The Union government’s position that it considers Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state as a potential security threat is a disturbing attempt to paint the persecuted community in a poor light so that it could justify their deportation in future. While some degree of caution is necessary in dealing with any unusual flow of refugees from a conflict-hit region, the imputation of collective motivation to the Rohingya refugees in the country, estimated to number about 40,000, is heartless.
The Centre’s affidavit in the Supreme Court contains self-serving arguments: that providing for refugees from out of the country’s limited resources would have an adverse impact on its citizens, as they would be deprived of their legitimate share in employment, housing, educational and medical facilities; that there is growing stridency in Rohingya militancy; and that Buddhist citizens face threat of violence from the refugees. Whether or not these assertions are based on facts, they disregard the wider context. Myanmar refuses to accept most Rohingya as its citizens, rendering them stateless, and hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh in just the past few weeks. The intention to deport them by itself constitutes an unusual abandonment of humanitarian principles, as India has an exemplary record in taking care of refugees from many countries since Independence. India is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, 1951, but it has so far adhered to its normative standards. It has played host to refugees of all hues, and stood by the principle of non-refoulement, under which refugees cannot be forced to return to conditions of danger.
Non-refoulement has now evolved into a peremptory norm that every country is expected to follow. The existing law on the subject as well as some judicial decisions do support the norm that deportation of illegal immigrants is a matter of executive policy. It is also true that the fundamental rights relating to movement and settlement within the country are available only to citizens, but it cannot be forgotten that the right to life and liberty under Article 21 is not confined to citizens, but anyone who has to face the rigours of law on Indian soil. As the Centre asserts, it does have a procedure to pass deportation orders, one that it believes is fair and reasonable. But when an entire class of people is identified for deportation and accused of plotting against the host country, it is unlikely that fairness can be assured in every case. India may have strategic and diplomatic reasons for backing the Myanmar position with regard to terrorism in the Rakhine region. However, that does not necessarily mean that it should cite vague fears about militants infiltrating the country under the guise of refugees, who happen to be Muslim, to deny safe haven to a largely stateless community.
Refugee: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Example: Tens of thousands of refugees fled their homes
Synonyms: émigré, fugitive, exile, displaced person, asylum seeker, boat people
Persecuted: subject someone to hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of their race or political or religious beliefs.
Example: His followers were persecuted by the authorities
Synonyms: oppress, abuse, victimize, ill-treat, mistreat, maltreat, tyrannize
Deportation: the action of deporting a foreigner from a country.
Example: Asylum seekers facing deportation
Deprive: suffering a severe and damaging lack of basic material and cultural benefits.
Example: The charity cares for destitute and deprived children
Synonyms: disadvantaged, underprivileged, poverty-stricken, impoverished
Legitimate: conforming to the law or to rules.
Example: His claims to legitimate authority
Synonyms: legal, lawful, licit, legalized, authorized, permitted, permissible
Assertion: a confident and forceful statement of fact or belief.
Example: His assertion that his father had deserted the family
Synonyms: declaration, contention, statement, claim, opinion, proclamation
Intention: a thing intended; an aim or plan.
Example: She was full of good intentions
Refoulement: the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution.
Example: International and EU law prohibit renouncement
Plotting: secretly make plans to carry out an illegal or harmful action.
Example: The two men are serving sentences for plotting a bomb campaig
Synonyms: plan, scheme, arrange, organize, hatch, concoct, devise
Vague: of uncertain, indefinite, or unclear character or meaning.
Example: Many patients suffer vague symptoms
Synonyms: indistinct, indefinite, indeterminate, unclear, ill-defined, hazy
Infiltrating: permeate something by filtration.
Example: Virtually no water infiltrates deserts such as the Sahara
Synonyms: insinuate oneself into, worm one’s way into, sneak into
Haven: a place of safety or refuge.
Example: A haven for wildlife
Synonyms: refuge, retreat, shelter, sanctuary, asylum, port in a storm