Perceiving the threat of illegal Bangladeshi migrants for decades, the people of Assam (also India) have come to realise another important matter of concern and that is from the inherent influx of Rohingya people. Currently taking shelter in south Bangladesh after fleeing from Myanmar six years back, the Muslim Rohingyas are leaving their camps to various countries namely Indonesia, Malaysia and India. On many occasions, the traffickers have taken advantage of the situation to send those stateless people through West Bengal and Tripura, which have a proximity of Bengali language.
The looming threat from the unrecognised Rohingyas in the country in general and Assam in particular came alive in a television talk show beamed by a Guwahati-based satellite news channel (ND24), which was anchored by its editor Rajdeep Bailung Baruah. He guided the audience with the sensitive migration issue, where the Assamese community continues to be haunted by the migration of Bangladeshi nationals that provoked the anti-foreigner movement (1979 to 85) led by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and culminated with the signing of historic Assam Accord with the Union government in New Delhi.
The issue of Rohingya’s infiltration came stunningly alive with the arrest of 47 people, who were facilitating Rohingyas to come inside India illegally and supplying them with forged documents, following a nationwide crackdown on 8 November 2023. National Investigation Agency (NIA) along with Assam Police and other responsible security agencies picked up 25 middlemen from Tripura, five from Assam, three from Bengal as well as nine from Karnataka, three from Tamil Nadu and one each from Telangana and Haryana.
“After meticulous planning, the country-wide operation was launched during the wee hours of 8 November in association with various State police forces,” stated top Assam police officer Harmeet Singh. The special DGP added that a group of facilitators have been using both Tripura and Assam as corridors to infiltrate Rohingyas from the Bangladesh refugee camps to India. The illegal aliens were subsequently sent to different places along with fraudulent documents that claimed they were residents of the region by those agents in return for money.
Earlier, Assam police personnel arrested a few Rohingya people from the Bangladesh bordering areas. Months back, they arrested 10 middlemen, who were instrumental in receiving Rohingyas and later helping them to travel to different locations across the country. The police forces have been maintaining a strong vigil over the illegal migrants and successfully even pushed back nearly 450 Bangladeshis and Rohingyas with the help of border guard agencies. It was found that notorious middlemen remained active both in Bangladesh and India.
State chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma termed the arrest (of middlemen) as a great success and an excellent synergy between the two responsible forces. Sarma, also in charge of the State home portfolio, commented that Rohingya’s infiltration emerged as a threat to national security, and their nefarious designs must be extinguished with due surveillance. He also recommended an NIA probe into the matter. Assam police chief GP Singh revealed that it’s a pan-India network of human traffickers, which deals with the Rohingya’s entry into India.
New Delhi maintains that all illegal migrants, including the Rohingyas, may pose a serious threat to national security. The media reports relating to Rohingya’s involvement in various crimes worry the concerned authorities and hence any operation to target the human trafficking rackets dealing with the illegal migrants is always welcomed by them as well as the common people. The most debated Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) also excludes Myanmar and hence even being a religious minority in the southeast Asian nation, Rohingyas can not enjoy the legal advantage to apply for the Indian citizenship (as it can be done by the persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh).
The Rohingya crisis surfaced after attackes on many border outposts of Myanmar (also known as Burma or Brahmadesh) which invited a brutal crackdown by the Burmese forces in August 2017. There are some reports that claim that no less than 7,00,000 Rohingyas fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the atrocities of Burmese soldiers. The terrified Rohingya families including women and children were given shelter at makeshift camps in Bangladesh. Unconfirmed reports say around 3,00,000 Burmese Muslims had previously left their country following political turmoil. The UNHCR notes that more than 742,000 people – half of them children – sought refuge in Bangladesh in August 2017.
The current batch of military regime led by Min Aung Hlaing has lately shown interest in receiving back the refugees as the junta authority faces unprecedented backlash from the international community. Negotiations are going on with the Bangladesh government for their repatriation even though it continues to be a tough job as the Rohingyas have placed many conditions for their return. They maintain their demand to relocate in their original villages and approve legal rights to them as Burmese nationals.
But the ground situation in Myanmar itself remains volatile for years as the Buddhist majority nation has witnessed a civil war like situation in the last few months. The military forces are continuously facing various ethnic armed groups along with the people’s defense forces. Thousands being killed and seriously injured, and millions displaced from their places, many of whom are now taking shelter in refugee camps since the day of military coup on 1 February 2021 ousting the democratically elected National League for Democracy government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Participating in the discussion from New Delhi, senior journalist Deepak Dewan, who has covered northeast India for more than four decades in different media outlets, opined that hundreds of Rohingya women are working as housemaids in the national capital region identifying themselves as Bengalis from Assam. He stated that the common residents of Delhi, Noida or Haryana cannot distinguish the difference in accent among a Bengali, a Bangladeshi and a Bangla speaking Rohingya. Moreover, often they wear traditional Hindu attire to work in the households hiding their Muslim identity.
Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya, chief adviser to AASU and North East Students’ Organization, asserted that agitating people of the region identified the problem of influx at least four decades back, but New Delhi did not take the issue seriously. The Central Government remains insensitive to the issue and hence even after 38 years since the accord, Assamese people are still deprived of due political importance in their own land. Bhattacharya insisted on a major crackdown operation against the Rohingyas, as earlier done against armed militant outfits of the region, to wipe out the new threat.
Another guest Aabhijeet Sarma, who leads non-government organisation Assam Public Works that approached the Supreme Court in 2009 to update the 1951 National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, also supported the idea of a massive operation against the Rohingyas as they have slowly emerged as a serious threat to the nation. Retired IPS officer Pallab Bhattacharya stated that the NRC data should be used to verify the identity of illegal migrants from both Bangladesh and Myanmar. Expressing concern over the threat, he hoped that the Central Government will take necessary actions over the matter.