Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina was in West Bengal yesterday where she sought India’s help over the Rohingya exodus issue. She expressed hope that countries will pressurise Myanmar government so that Rohingyas would be able to return to their country.
What should India be doing to help? We had this to recommend:
New Delhi must focus on ensuring that Bangladesh is successful in hosting, managing and, once the crisis passes, repatriating the refugees back to Myanmar. Bangladesh is an important neighbour and Sheikh Hasina is a pro-India leader — it is in India’s interests to ensure that she emerges politically stronger as a result of her courageous stance on this issue.
The Bangladeshi prime minister has invested tremendous political capital in the ongoing crisis. The ‘Rohingyas-are-a-terror-risk’ narrative that has dominated the Indian discourse finds resonance in a many Bangladeshis as well. And yet, Sheikh Hasina’s government has chosen to respond in a calm, calculated, and generous manner in responding to the immediate humanitarian crisis.
India’s policy response must cover several dimensions. First and most urgent is the matter of providing humanitarian relief in an adequate and timely manner. Operation Insaniyat is a good starting point. Under the first effort of this relief operation, an Indian Air Force (IAF) plane reached Chittagong on 14th September with 50 metric tonnes of relief assistance. It is further reported that India aims to provide 7000 tonnes of relief materials to Bangladesh. In 2008, India’s Ministry of External Affairs created a separate budget line for international disaster relief, allocating US$10-30 million a year on such efforts since then. The time is right to make Bangladesh the focus of India’s disaster relief efforts over the next few months.
Second, India must enlist the support of South East Asian countries in managing this humanitarian crisis in the common neighbourhood. Myanmar is a member of ASEAN and, so far, both the grouping and individual member-countries have yet to make significant contributions to managing the conflict and the fallout. Indian diplomacy must enlist the support of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand to weigh in politically on their ASEAN counterpart in Naypyidaw to stem the crisis, and extend financial support to the relief effort.
Third, Indian government can also help channelise money and technical assistance to Bangladesh from Indian NGOs and corporate donors. The Bangladeshi government has also started biometric identification of all Rohingya refugees. This project is expected to take many years to complete. The Indian government can offer its help in this exercise as well.
Finally, the Indian armed forces must cooperate with their Bangladeshi counterparts to better secure the maritime and littoral areas, and engage in joint rescue and relief operations. Intelligence and security cooperation between the two countries is also necessary. [Pragati, 25 Sep 2017]