Rohingya refugees: India looking at a long-term solution

Pratim Ranjan Bose Kolkata | Updated on February 23, 2018

A file picture of Rohingya refugees at the Nayapara camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh   -  Manish Swarup

New Delhi plans to help Bangladesh repatriate refugees to Myanmar

India is planning to expand the scope of assistance to pave the way for return of nearly seven lakh Rohingya (Arakanese Muslims) refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar.

The project is expected to help Bangladesh significantly, which is desperately seeking India’s support in ensuring safe return of the refugees.

During a recent meeting with Indian journalists, Bangladesh Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina underlined the active role India should play in convincing Myanmar to take the refugees back as keeping them for long may have serious repercussions.

The ruling Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader went a step ahead in comparing the Rohingya refugee crisis with the turmoil during the liberation war in 1971. “We cannot bear this (Rohingya refugee), we want India to stand by us in the same manner as it did in 1971,” he said.

Indian plan

India was prompt in sending 7,000 tonne of relief assistance for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh beginning in last year. This was followed by a $25-million development programme to help Myanmar build the necessary infrastructure to rehabilitate Rohingyas in the troubled Rakhine State.

India has taken a long-term view of the problem, eschewing quick-fix solutions. The project was spread over five years and refugee rehabilitation plan includes two layers of transit camps before ensuring safe rehabilitation in their villages in Rakhine.

While the sources did not divulge the nature and scale of the next course of action; they made it clear that India was looking at a long-term solution in ensuring peace in Rakhine. “We are there for long haul. Wait and watch for announcements,” a senior official said.

On possibility of future violence against Rohingyas, the official said that Tatmadaw (Myanmarese army) is under “tremendous pressure” from all concerned. “We are looking forward to a slow but steady process of safe return of refugees,” he said.

Security threat

Security experts in Bangladesh and India are unanimous that Rohingya refugees are adding to the security threat to the region.

The Chittagong area, bordering Myanmar, where refugees are camped has been a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism and provided shelter to the secessionist forces in the North Eastern India, in the past.

The militant activities (in the North East) have come down after the Sheikh Hasina government clamped down on Islamists. However, the situation turned for the worse after the arrival of the Rohingyas.

With the Bangladesh government failing to keep up with the pressure, Islamists are enjoying a free run under the garb of NGO activities. “Almost all the NGOs working in Rohingya camps have strong terror links,” opined an Indian security expert.

This is bad news for all. Bangladesh is afraid that disturbance in Chittagong may impact its growth potential. Chittagong has the country’s only sea port and is a destination of major investments from India, Japan and China.

Both China and India are heavily investing in port and allied infrastructure in Rakhine State and are keen to invest in deep sea port in Chittagong.

Given China’s influence in Bangladesh and Myanmar; the stakes are high for India.

While China is keen to keep international forces out of the Rakhine dispute; India is trying to walk the tightrope of taking along both Bangladesh and Myanmar governments towards a viable solution for the Rohingya crisis.

Published on February 23, 2018

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