For 21 years, Dala Banu has been living in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh after fleeing the Burmese army in a three-day trek through the jungles, dodging landmines and killer squads. Three generations of her husband’s family had lived in the same village where they had a farm, five cows, three bulls and a herd of goats. In the two decades, their daughter was raped in the refugee camp itself. They can never return home. The Rohingya refugee story is the largest humanitarian crisis that has struck the world, after Syria and Iraq.
The globe is gripped by a crisis of displaced people who have been fleeing their homes to escape sectarian violence, war and hunger caused by conflict. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that the refugee influx is steadily rising; until mid-2016, their global count was 16.5 million, five million more than in mid-2013.
As of June 2014, three million Syrian refugees account for 23 per cent of all refugees receiving UNHCR aid. The 2.7-million Afghan refugees are the world’s largest refugee population registered with UNHCR. Somalia (1.1 million), Sudan (670,000), South Sudan (509,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (493,000), Burma (480,000) and Iraq (426,000) follow, while Pakistan hosts 1.6 million Afghan refugees. Lebanon (1.1 million), Iran (982,000), Turkey (824,000), Jordan (737,000), Ethiopia (588,000), Kenya (537,000) and Chad (455,000) have a massive refugee problem.
ROHINGYA CRISIS: TRAGEDY AND THREAT
UN agencies place the Rohingya refugee count at 270,000, since the Burmese army responded to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacks on its camps in October 2016 with a violent crackdown in the Muslim majority Rakhine state. Buddhist-Muslim violence has also forced over 10,000 Rakhine Buddhists to flee to other parts of Burma. Reports have surfaced about burning villages, beheadings and women giving birth without medical help.The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has put the number of Rohingya refugees registered with the UNHCR in India at 14,000, plus 40,000 unregistered. Most live in Jammu. They are a source of major concern to security agencies, since ties between Rohingyas and radical Islamic organisations surfaced. “In a short span of time, Jammu will have more Muslims than Kashmir,” says Hindu politician from the ruling party in J&K.
In the face of criticism by humanitarian agencies, the government is firm on Rohingyas’ deportation to avoid European-style terror attacks on Indian cities—some terrorists who infiltrated the Syrian refugee influx were found to be behind carnage in France and Germany. Last week in Kashmir, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said, “Illegal foreign immigrants will be strongly dealt with.”Ahin Wirathu, Burma's ultranationalist Buddhist monk says Middle Eastern Islamists are financing Rakhine Muslims. “Local Muslims are crude and savage because extremists are pulling the strings, providing them financial, military and technical power,” he said.
Meanwhile, the deportation issue has entered the judicial realm in India. On Monday, a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra will hear a petition against expelling Rohingya refugees. A petition filed by former RSS ideologue K N Govindacharya and Chennai-based Indic Collective Trust said, “It has also become known that Al Qaeda is trying to use the Rohingya community
for terror and jihad,” posing a “social, economic and security” threat to India.
Security agencies have warned the MHA that Rohingyas staying in J&K pose a grave threat to national security, since many of them are radicalised by terror groups operating in the Valley at the behest of Pakistan. The government is taking the warnings seriously. On returning from Srinagar, Singh held a meeting at North Block with security agency chiefs on the Rohingya crisis. The role of Rohingyas has come to the fore in at least three terror modules, including an attack on the Buddhist shrine in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, in July 2013. The terror commander of the Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) for J&K, Zakir Musa, had recently issued a message to target those acting against Rohingyas. Officials in Srinagar had briefed Singh on the vulnerability of Rohingyas to radicalisation.
J&K’s National Panthers Party met the minister and demanded a time-bound deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshi migrants in Jammu. Agencies have provided a list of radicalised Rohingyas along with their profiles to Singh.“Profiling of Rohingya migrants in J&K has been done recently. An exhaustive list of the refugees has been furnished to the Centre,” a security official said. A senior Union Home Ministry official added, “Based on inputs and assessments from the security agencies, the Centre’s response has been calibrated whereby deportation of the existing migrants is being articulated so that the refugees do not see Indian territory as a preferred destination.”
As many as 17 FIRS have been registered by J&K Police against 38 Rohingyas for various offences, including those relating to illegal border crossings. Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which is active in the Valley, has established significant links with Rohingya groups. These groups in Myanmar are accused by the Burmese government of fuelling secessionism in Rakhine. LeT is also involved in a major smuggling operation of drugs and arms in the Northeast through its cadres based in Burma. India has refused to condemn its neighbour on the treatment of Rohingyas.
Dr Rituraj Mate says, “Burma is important in finding a solution to the violence. It is an important neighbour along the eastern flank and is the key link to further India's Act East policy.”
