As Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s begins her visit to Bangladesh, experts are of the view that it is high time India mediated to find a solution to the burning Rohingya refugee crisis.
“I am optimistic (about Sushma Swaraj’s visit) as India enjoys cordial relations with Myanmar and has cooperative and friendly ties with Bangladesh,” Rajiv Bhatia, former Indian Ambassador to Myanmar, told IANS.
“Our very wise Foreign Minister has a role to play and a sustainable solution should be found for the Rohingyas,” he stated.
According to the latest figures issued by the UN office in Bangladesh, over 600,000 refugees have entered the country since August 25 after the Myanmarese army launched a crackdown on the minority Rohingya community following a series of attacks on security personnel in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The Rohingyas do not enjoy citizenship status in Myanmar and are sparingly given refugee status in Bangladesh.
Bhatia added at the same time that since the problem arose on Myanmar soil, the solution too should come from there.
“The Myanmar government should create conditions for the safe return of the Rohingya refugees,” he said.
Khin Zaw Win, Director of the Yangon-based Tampadipa Institute that works on policy advocacy and capacity-building in Myanmar, too is of the view that India should play a role.
“The first thing New Delhi can do is to convene a tripartite meeting of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar,” Win said over phone from Yangon while pointing out that India and Myanmar enjoyed good ties.
“China is trying to mediate, but I would rather prefer India to handle the matter. Remember there is no Rohingya in China, but they are there in India.”
There are around 40,000 Rohingya refugees in India, but the government has sent a clear message that it was not willing to accept them because of security concerns.
The Supreme Court on October 13 asked the Centre to strike a balance between national security, economic interests and humanitarian considerations with regard to Rohingya women, children, old, sick and infirm, and listed the next hearing of the matter for November 21.
Earlier this month, in an interaction with the media here, Bangladesh High Commissioner Syed Muazzem Ali said that India, as the prime mover of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec), should take greater initiatives to resolve the Rohingya crisis.
The Bimstec regional bloc comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
On his part, Bhatia said that India should lend support to the recommendations made in the report submitted by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State to deal with the sectarian violence in Rakhine and foster development in the region.
“India is sensitive to the issue and the report is very balanced,” the former Ambassador said.
Win too said that he supported the Kofi Annan report, but added: “I am doubtful about the (Myanmar) government’s response.”
Noting that Rohingya refugees were spread across Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Thailand, he said: “Those refugees who have now gone to Bangladesh must be accepted back by Myanmar.”
At the same time, Win dismissed the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine set up by Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi that calls for the Myanmar government, people, the private sector, local NGOs and civil society organisations, friendly countries and UN agencies to work together in cooperation.
“This is not a solution. The refugees will not return if they are not assured of their security,” he said. “Suu Kyi should have the guts and should assure the refugees of their security.”
Win also added that settling the refugees back in Rakhine in camps with barbed wires was not a solution either.
K. Yhome, Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think tank and the author of “Myanmar: Can the Generals Resist Change”, has a different view on India’s role.
“India must first find out whether an external power’s role is acceptable to both Myanmar and Bangladesh. Otherwise, offering to mediate now will be more of a knee-jerk reaction after China’s offer,” Yhome said.
He said that what India can continue doing now is to go the extra mile and help Bangladesh in handling the crisis.
Starting from the middle of last month India has sent relief material for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
Yhome, however, added that he was was sure that the Rohingya issue will be “centrestage” in the talks during Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Bangladesh.
(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)