As a responsible and accommodative democracy, India has never shied away from its moral responsibility to provide shelter to refugees from anywhere in the world. However, the raging row over Rohingya immigrants from the trouble-torn Myanmar has a context that is vastly different from those in the past. There are genuine concerns of national security, which cannot be wished away or brushed under the carpet. Ground reports from Jammu suggest that a section of Rohingyas poses a serious security challenge and are vulnerable to be recruited by terror groups. The nexus between Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and Pakistan-based terror groups JeM and LeT is too well known to be ignored. The issue warrants a nuanced and calibrated approach to balance the interests of national security and sovereignty and the need to be sensitive and compassionate. Over 40,000 Rohingya Muslims are staying illegally in India and most of them are located in Jammu, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-NCR, Rajasthan and Hyderabad. Of them, nearly 16,000 have received refugee documentation. Though India was never found wanting in adopting a humanitarian approach towards refugees fleeing persecution and war zones, there should be no compromise when it comes to national security. The enforcement of the laws of the land on illegal immigration should not be mistaken for lack of compassion. It would be naive and even misleading to frame the debate on Rohingyas in the binary of human rights versus state’s callousness. Such a narrative ignores real issues and the need to formulate a more mature and balanced approach to deal with illegal immigrants.
India has rightly rebuffed the over simplistic and tendentious views expressed by the United Nations Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein while criticising New Delhi for its handling of Rohingya immigrants. The international community would do well to appreciate India’s legitimate security concerns, particularly since the country has been a major victim of the externally sponsored terrorism and is widely seen as a ‘soft state’. Ensuring safety and security of its own people and protection of borders is the primary duty of any sovereign nation. However, this does not mean that the countries should be insensitive to human suffering. Unfortunately, the influx of a large number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants has, over the years, proved to be a major challenge for India, with serious implications for its resources and national security. The refugee influx has largely been illegal without any vetting. While upholding humanitarian values and sensitivity, India must handle the Rohingya issue keeping in view the interests of national security and social stability. A strict policy of vetting can be formulated to allow some of the refugees to stay in the country.