Why are Rohingya refugees risking their lives at sea? | Explained


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Mains level: The Rohingya Population in India and Legal provisions regarding 'Refugees' in India:

Why in the news?

The recent incident involving a wooden boat carrying nearly 150 Rohingya refugees capsizing off the Indonesian coast last week has once more spotlighted the dire situation faced by these refugees.

  • According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 4,500 Rohingya refugees started risky trips across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea last year.

Who are the Rohingya refugees?

The Rohingya are a group of Muslims who come from the area called Arakan in Myanmar, which used to be called Burma. The word “Rohingya” comes from combining “Arakan” with “ga” or “gya,” which means “from” in the Rohingya language.

About Rohingya Crises:

  • Labeled as ‘illegal immigrants’: Rohingya claim ancestral ties to Myanmar’s Rakhine State, but successive governments dispute this, labeling them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
  • Distinct from the majority: They are culturally and religiously distinct from the majority Buddhist population in Myanmar because Rohingya speak a Bengali dialect, which is different from the common Burmese language.
  • Strict criteria for citizenship: Myanmar has denied Rohingya recognition as an ethnic group and citizenship since 1982. Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law imposes strict criteria for citizenship, requiring proof of ancestors residing in Myanmar before 1823.
  • World’s largest stateless population: Consequently, Rohingya are considered the world’s largest stateless population, lacking fundamental rights and security.

Why have Rohingyas fled their homeland?

  • Military crackdown: Decades of discrimination, violence, and persecution by security forces in Myanmar. Significant numbers of Rohingyas began fleeing Myanmar in 2012 after a military crackdown triggered by the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman in a Rohingya-dominated area, leading to tensions between Rohingyas and Rakhine’s Buddhist community.
  • largest exodus: The largest exodus occurred in August 2017 following a massive wave of violence in Rakhine, driving over 750,000 people to seek sanctuary in Bangladesh.
  • UN fact-finding commission: The United Nations described the 2017 violence as “ethnic cleansing” and the humanitarian situation as “catastrophic. In 2018, the UN fact-finding commission concluded that the Myanmar government had “genocidal” intent against the Rohingya

Why they are choosing sea journeys?

  • Overcrowded refugee Camp: An estimated 9,60,000 Rohingya reside in refugee camps in Bangladesh, particularly near the Myanmar border in Cox’s Bazar, which houses some of the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camps.
  • Susceptible to weather disasters and outbreaks: The camps are highly susceptible to weather-related disasters and outbreaks of diseases due to unsanitary conditions, as well as security concerns such as gang violence and arson attacks. For example, over 60 Rohingya were killed in Bangladeshi camp clashes in 2023
  • Returning to Myanmar impossible: With the option of returning to Myanmar virtually impossible and worsening conditions in relief camps in Bangladesh, an increasing number of Rohingya are undertaking dangerous sea journeys across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

The Rohingya Population in India:

  • Groups of Rohingya people are found in Jammu, Hyderabad, and Delhi-NCR, as well as in the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
  • According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, India hosts over 40,000 Rohingya individuals. Among them, only 14,000 possess United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refugee ID cards, providing them with protection against random arrest or detention.

 Legal provisions regarding ‘Refugees’ in India:

  • No specific law: In India, there is no specific law enacted solely for refugees. Consequently, Rohingya refugees are frequently categorized alongside illegal immigrants and deported by the Government under the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the Foreigners Order, 1948.
  • Right to deport: Section 3 of The Foreigners Act, 1946 gives the Central government the right to deport a foreign national.

Conclusion: Rohingya refugees risk sea journeys due to impossible return to Myanmar and dire conditions in overcrowded camps. In India, with no specific refugee law, they face deportation under existing immigration acts.

Mains PYQ

Q At the international level, the bilateral relations between most nations are governed on the policy of promoting one’s own national interest without any regard for the interest of other nations. This leads to conflicts and tensions between the nations. How can ethical consideration help resolve such tensions? Discuss with specific examples. (150 words) UPSC IAS/2015


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