India’s response to the Rohingya crisis

by Capt. Upendra Gogate & Eshan Arya

In August 2017 the Islamist organisation ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) attacked the Myanmar police in Rakhine province. Since then the Rohingya issue has come to the fore in the mainstream media. India however has had Rohingya refugees in the outskirts of Delhi and in Jammu and Kashmir since 2012.

Al Jazeera claims that India has housed more than 40,000 Rohingya refugees in 2017 alone. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) claims registered Rohingya refugees in India were between 13,000 to 16,500 since 2011-2012. The Indian government claims it has more than 300,000 refugees from 28 countries. UNHCR found that the Rohingya refugees who came to India before 2016 came from Myanmar via land. In contrast, the 2017 influx of the Rohingya refugees have come by the sea and through Bangladesh.


In August 2017, the Indian Home Ministry sent out a directive to all the State Governments in India. This directive referred to the identification of all illegal migrants in India. The directive made specific references to Rohingya as well. The directive asked for the deportation of these illegal migrants. The Indian government defended their move as a security measure. The Indian government claimed they had intelligence reports of national security threats posed by Rohingya and other refugees in India. The Home Ministry has failed to recognise the difference between illegal economic migrants and refugees.

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As a reaction to this, two UNHCR registered Rohingya refugees registered a written petition to the Supreme Court of India. The petition referred to article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Article 32 is about protection of the human rights of Indians as well as foreigners in India. Hence the Rohingya claimed the planned deportation was against the constitution. They requested compassionate treatment of the Rohingya refugees in India. This case now lies with the Indian Supreme court for hearing.

Indian government should not label all Rohingya as a security threat. Indian government claims it has intelligence reports of Rohingya having links with ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) also known as  ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). India should not ignore its obligations under the 2016 United Nations New York Declaration for Refugees & Migrants. India is a signatory to this convention.

India will have federal elections in 2019. Many politicians see the Rohingya issue as something to appease their lobby groups. Both the ruling party and opposition have taken a stance to favour their vote bank groups. [Need to explain what vote banks are] In India, it is not new to have election campaigns against illegal economic migrants from Bangladesh. These campaigns refer to refugees from Bangladesh as a problem for local communities. The Indian government has grouped the asylum seeking Rohingya with the illegal economic migrants from Bangladesh.

The current Indian government promotes nationalism. This nationalism is based on appearing a pro-Hindu government. The Indian government views the Rohingya as Islamic refugees. However, the media and Indian government have misidentified Rohingya refugees. Rohingya refugees are a minority group and not an Islamic group alone. Rohingya refugees also include Hindus and Christians. However, Indian politicians view the influx of Rohingya in India, as an increase in the Muslim population. This affects the vote bank demographics for the BJP. The opposition party INC (Indian National Congress) is partially supporting the Rohingya. The INC see the welcome of Rohingya as an increase in the Muslim population in India. The INC has a huge Muslim vote bank.

Besides religion, the Rohingya issue also relates to the Indian economy. 26% of Indian population is illiterate. 12 million Indians are low skilled or unskilled. These populations have limited job opportunities. Casual labour is their main source of income. Hence, they find Rohingya as a threat to their jobs. Political groups have further provoked these low skilled workers. These workers have staged protests and demonstrations in Mumbai, Tripura, and Punjab. It is easy to obtain national identity cards in India illegally. Many asylum seekers, humanitarian refugees, and illegal migrants obtain these illegally. Hence, it is easy to mask their identities as Indian nationals. Politicians have claimed refugees quickly seek Indian identity and take away jobs reserved for locals. Many Hindus from the North and West of India oppose the refugees due to their unproven association with Islamic radical groups.

Unlike refugees in many developed countries, refugees in India have low contribution towards human capital and GDP. 270 million Indians are poor. 180 million Indians live below the poverty line. India is a developing nation that struggles to feed its own people. However, Indian politicians have not claimed that Rohingyas are a burden on the Indian economy. It would make sense if they did so. Instead, they have been busy focussing on the religion of the Rohingya and claims of their radicalisation alone.

The Indian government needs to conduct a dialogue and debate about the spending of an Indian tax payer’s money on the wellbeing of refugees. The average annual per capita income of Indians is only USD 1,436. With such low national incomes Indian people prefer the governments to focus on their wellbeing first. It is indeed debatable how much India should distribute its resources towards refugees while it struggles to fix its internal poverty and displacement of people within its own states. Instead of focussing on religious groups, the Indian government needs to focus on its economy and UN obligations.

The Indian government has lacked any significant humanitarian offer to the Rohingya. The Indian government’s priority is tackling the issues in Jammu & Kashmir bordering Pakistan. The Indian government has further focussed strategy towards suspected terror groups working out of Bangladesh. These groups affect the North-eastern states of India.

The current Indian government plans to deport all Rohingya. It wants to appear brave to its supporters with this approach. The deportation of the whole lot of refugees is impractical under the constitutional principles. The directive of the Indian Home Ministry is going to be symbolic in creating the groundwork for the 2019 federal elections. Politicians hope this may act as a precedent argument for possible constitutional changes.

India is moving towards being a globally significant state and regional power. It needs to implement a clear refugee policy. The policy should outline actions towards displaced and the stateless refugees. It should have a clear policy about offering humanitarian aid and refuge. The absence of such a policy could allow radicalisation of the neglected displaced masses. Many terrorist groups have recruited vulnerable, neglected, and prosecuted people. ISIS and ISIL may give support to the neglected Rohingya in India. The refugees facing hostility from India may hence be vulnerable to radicalisation. The Indian government shows concerns towards growing Islamic radicalisation, yet, their policies promote it.

The Indian Government needs to show compassion towards the displaced refugees in accordance to the UN directives. This does not mean neglecting homeland security. This compassion does not mean neglecting radicalisation and ISIS influence among a few refugees. However, this compassion needs to relate to the innocent and genuinely stateless and persecuted minorities. The policy towards refugees should be beyond the barriers of religion and ethnicity. If the Indian government cares for the security of their nation, they need to have a policy of inclusion, and not of deportation and exclusion.

~ ~ Capt. U. S. Gogate is a senior merchant navy Captain training ships multi-national officers and crews in ship operating and ship security skills. Eshan Arya is a PhD student in Politics at La Trobe University. Eshan is also founder and President of United and Peaceful Subcontinent Inc: Facebook page here.

Eshan 01
Eshan Arya
Eshans Dad
Capt U.S. Gogate

Further Reading:

Pant, A 2017, ‘Biggest challenge to India’s growth: Low skill levels’, Hindustan Times, viewed 25 November 2017, <;.

Kanwal 2017, ‘How ISIS lures youth with women, meat, chocolates to recruit in Kerala’, India Today, viewed 25 November 2017, <;.

Khandekar, O 2017, ‘How the Indian government is keeping Rohingya out’, The Economic Times, viewed 25 November 2017, < >.


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