Two worrying stories out of Asia on Friday morning point to things going from worst to awful for the Rohingya Muslim minority.
First, India is in negotiations with Bangladesh to deport roughly 40,000 Rohingya over claims that the group is living in India “illegally,” an Indian government spokesman told Reuters. State governments were ordered to organize task forces to assist in their deportation, although the conversations between India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar are continuing. “More clarity will emerge at an appropriate time,” said Interior Ministry spokesman K.S. Dhatwalia.
Reuters reports that only 14,000 Rohingya in India are registered with the U.N.’s refugee agency, which means that authorities there see the tens of thousands who have been fleeing persecution in Myanmar for over 20 years as illegal.
Myanmar does not grant citizenship to Rohingya and sees them as foreigners with no legals standing. According U.N. data, there were 1.33 million Rohingya in Myanmar in 2014, but tens of thousands have been displaced due to government crackdowns that some have equated to genocide. They have been fleeing to India, Bangladesh and, in smaller numbers to Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.
India’s clampdown on the Rohingya comes at a critical time for the group, which is also bracing for more violence in Myanmar, where the government has sent 500 troops to tighten security in the restive northwestern Rakhine state.
A Muslim-majority state in a Buddhist-majority country, Rakhine has seen escalated fighting since October 2016, when Rohingya insurgents killed nine border police. Since then, the government has stepped up its campaign against the Rohingya, wiping out entire villages. The U.N. estimates at least 75,000 have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, where the situation has been described by the Asia Pacific Regional Migration Coordinator for the International Federal of Red Cross as “a silent crisis.” And that was back in April, when CNN reported on Rohingya living in overcrowded, flooded, and filthy camps.
How can Bangladesh handle 40,000 more?
Thousands of Rohingya have tried to flee to Australia, only to be turned away. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, famously said “Nope, nope, nope” in 2015, when asked if he would allow 8,000 Rohingya adrift at sea to enter the country. Current PM Malcolm Turnbull has maintained that hardline stance — the very one President Donald Trump found so impressive in his January 28 phone call with Turnbull. Australia even refused to back a recent U.N. request to investigate crimes against the Rohingya in Myanmar.
Still, U.N. investigators are monitoring the situation and have repeatedly asked for cooperation from the government of Myanmar to launch a fact-finding mission there, looking into potential crimes against humanity committed by soldiers. Authorities have refused to cooperate and have rejected all allegations of abuse.