There has been an influx of Rohingya migrants into Indian territory since 2005 while their population has spread across the country. 'India' despite being the 2nd most populous country has always welcomed refugees for ages, which in return has created pressure over resources, causing internal conflicts and challenges to peace and security. There are two types of refugees in India. Those who are registered are called legal refugees and others who are not hence called illegal. There are apprehensions of security threats from illegal refugees in India. There are reports that Rohingya migrants are being used by different agencies and allegedly have ties with terrorist organizations based in Pakistan. Therefore their significant influx raises serious security concerns. This article will focus on the Rohingya refugees living in India, their conditions, and the politics being played out. It will also look into the security threats emerging from them in India.
Traditionally since the time known, India had served as a haven for those fleeing oppression. Even before India was given the status of a nation-state, Jews, and Zoroastrians were welcomed with open arms. During the partition of 1947, it brought mass migration of people taking refuge in India. The hostility in South Asia is bordered by ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, the war in Afghanistan, and political and ethnic repression in China making India the epicenter of the refugee inflow. The huge influx of migrants has raised the social, political, economic, ethnic, and communal tension that challenges national security. In recent times, the arrival of illegal Rohingya immigrants is considered a threat to the national security of India.
Laws related to refugees protection
According to international law, a refugee is a person who has been forcibly displaced from their country of origin and is unable or unwilling to go back because they fear being persecuted because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or political opinions. Refugees are perceived as posing a security danger to the host country by placing more demands on its limited resources or by merely being present. They vary from other migrants or immigrants since they are forced to leave their native country, as opposed to the latter that do so voluntarily and for a variety of legal or unlawful reasons. There is no proper definition of refugees in India. The level of protection they receive is frequently affected more by political than humanitarian or legal requirements, which largely determines their position. India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. All foreign migrants, including refuge seekers, are governed by the provisions contained in The Foreigners Act of 1946, The Registration of Foreigners Act of 1939, The Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920, and The Citizenship Act of 1955, and rules and orders made under them. Foreign people who arrive in India without valid travel documents or whose travel documents expire while they are there are considered illegal immigrants and are dealt with under the law. So, India does not acknowledge any executive role of UNHCR within its territory and handles refugee crises on its own. Section 3 of the Foreigners Act of 1946 gives the Central government power to deport illegal national foreigners and section 5 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920 gives the power to remove illegal foreigners by force entrusted in the Indian constitution under Article 258(1) to all the State government and Article 239(1) to administrators of the Union Territories. Refugees in India are provided with ‘refugee cards’ for their safe stay by the United Nations Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 provides citizenship AA and safe return of Hindu, Parsi, Jain, Christian, Buddhist, and Sikhs immigrants prosecuted and exploited from the countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.
India has enthusiastically welcomed refugees. After China's occupation of Tibet in 1959, India welcomed Tibetan refugees. Former Prime Minister Nehru provided a novel humanitarian approach like establishing schools, distributing land to refugees, and setting up Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala. During the 1971 liberation war of Bangladesh, to protect its security interests in its fight against Pakistan by having a "friend" on one side and an "enemy" on the other, India took in 10 million Bangladeshi refugees. West Bengal welcomed and provided aid to refugees because of shared cultural and linguistic similarities who were mostly Bengali (Bangla) speaking immigrants.
After America's withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban's takeover, a large number of Afghans have taken refuge in India. E-visa program has been initiated for Afghan refugees. The economic turmoil in Sri Lanka has made asylum seekers flee Colombo. Many Sri Lankan immigrants with cultural and linguistic similarities came to the Southern India region. The territorial proximity of India to Sri Lanka made it a suitable place for a haven for them. The refugees fleeing Myanmar were welcomed by the Mizo community as they associate themselves close to the Chin community. The Chin community has faced exploitation and repression in Myanmar in the name of ethnic cleansing as Chin people belong to the Christian sect. Despite India being the second most populous country in the world, where millions of people live in poverty and lack access to necessities, it continues to accept refugees, making them vulnerable to the surrounding for their survival.
