India on Friday sent another consignment of aid for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The relief was shipped just hours after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj telephoned Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, assuring her that New Delhi has been putting pressure on the Myanmar government to ease the situation, a senior official in Ms. Hasina’s office told The Hindu .
“India and Bangladesh’s stand is aligned over the Rohingya issue,” said Nazrul Islam, advisor to Ms. Hasina. “Ms. Swaraj said India would push Myanmar both bilaterally and multilaterally to take back their refugees.”
The MEA declined to comment on the External Affairs Minister’s conversation, but didn’t deny the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s office’s version of what was said. According to Mr. Islam, who spoke on the telephone from Dhaka, the call was arranged during a meeting with the Indian High Commissioner Harsh Shringla regarding relief arrangements.
Ms. Hasina is due to leave for New York this weekend to attend the UN General Assembly (UNGA), where she “could” meet Ms. Swaraj, the advisor said.
A senior MEA official told The Hindu that India and Bangladesh are “in close touch” over the issue, but that it was “too early” to say whether India and Bangladesh will present a united front at the UNGA, where Bangladesh has made it clear it will call for international pressure on Myanmar.
A cautious line
The telephone call brings into sharp focus India’s continuing dilemma of balancing its interests between two neighbours — Bangladesh and Myanmar — over the issue, which has seen Delhi shift its position several times since last Thursday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Myanmar for talks with State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi. In the joint statement that followed, the wording on the Rohingya crisis reflected only India’s support to Myanmar in fighting terrorists. However, two days later, after interventions by the Bangladesh government, a visit to the refugee camp by Mr. Shringla, and a stern statement from the UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Hussain, the MEA issued another statement, expressing concern about the refugees.
“Myanmar has every right to fight terror within their country, but their terror problem cannot become India’s refugee problem, which it will, if Bangladesh is unable to cope with it, ” said the senior MEA official.
Adding to the complications for the MEA is the Ministry of Home Affairs’s move to deport 40,000 Rohingyas who fled to India during violence in 2012. The UNHRC has criticised the move and the Supreme Court will deliberate on it on September 18.
The MHA’s move has been particularly perplexing, as it has been unable to explain where the Rohingyas would be deported to, given that Myanmar has reportedly mined its borders to ensure they cannot return, and Bangladesh is filled to capacity with more than 800,000 refugees already. Myanmar refuses to accept around 1.3 million Rohingya that lived in its Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh, as Myanmar citizens, and consequently, has refused to allow about 5,00,000 that fled earlier and 4,00,000 more that have fled in the last few weeks, to return.
Meanwhile India has launched operation Insaniyat (Humanity), demonstrating as it said in its reply to the UNHRC that criticised the deportation plan, that the concern for India’s national security does not mean a “lack of compassion”.