Declaring that the Rohingyas are illegal migrants in India and then offering humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh to deal with the Rohingya refugees is the right thing to do, says former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal. That is because the Rohingyas are “illegal migrants” in India but “refugees” in Bangladesh, he points out.
He advocates that the maintenance of good relations with Bangladesh demands that India provide humanitarian assistance to it in dealing with the Rohingya refugees.
However, he also admits that there is a contradiction in India accepting the humanitarian aspect of the Rohingya refugee flows when it comes to Bangladesh but not accepting the same logic when it comes to India.
He insists, “Most of the 40,000 Rohingyas came to India from Bangladesh. There are no atrocities being committed against them there. Their life and limb are not threatened. They are not persecuted there… So when they entered India they have not come as refugees. They have come as illegal migrants.”
He points out that the Rohingyas in India have no intention to seek refugee status and this is proven by the fact that many of them have taken PAN cards and ration cards in India. “They want to merge. They want to present themselves as Indian citizens. So they are illegal migrants.”
The former foreign secretary recognises that the biggest burden of refugees has fallen to Bangladesh. “It is a direct problem between Myanmar and Bangladesh. And it is a historical problem. .. We have been caught in the middle of this because we have a porous border with Bangladesh and 40,000 of them have quietly moved into India.”
Sibal believes that India should not be bothered by the views of the Western countries on the Rohingyas as their stance on refugees is rife with double standards.
Supporting the position that Rohigyas pose a security threat in India, Sibal says, “It is nobody’s case that 40,000 Rohingyas are all terrorists.” However, he says, that if they can potentially provide a pool from which a few ideologically motivated Rohingyas emerge who are then trained by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jaish-e-Mohammad or Hafiz Saeed then it can be worrisome.
This, he feels, is a legitimate concern, even if there is no direct evidence of the Rohingyas in India having any terrorist links at present.
Essentially, the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are the responsibility of the government in Dhaka and it should take up the issue with Naypyidaw, he feels.
“So let them handle this problem between themselves and to the extent that both countries want India to provide its good offices to help bring the two sides together, we should be ready to do that …We should be both willing to give financial support to Bangladesh as well as diplomatic support to both sides should they want it,” he says.
Watch the video interview for Sibal’s view on the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar and the regional and international reactions it has evoked.
Edited by Joyjeet Das