NEW DELHI: At a time when the Rohingya crisis has sparked a debate, an ICHR seminar today sought to differentiate between "refugees and illegal infiltrators", with the premise that Rohingya Muslims are "certainly not entitled" to the refugee status.
Noted scholars and foreign policy experts expounded on the topic -- Refugees & Infiltrators: India's policy towards them: A historical perspective and some thoughts on the current scenario -- even as the Indian government has already termed them as illegal immigrants who "will be deported".
Saradindu Mukherji, Member of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), an autonomous body functioning under the HRD Ministry, said the Rohingya crisis was the "main provocation" to organise the event.
The seminar's concept note released by the ICHR says: "Victims of religio-ethnic cleansing from the neighbouring countries which were part of eternal Bharat since time immemorial but got separated from us in 1947, are entitled to shelter and rehabilitation in India, but illegal infiltrators from outside India are not." "Rohingyas are certainly not entitled to the refugee status," it adds.
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said India is a highly densely populated country and "we don't need more people".
He said Germany's decision to accept refugees was based more on their "huge demographic problems" and hence, that cannot be compared with the Rohingya situation in India.
Sibal claimed that some human rights bodies are raising humanitarian issues about the planned deportation of Rohingyas from India, because they "want to look good in those circles".
"India accepted Tibetan refugees as it acknowledged the occupation of Tibet by China. Besides, there was a humanitarian and cultural basis to what we did. In case of Rohingyas there is no such consideration," he said.
India government has maintained its stand that the "issue of national security is involved with regard to illegal immigration which our country cannot undermine".
The government had on August 9 told Parliament that more than 14,000 Rohingyas, registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stay in India.
However, aid agencies estimate there are about 40,000 Rohingyas in the country.
Besides, there is a worry that "are there terrorists hiding in that big pool of people", Sibal asked, adding India is not signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, so "we are not obliged to accept them.
"So, there is a very good reason to deal with that issue the manner in which the government is doing. But, I do not see if they would be able to deport them in the foreseeable future," he added.
Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy, who was the chief guest at the day-long seminar, made a reference to the persecution faced by Hindus in Bangladesh in 1971, and the migration the Liberation War had triggered, to emphasise the issue of refugees.
Roy, author of 'My People, Uprooted: A Saga of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal' shared the history of the region and the bloodshed it has suffered.
Retired IPS officer R K Ohri alleged that several Rohingyas have slipped into Mizoram and the neighbouring regions, and their presence would affect the demography and peace in the region.
Scholar Jawaharlal Kaul said Rohingya Muslims have a "tendency to get radicalised" and therefore the government is right to take a decision to protect the national security.
"The Indian government must closely liaison with its Myanmarese counterpart on this matter. The Centre should collect state-based data on them and their foreign funding must be probed," he said.
Illegal immigrants cannot claim fundamental rights which are otherwise available even to non-citizens, the Centre had told the Supreme Court early this month in its fresh response to the PIL of two Rohingya refugees challenging their deportation to Myanmar.
The National Human Rights Commission had in August issued a notice to the Centre, saying "India has been home to refugees, for centuries" and from the human rights angle, its "intervention is appropriate" in the matter.