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Don’t allow use of ‘catastrophe’, ‘refugee’ to describe Myanmar: MEA to MPs

India has avoided taking a position on the recent exodus of the Rohingya from Myanmar and is wary of allowing refugees to enter its soil.

india Updated: Nov 21, 2017 08:24 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rohingya crisis,Rohingya exodus,Rohingya Muslims
A Rohingya Muslim child runs on a dirt track between tents at Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. (AP Photo)

The foreign ministry has advised Indian lawmakers participating in an Iran-sponsored parliamentary forum to tread cautiously on issues related to Myanmar.

It asked the MPs to try to avoid terms such as catastrophe and refugees in the context of Rohingya Muslims facing persecution in Myanmar.

India has avoided taking a position on the recent exodus of the Rohingya from Myanmar and is wary of allowing refugees to enter its soil.

Myanmar has been widely criticized for a military crackdown that has driven more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh. The United Nations has said the crackdown appears to be a campaign of “ethnic cleansing”.

India had pitched for economic development of Rakhine province to mitigate societal problems that triggered the unrest.

A two-member delegation, led by BJD parliamentarian Bhatrahuri Mahtab, left for Istanbul on Monday to attend the plenary session of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly.

For many years, India’s Parliament maintained a distance from the forum to avoid giving the platform undue importance and prestige.

This year, the forum, dominated by the UAE, Turkey and Pakistan, plans to take up the Myanmar crisis — a touchy subject for India.

Rudrendra Tandon, joint secretary of the United Nations (political) division at the foreign ministry, briefed MPs last week. He said: “The game in Myanmer is to show that this is an atrocity crime. Therefore, there is sensitivity with the term catastrophe.”

The ministry maintained that it has no problem with any humanitarian aid in the proposed resolution, but it doesn’t want any perception that the Myanmar crisis is an atrocity crime.

Tandon cautioned about characterising people from Rakhine as refugees, saying this characterisation is “a minefield that needs to be avoided”.

He said calling Rohingya Muslims refugees would mean that they do not belong to Myanmar.

“Don’t ask me about what is our public position on the citizenship of these people because the wording and formulation we use has to be carefully balanced,” he added.

The ministry maintained that Iran and Pakistan are trying to use the parliamentary forum to promote their interests and buttress credentials as democratic nations. India doesn’t want to be a party to these efforts.

“These bodies, if they gain traction, will become a forum to take anti-Western positions,” Tandon said.

First Published: Nov 20, 2017 23:48 IST