Terror and the refugee Crisis
Historically, terrorism has been symbiotic with refugees. Terrorism flourished in the Palestinian camps since the 50s. Fatah, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian (PFLP) were children of the 1948 Palestinian refugee crisis. The original Palestinian refugee wave comprising 700,000 people was an aftermath of the 1948 Arab- Israeli War. Many of the original refugees have died, but it has not stopped their descendants from claiming refugee status in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories. Likewise most of Pakistan's 1.6 million refugees are Afghans who fled the Russian invasion of their country in the 80s and have been there for over three decades. Their children, born in Pakistan, are considered refugees. One reason could be that Pakistan doesn’t offer citizenship.
Radical organisations in the West were historically born out of the years of frustration over the inability of refugees and immigrants to culturally assimilate with host societies, hopeless conditons in the camps and indoctrination by radical mullahs who are constantly in search of cannon fodder. The Taliban rose from the Afghan refugee population in Pakistan. Somali refugees are the mainstay of al-Shabaab. A UNHCR report released in March states that Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey are home to most of the world’s refugee population as of mid-2016—a total of 5.4 million. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.
DANGER FROM WITHIN While dismissing fears of the refugee crisis leading to terror attacks in Europe, a report from Washington-based non-profit public policy organisation Bookings Institution notes, “Europe already has a terrorism problem, and the bigger danger is that radicalised European Muslims will transform the Syrian refugee community into a more violent one over time. Thousands of Europeans have gone to fight with the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, and al-Qaida has long had a presence in Europe. These volunteers are sustained by radical preachers who condemn European ideals and support the idea of Muslims taking up arms. In addition, many European Muslims are alienated from their governments and societies, believing that as Muslims they never truly will, or should, belong.”
CASE OF A KILLER
Take the case of Belgian ex-convict Mohammed Abrini the Hat. His brother died fighting with the IS in Syria. In June 2015, he slipped across the Turkish border to reach the then IS capital, Raqqa in Iraq, where he met a jihadi friend, Abdelhamid Abaaoud who was planning a wave of bombings in Paris. Abaaoud radicalised Abrini by exploiting his brother’s death as France’s fault. He travelled to Brussels evading the Belgian police and formed a gang to prepare for the bloodshed in Paris. Abrini and his gang killed 130 people in simultaneous attacks at the Bataclan concert hall, restaurants and a soccer stadium. Soon after, he engineered the Brussels suicide bombings, which killed 32 people at the city airport and a subway station. He had been let free by Belgian police earlier in spite of proof that he had visited IS territories in Syria. He had also travelled from Syria to Birmingham to collect £3,000 from IS sympathisers. Captured after the Brussels airport bombings, he is a subject for analysing the terrorist mindset and operational skills. The Syrian refugee situation in Europe has become a godsend to terrorists like Abrini since the sheer number of people pouring in affects coordination among the various arms of the overstretched enforcement agencies of Europe.
THE ECONOMIC BURDEN However, radicalisation among refugees is a lesser worry in India than the financial cost of supporting the exiles. Displaced Rohingyas would be a big drain on the Indian economy. The popular notion that the West is the favourite destination of refugees may not be statistically correct. A UNHCR spokesperson says refugess “want to stay as close to their homes as possible so that they can return to their lives as soon as they are able to do so.”
Comparing the number of refugees up till mid-2016 to the overall size of a host country’s economy measured by GDP, a UN report found that low- and middle-income nations in the Middle East, Asia and Africa bear the biggest burden for their upkeep.
Amnesty International said 56 per cent of the world’s 21 million refugees are being hosted by just 10 countries, all in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia—Jordan with over 2.7 million people followed by Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million) and Lebanon (1.5 million). It noted that many of the world's wealthiest nations “host the fewest and do the least”. India hosts around 3 lakh registered refugees from over 30 countries, according to official MHA data. The refugee crisis following Pakistan’s invasion, pillage and raping of East Bengal—now Bangladesh—initiated what UNHCR considers the world’s biggest movement of refugees in the second half of the 20th century.
At that time, India’s GDP was just $116 billion at current rates, as against $2,066.90 billion in 2014. Dependent on foreign food aid, it had to pay for 10 million refugees. The official estimate of arrivals was around 10,000-50,000 refugees a day. Modern historians say this brought the Indian economy almost to the verge of collapse, with West Bengal being burdened the most. After India defeated Pakistan in 1972, 6.8 million Bangladeshi refugees were back home by March 25, 1972. The rest stayed back. It had cost India over `700 crore to clothe and feed them, while foreign aid was only `30 crore. During a UN debate over the war, India claimed refugees were costing the exchequer `30 lakh daily.
NEW CROSS BORDER FEARS
However, adverse conditions in Bangladesh since the 80s sparked off a second refugee wave to India, which continues till this day. The Carnegie foundation analysed population growth and demographic statistics for Bangladesh and India in the last four censuses of 2011, 2001, 1991, and 1981, and found the number of Bangladeshi refugees to India is over 15 million. Says a Carnegie India report, “Bangladesh abuts India on three sides, sharing 4,096 kilometers (around 2,500 miles) of border with the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram. Ever since the partition of British India in 1947, successive waves of people facing hostile conditions, persecution, intolerance, and adverse economic situations in what constitutes present-day Bangladesh have found sanctuary in India. While some of them later returned to their homes in Bangladesh, the majority chose to assimilate within India.”