Hotspots of illegal migration
Illegal migration that took place in North Eastern states has raised security alarms. During elections, Bangladeshi migrants were in a position to influence the results in many constituencies. Increased land pressure has an economic impact on the entire North East (paying attention to the geography and land density of the Northeast) since it caused the wealth of the forests to deplete, easy availability of low waged casual workers makes the unskilled employment pay less than they should, migrants to be forcefully evicted from government property, slum camps set up n the fragile areas like at the bay of Brahmaputra river and a host of other problems. Mostly from Bangladesh, a neighboring nation, illegal migration occurs in the eastern and northern areas of the country. Running away from the economic crises in Sri Lanka, Tamil refugees were first welcomed, and local political parties competed to support them to win the political battle. Indian and Sri Lankan Tamils are culturally related. The 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu led to massive arrest of the Tamils. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) groups fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka have been associated with the assassination of the former prime minister. The Tamil refugees were under investigation and constant surveillance after the assassination. They were considered a security threat to India. They were put under a variety of limitations and made resources constrained by taking away resources from them. Security organizations also tried to force LTTE back into Sri Lanka. Later the Indian government claimed that the LTTE organization was engaging in militant activities and had recruited many Tamil youth, forcing them to join in the illegal activities. As a result, the Indian government forbade the LTTE from operating in India.
After the Junta government came into power and overthrew the democracy that caused Myanmar refugees to pour in Mizoram and Manipur. In assisting refugees in Northeast India, representatives of the Chin and other ethnic minorities of Myanmar who reside overseas gained attention as "a worldwide humanitarian concern." There is a constant movement of people across the borders creating a long-lasting insurgency movement. Large numbers of refugee camps are set up to accommodate the migrants. For mobility across the northeastern states, it requires a restricted area permit. A strange logistics problem is created as even Indian citizens, who need restricted area permission to enter these Northeast Border States, have difficulty getting to these camps.
Rohingya influx crises are the hot topic of the current time. They are called the ‘illegal migrants’. Rohingyas were denied citizenship by the Myanmar government in 1982 as they were considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The Central government articulated to the Delhi High Court that according to information provided by security agencies and other reliable sources, Rohingyas in India have ties with terrorist organizations based in Pakistan, and their significant influx raises serious security concerns [Senoara Begum & Ors v. Union of India & Anr]. There are reports that Rohingya migrants are being used by terror outfits like Lashka-e-taiba and Jiash-e-Muhammad in Jammu and Kashmir. Illegal migration across the border also challenges law and order, including activities like smuggling, drug trafficking, counterfeiting, and militant movement.
The large influx of refugees in different parts of India has raised both direct and indirect threats. Direct threats involve the possibility of radicalization of refugees or influx of terrorists through refugee movement across the borders. This also threatens the political and cultural pre-eminence of the local population. Indirect threats include threats to opportunities, overcrowding, and grievances in population over the distribution and sharing of resources, undercutting of wages, and forceful occupation of government land by the migrants creating crises of resources. Lack of opportunities and prevailing fear of insecurity in the local population will cause instability in the region. Poverty and deprivation can make refugees vulnerable to crimes. Terror outfits can easily recruit them by promising better prospects and livelihood. The vulnerability and prone to exploitation make these easily influenceable by radical terrorist groups.
India has always been kind and welcomed wholeheartedly refugees who were fleeing civil conflict, religious persecution, or ethnic cleansing. The refugee issue in India has to be dealt with at both macro and micro levels. The inflow of refugees in the Indian subcontinent highlights the security question. It is high time India passed a national refugee law. Asylum seekers and refugees are susceptible to uneven and arbitrary government practices due to the lack of clearly defined statutory requirements. Asylum applicants should be granted refugee status by definite guidelines outlined in the relevant legal provisions. The lack of national legislation on the protection, rights, and entitlements of refugees has made them more vulnerable by denying them even the most basic protection. Due to their dependence on the government, as a result, the refugees have no legal redress when the government commits systematic wrongdoing. The issue of statelessness cannot be wisely addressed by Indian law.
As a matter of human rights rather than as the consequence of charity, refugees should have access to education, housing, food, and security assuring safe and secure humanitarian conditions. Multipurpose identity cards should be issued to curb illegal migration and to ensure proper checks on the movement across borders. Temporary work permits must be issued so that instead of illegally migrating, migrants can come, work and go back, supplementing them economically. India must work with migrants' origin countries for economic development to offer employment in the homeland of the refugees, and a peace process for stabilizing, accommodating, and working towards the right to return of the stateless. Bilateral and multilateral agreements are required to be discussed between nations to solve refugee issues amicably. While India's national security is at the top but, there is an urgent need to balance efforts by realizing human security and humanitarian approaches are required to assist the refugees.
Priyanka Sharma holds a MA in Conflict Analysis and Peacebuilding from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, India
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