The demand for the acceptance of Rohingyas again gave rise to shrill cries during the Citizenship Amendment Bill debate. Home Minister Amit Shah, for his part, made it clear that India will never accept Rohingyas in the country and said that the Rohingyas come to India through Bangladesh.
Under such circumstances, as it turns out, India is not bound even by international norms to accept Rohingyas. The manner in which Rohingyas enter India through Bangladesh, as Amit Shah asserted on the Floor of the House, is referred to as ‘Onward Movement’.
‘Onward movement’ refers to the movement by refugees and asylum-seekers from one country where they enjoyed international protection or could have sought and received such international protection, to another where they may request it. It is conspicuously an irregular movement that is not contrary to the normal course of action by refugees.
The UNHCR notes, “International refugee law does not confer upon refugees the right to choose their country of asylum. It also does not authorize their irregular movement between successive countries solely in order to benefit from more favourable conditions.”
It also states, “The right of refugees and asylum-seekers to enter the territory of States derives from the international legal regime for the protection of refugees, where they do not otherwise have lawful permission to do so. It is thus legitimate for States to require compliance with national laws and processes governing the identification and recognition of refugees. Moreover, States may lawfully take measures against individuals who enter or stay in their territory in an irregular manner, including in some circumstances against refugees and asylum-seekers, subject to legal safeguards.”
Notably, the UNHCR emphasizes the fact that refugees and asylum-seekers also have duties and obligations towards the state they enter. It also mentions that the various problems that arise as a consequence of Onward Movement. Furthermore, it also concedes that the States have a right to pursue legal measures against such individuals for violating domestic laws.
It is important to remember here that India is not a party to the 1951 Convention on Refugees and neither the 1967 Protocol. Therefore, no international convention is binding on India. Even if we take into account the international conventions, the Rohingyas are clearly bypassing a safe haven in the form of Bangladesh to reach India for the purpose of gaining material benefits. Thus, quite clearly, it makes them economic migrants when they enter India and not persecuted minorities.
Furthermore, Rohingyas have been rejected by Thailand along with Malaysia and Indonesia, both of which are Islamic countries. Rohingyas have also massacred Hindus in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. Thus, given India’s history with partition, there is no valid reason for accepting a population that poses a security threat to India.