Myanmar could be on the brink of genocide, UN expert says; more than 140,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since August 25
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Myanmar to push his Act East Policy has been overshadowed by the escalating humanitarian crisis in the south of the country, as tens of thousands of ethnic Rohingya flee into Bangladesh to escape violence in Rakhine state.
In a joint statement issued by Modi and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday, the two leaders promised to work together to solve what they termed “a terrorist problem.”
“We would like to thank India for its strong stance with regard to the terrorist threat that came to our country a couple of weeks ago,” said Suu Kyi.
Myanmar officials have long maintained that violence in Rakhine is the result of ongoing terrorist activity and any subsequent security clampdowns are a necessary measure to protect innocent Burmese. According to the country’s state media, the latest wave of unrest was sparked when Rohingya militants killed 12 security officers in border post attacks on August 25.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Aung San Suu Kyi met in Naypyidaw on September 6, 2017.
“We believe that together we can work to make sure that terrorism is not allowed to take root on our soil or on the soil in any neighboring countries,” added Suu Kyi.
Modi supported Suu Kyi’s statement, attributing the violence of the last few weeks to extremists. “We share your concerns about the extremist violence in the Rakhine state and especially the violence against the security forces and how innocent lives have been affected and killed.”
An estimated 123,600 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh in recent days, according to the United Nations. Many of those crossing the border have brought with them stories of widespread devastation and murder, as the Myanmar security forces deploy alleged scorched earth tactics in the hunt for militants.
As the conflict in Rakhine intensifies, many Muslim nations have called on the government to halt the ongoing violence and better protect those fleeing. Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia have issued strongly-worded statements against the ongoing “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims.
India, which is home to one of the largest concentrations of Rohingya refugees outside Bangladesh, has a vested interest in preventing the violence, but geopolitical considerations have so far kept it from speaking out, say analysts.
“The Modi government has been trying to build a kind of community around the Bay of Bengal, where Myanmar is a key player,” said K. Yhome, a senior fellow at India’s Observer Research Foundation.
India views Myanmar as a useful ally in the country’s longstanding rivalry with China, as the two countries vie for regional power. “The (Indian) government is not wanting to push the Myanmar regime towards the other side,” added Yhome.
India has said it will deport the Rohingya refugees. “Whether the Rohingyas are registered under the United Nations Human Rights Commission or not, they are illegal immigrants in India … as per law, they stand to be deported,” India’s Home Ministry Kiren Rijiju told local media.
In a statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said they have not received any official communication from the Indian government with regard to its plans on Rohingya, and there are currently no reported instances of deportations of registered Rohingya refugees.
The Indian government says there are around 40,000 Rohingya currently in the country, though that number is contested by the UNHCR, who puts the number closer to 16,500.