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India pressing Myanmar for Rohingya return

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said govt will reveal its stand before the Supreme Court on Monday

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India pressing Myanmar for Rohingya return
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj
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External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has expressed solidarity with Bangladesh over the Rohingya crisis, and assured that India is putting pressure on Myanmar to take back refugees who have fled the Buddhist-majority nation, Dhaka has said. The issue is likely to dominate the proceedings of next week's United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session that Swaraj will be attending.

Dhaka also said that Swaraj termed that crisis "an international issue by now" and said India is trying to put pressure — both bilaterally and multilaterally — on Myanmar to stop persecution of ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims.

This comes a day after the Union Home Ministry's draft affidavit, which cited national security concerns over Rohingyas' involvement in terror activities, got into public domain, four days before its submission before the Supreme Court. India has said Rohingya refugees must be sent back from its territory, but sent 53 tonnes of relief materials to Bangladesh for the refugees on Thursday.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, however, said on Friday that the government will reveal its stand on the issue before the Supreme Court on Monday. Refusing to comment further, he said, "Wait for the affidavit to know the government stand. Whatever affidavit we have to file, we will file on September 18," he said.

The government told Parliament on August 9 that more than 14,000 Rohingyas are living in India. Rohingyas enter from Bangladesh's border with India and spread out to Delhi-NCR, Jammu, Hyderabad, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

"She (Swaraj) called our Prime Minister last night and conveyed her country's solidarity with Bangladesh over the Myanmar refugee issue," Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Deputy Press Secretary Nazrul Islam said.

Islam said Bangladesh was forced to offer shelter to the refugees on humanitarian ground as they fled their home in Myanmar's western Rakhine state to evade atrocities.

There was no confirmation from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of Swaraj's phone call. Islam, however, said that Hasina explained to her the helplessness and miseries of the refugees, particularly of the minor children and women, and said Bangladesh is trying to address their basic needs. "She (Hasina) told Swaraj that Bangladesh required external supports to handle the refugee issue and return them to Myanmar," Islam said.

Hasina said her government allocated land for makeshift shelters for the Rohingyas "but, it will certainly create a big problem for Bangladesh if they stay for long". He further said the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, was also present at Hasina's Ganabhaban residence when Swaraj called.

India's worry also stems from the fact that the issue is likely to dominate the proceedings of the UNGA session starting next week. Swaraj is flying to New York on September 17 to stay there for seven days for back-to-back engagements with world leaders, including her first meeting with US Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson.

MEA officials are believed to have communicated concerns to the Prime Minister's Office over the flip-flop on the issue, which is "costing India its image". Many officials confirmed that the contents of the draft petition appearing in media had worried them and were bound to raise uncomfortable questions at the UNGA.

"We appreciate the actions of the government of Bangladesh in making every effort to deal with the urgent requirements of food, clothing and shelter for the large number of refugees that have placed a huge demand on its resources," Shringla said at the Dhaka airport when the first IAF plane with relief landed.

"It is in this context that the government of India, in consultation with the government of Bangladesh, has decided to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to support the efforts of Bangladesh." Diplomats here said once the government declares Rohingyas a security threat in a court document, then questions would be asked about the rationale of sending aid to Dhaka.

Sources here said there was a division within the government over handling the crisis. While the security establishment — MHA and intelligence agencies — has sought to argue for the deportation of 40,000 Rohingya refugees from India, the MEA has been asking for a more nuanced position.

The MEA has been pushing Myanmar to adopt recommendations of a panel headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on giving Rohingya citizenship and other rights. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's handling of the crisis, the MEA issued a statement, asking Myanmar to show "restraint and maturity" and prepared to launch the relief assistance.

FROM HOME & MEA...

  • Home Minister Rajnath Singh said govt will reveal its stand before the Supreme Court on Monday
     
  • Bangladesh said Sushma Swaraj called PM Sheikh Hasina and conveyed solidarity with her on the issue
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