Rohingya In Nepal
The Rohingya are Muslims of a minority group living in Rakhine State of Myanmar. They are poor people, with 78 per cent of them living below the poverty line. Rakhine State is a predominantly Buddhist state and the Buddhists there take the Rohingya as a pet aversion. That is why the Rohingya have remained a downtrodden people with very few job opportunities. The Myanmar government has kept them under its jackboots. Both the government and the Buddhist people think that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The Myanmar government started to crack down on them in the 1970s, an inhuman process which has been continuing to this day. They have deliberately been denied citizenship and other fundamental rights since 1982, rendering them stateless people. Making people stateless is a crime against humanity but this does not cut ice with the Myanmar government.
The suppression against the Rohingya rose up in a crescendo in August 2017 when over 700,000 Rohingya were forced to flee Rakhine State. As per the Myanmar government, the crackdown was a retaliatory action in response to the attacks by Rohingya insurgents belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on its security posts. The attacks killed nine officials and around 400 people. The ARSA is considered a terrorist outfit by the Myanmar government. The crackdown was a blot on the escutcheon of human history as it involved widespread killings, rapes, tortures, settlement burnings and other inhuman activities.
The Rohingya have fled to different countries to escape persecution at the hands of the Myanmar government. In Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh, one million Rohingya are living as refugees in squalid conditions. The August 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya has drawn the attention of the world community. The United Nations and the USA have termed the crackdown ethnic cleansing, which the Myanmar government vehemently denies. They have also demanded strong action against the army generals of Myanmar, who are responsible for the widespread persecution against the Rohingya.
The inhuman treatment of the Rohingya by the Myanmar government the Rohingya has exposed leader of the National League for Democracy and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate. She has been widely criticised for doing nothing to solve the Rohingya crisis. Although her position is not so powerful in the government, she could exert moral pressure on the Tatmadaw, the military forces of Myanmar, to be lenient towards the Rohingya.
Back in 2017, the Myanmar government showed some willingness to take back the Rohingya living in Bangladesh by January, 2018 in coordination with the Bangladesh government. Myanmar and Bangladesh even signed a pact in November 2017 to this effect. Before the pact had been implemented, the two countries made another pact in August 2018 for the repatriation of 2,260 Rohingya refugees beginning from December 15 of this year. The pact on the repatriation of such a scattering of Rohingya refugees against the whopping number of refugees exceeding one million seems to be just eyewash. The pact recognises the Rohingya refugees and includes, inter alia, respectful treatment to them.
Still, the Rohingya fear more persecution at the hands of the Myanmar government. Their settlements have already been flattened by the Myanmar government. Even if they are allowed to return to their country, they will have to live in tents, which may be no better than the ones in Cox’s Bazar. Ironically, the Myanmar government has appealed to the domestic and international communities to rebuild Rakhine State, which was ravaged by the Myanmar government itself.
As per the Home Ministry, there are over 650 Rohingya living in Nepal. Some Rohingya entered the country in the 1990s and in 2012. The country does not recognise the Rohingya as refugees. They are illegal immigrants. The country is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention; nor is it a signatory to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. So the country is not bound to shelter refugees from any part of the world. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has certified 360 Rohingya living in Kathmandu as refugees. The UN agency provides health and education support for these Rohingya.
With the Rohingya crisis remaining unresolved for a long time and the Rohingya compelled to be crammed into tents under difficult conditions in Bangladesh, there is a high possibility that they may move to other countries. In the context of some Rohingya having already entered Nepal illegally, it is essential to stop their movement into the country. The country cannot bear the burden of refugees. The hassles the country has faced while dealing with Tibetan and Bhutanese refugees are still fresh.
Although over one hundred thousand Bhutanese refugees have been resettled to different countries under the third-country resettlement program of the UNHCR, which has now ended, there are still over 7,000 Bhutanese refugees living in the country. The refugees are either elderly Bhutanese or those not willing to live in third countries; they want to go back to their own country despite having been displaced for almost a generation. They are still hoping against hope that one day they will be repatriated to their home country.
The Rohingya are considered a security threat in India. India treats them as terrorists. Security experts in Nepal also consider the Rohingya as such unlike in the case of Tibetan and Bhutanese refugees. As such, India may not like the country sheltering the Rohingya even on humanitarian grounds.
The other day, Nepal and India held a meeting on how to stop the Rohingya from crossing the border over to their territories by beefing up surveillance in the border areas. The government should be wary of the movement of the Rohingya and take drastic action against their entry into the country. At a time when the UNHCR has recognised the Rohingya living in the country as refugees, it will be difficult for the government to repatriate them if they enter the country in large numbers. In this connection, the Bhutanese refugee crisis should serve as an eye-opening lesson to the government.