Many of the refugees have settled in states along the Bangladesh border. Security agencies, which have been monitoring madrasas in the region, have found terror activity and radicalisation as major challenges posed by illegal immigrants. Many of them live in metropolitan cities across India doing menial jobs. Recent terror arrests and mob violence involving them point to a developing tinderbox situation. The Bangladesh immigrant issue is politically sensitive, and enabled the BJP to win the Assam state elections in April. L K Advani. Home Minister in the NDA-I regime, had announced identification and deportation of such immigrants, but was reined in by coalition compulsions.
However, the government has been proactive in granting rights to Hindus who flee persecution and conversion in Pakistan. Until recently, Hindus who had crossed over to J&K during Partition had no right to employment or full franchise. The Narendra Modi government has stepped in to sort out the situation. However, the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, who fled Islamist persecution in their homeland, is a politically sensitive nationalist issue. Categorised as Internally Displaced Persons, they have been promised a safe return to their destroyed homes by the state government, but most of them continue to languish in refugee camps in Delhi.
ASYLUMS OF SUSPICION
The rising number of people fleeing government persecution in Middle Eastern countries and Africa is exacerbating the crisis. Political asylum seekers in Europe have security agencies on their toes. Germany recorded a high number of asylum seekers from Russia, particularly Chechnya. German publication Die Welt reported many Salafists among the applicants from the Caucasian Muslim country, fleeing Putin’s army. A government spokesman confirmed that more than 80 per cent of people who have fled from Russia this year are Chechens. The fifth-largest group of asylum seekers in Germany are 2,770 Russians, followed by Syrians, Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis. There are human vultures circling every tragedy—traffickers in Chechnya are encouraging young women to apply for political asylum with the promise of free land and homes. The International Organisation of Migration calculates that 232 million people become international migrants every year, moving from country to country seeking work.
Citizens from 143 countries sought asylum for the first time in the European Union between January and March this year. Syrians, Afghans and Nigerians were in the top three positions. Venezuela recorded a five-time hike in numbers, followed by many African nations. In spite of peaceful conditions in the country, data from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shows Indians have sought asylum in more than 40 countries for several years.
Persecution religious, military and ethnic has been the main reason for human beings to abandon their known lives to take perilous journeys across unchartered seas. The tragedy is not just that they are afraid of the future; their host countries are afraid that they will inflitrate local culture with alien beliefs. Out of this conflict is born shame and violence, which defines the plight of Syrian and Rohingya alike—the unkindness of strangers.
Why Buddhists in Burma Hate Rohingyas
The long-standing fear of Islamisation of Burmese society and weakening the country’s Buddhist national identity has prompted violence in Rakhine. The state is perceived by Buddhists as the “Western Door” through which Islam can enter from South Asia. Ma Ba Tha, a group of ultranationalist Buddhist monks, believe Muslim radicals will go beyond attacking the army in Rakhine and will invade the Irrawaddy region. After Burma opened up, Buddhists have been fearing Muslims encroaching on local culture.
The Warrior Monk of Nationalism
“If we are weak, our land will become Muslim... You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog.” Ashin Wirathu
Ashin Wirathu is the face of Buddhist ultra-nationalism in Burma and the spiritual head of the anti-Muslim movement. He heads the religious organisation Ma Ba Tha (Patriotic Association of Myanmar) and supports President Thein Sein’s plan to send Rohingya Muslims to a third country. After Time magazine called him the Face of Budhist terror, Sein called him “son of Buddha” and a “noble person” committed to peace. Wirathu has red-flagged growing Islamic fundamentalism in South Asian countries such as Indonesia. The Muslim-Buddhist conflict is not new. The 2014 anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka and ethnic strife in June 2014 displaced 8,000 Muslims and 2,000 Sinhalese. The Bodu Bala Sena represents militant Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
Migrant: A person who moves from one place to another within a country
Immigrant: A person who moves from one country to another to settle down in oneRefugee: Someone who has been forced to flee his/her country because of persecution, war or violence, with well-founded for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group Asylum seeker: A person who flees his/her country to seek sanctuary in another and applies for the right to be recognised as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that his/her fear of persecution in his or her home country is well-founded.
Stateless person: One who is not a citizen of any country due to political, economic, social and other reasonsSource: UNHCR and other reports
Rights of Refugees
They get refugee status from the country they enter. This definition protects their human rights under international law, making them eligible for aid. UNHCR’s definition includes people in refugee-like situations—people who have entered another country for the same reasons as refugees but have not been granted refugee status by the government.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people who flee their villages, towns and cities and villages for the same reasons as refugees but stay on in their own country. Of 63.9 million people UNHCR named “persons of concern” including refugees, asylum-seekers, IDPs, stateless individuals and others, 37.5 million were IDPs in 2015.