as there had been no noticeable clashes since 5 September. In the meantime, Min Aung Hlaing, the most powerful Army General in Myanmar, has stated that the Rohingyas have not been the natives of Myanmar, but they are the local Bengalis who made attacks on the security forces and the common people under the leadership of ARSA. <6>
From the media reports, it is known that the exodus of Rohingyas from Myanmar affected countries like Bangladesh and India most. But there is very little information that they also made their inroads into Nepal that is at the distance of 1,391 kilometres and they do not have a common border. Nepal and Myanmar are separated by India and/or Bangladesh. It is not yet well known how they have been coming to Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, since 2012 to escape violence in Myanmar.
Estimates are that the number of the Rohingyas in Nepal is 500. They are living in temporary sheds on private land at Kapan in Kathmandu and are provided food by the UN Commission for Refugees. But in certain quarters, it is feared that many of them might have mixed up with Muslim communities in different parts of the country, particularly in the Terai region, to avoid any attention from the government authorities.
The media reports in Nepal confirmed that until recently, not even the government of Nepal was informed of the influx of Rohingyas in the country. Therefore, they have neither been recognised as refugees nor are they prosecuted by the law of the land.
But of late, the government has started preventing the entry of the Rohingyas from entering the country. Some of them have even been turned back from Birgunj border point at Nepal-India border when they tried to enter into Nepal. Recently, Ram Krishna, spokesperson of the Ministry of Home Affairs in Nepal, revealed that, “Nepal has increased surveillance at its border to stop more Rohingyas from entering the country after the Rohingyas crisis in Myanmar because we cannot bear any more crises.” <1>
Experts feel that Nepal should immediately deport the Rohingyas as they are a potential threat to the security of the country. Former Home Secretary Govind Kusum fears that they might have been influenced by Islamic State and as such they could be a threat to the security to the country. So he warned the authorities concerned against giving them refugee status as granted by the Government of Nepal to the Tibetan and Bhutani refugees.
As the Rohingyas crises deepen, on 11 September 2017, the Muslim community in the Nepalgunj municipality of the Banke district, in western part of the Terai region, took out a rally and submitted a memorandum to the Chief District Officer Ramesh K.C. They wanted the Nepal government to exert pressure on the Myanmar government to stop the atrocities against the Rohingyas.
It is not only Nepal that feels potential security threat from the Rohingyas, but equally, they are perceived as threats in Bangladesh and India where they are living as refugees in far greater number. Bangladesh is affected most by the Rohingyas as nearly half a million of those people have crossed over the Myanmar border and taken refuge there. Each day the government of Bangladesh has to spend the $ 1 million equivalent on their relief and rehabilitation activities. <7> Therefore, the opposition parties in Bangladesh, including the Awami League, is most critical to the government.
To deal with the crisis, Bangladesh has made it mandatory for each Rohingya to register themselves with the government. No one from this community is liable to get any benefit from the government if they don’t do so. Also, the Bangladeshi nationals have been asked to inform the government about the activities of those people to the law enforcement authorities.
In her address to the 76th United Nation General Assembly session, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh wanted the UN to set up ‘safe zones’ under international supervision for the Rohingya in Myanmar territory itself to address the refugee problem effectively. She also wanted Rohingya to return back from Bangladesh to Rakhine of Myanmar under secure conditions.
Next to Bangladesh if any country that is affected most by the Rohingyas is India, which has 1,643-km long border with Myanmar. The number of the Rohingyas in India is estimated at 40,000. Because of the Free Movement Regime between the two countries, the people living up to 16 km on either side of the Indo-Myanmar border have been allowed to travel visa-free in each other’s territory up to 72 hours. <8> Taking undue advantage from the porous border, many of the Rohingyas enter into India. Besides, there are around 140 vulnerable spots along the Indo-Bangladesh border, which are also used by the Rohingyas to cross over to India.
India, which is one of the victims of terrorism, is gradually becoming more sensitive towards the influx of Rohingyas. It is suspected that some of them are influenced by the international terrorist organizations. This is one of the reasons why the country is gearing up its efforts to expel them. The Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh does not find any reason why he should not deport them as they are living in this country illegally. In one of his recent statements, he said, “Rohingyas are not refugees, nor have they taken asylum. They are illegal immigrants.” Since India is not a signatory to the UN Refugees Convention 1951, it is not committed to any binding for not deporting the Rohingyas. <9> However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, apart from the civil rights activists is highly critical of this intended move. It is perceived that the deportation issue is humanitarian in character and as such the government should think about it more seriously before initiating any action towards deportation.
What is, however, a silver lining is that the Myanmar government has given an indication that it has no problem in taking back those Rohingyas who are its nationals. Myanmar Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi recently stated that the Rohingyas could return to their homeland through the proper verification process. Since Nepal along with India and Bangladesh are affected by the influx of the Rohingyas, they must adopt common stand to find the solution to the crisis. In this context, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s suggestion to set up ‘safe zones’ in Myanmar itself under UN supervision to ensure the safe return of the Rohingyas seems to be a practical suggestion. But it is not known as to how the Rohingyas could be deported to their country where they fear annihilation as there is the humanitarian angle. It will be important for Nepal, India and Bangladesh to strengthen their border vigilance to see that the unwanted elements do not enter into their territories. But more than that they must use their diplomatic efforts to influence Myanmar government to take back the Rohingyas and make them re-settle on their land peacefully for which it will also be important to improve their living conditions.
<1> PressTV, “Fleeing violence at home, Rohingya Muslims face difficulties in India, Nepal, Bangladesh,” September 17, 2017, in http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2017/09/17/535440/Rohingya-difficulties-India-Nepal-Bangladesh.
<1> Kelly, Liam, “Myanmar: Who are the Rohingya,” Newsweek, December 1, 2017.
<2> Al Jazeera Network, “Myanmar: Who are the Rohingya?”September 28, 2017.
<4> Birsel, Robert and Aung, Thu Thu, “Myanmar army chief says Rohingya Muslims “not natives,” numbers fleeing exaggerated,” Reuters, in https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya/myanmar-army-chief-says-rohingya-muslims-not-natives-numbers-fleeing-exaggerated-idUSKBN1CH0I6
<7> Sen, Gautam, “Fallout of the Rohingya Issue on Bangladesh’s Domestic Politics,” IDSA, October 3, 2017.
<8> Chauhan, Neeraj, “Rohingya exodus from Myanmar: Centre reviews Free Movement Regime at Indo-Myanmar border,” The Times of India, September 25, 2017.
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Hari Bansh Jha is a Visiting Fellow at ORF. Formerly a professor of economics at Nepal's Tribhuvan University, Hari Bansh’s areas of interest include, Nepal-China-India strategic ...Read More +