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  • Writer's pictureMeher Fatima

Balancing security and humanity: exploring the interplay in the context of the Rohingya crisis

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

More than six years on, the Rohingya community is still battling with a humanitarian crisis. Has the difference in the state security approach and the human rights approach contributed to this prolonged catastrophe? Meher Fatima explores.

Photo: UN Women/Allison Joyce (Image source:

Since 2017, it has been more than six years since ethnic violence broke out in Myanmar on a massive scale. At the core of contention remains the refusal to recognize the Rohingyas as an ethnic group of Myanmar and grant citizenship rights to the community. The armed crackdown on Rohingyas by the Junta government escalated to the point where it led to mass migration of the people of this community. Thousands fled violence and persecution in the country and entered countries bordering Myanmar, like Bangladesh and India. It complicated the question of security for these countries. The situation was not limited to allowing refugees, it was also about the burden such steps could create for the security apparatus in terms of economic and political costs. Massive infiltration and precarious border conditions have also exacerbated the humanitarian crisis for the refugees. In Bangladesh, one of the largest Rohingya settlements has come up. In India, Rohingyas have found refuge, often illegally, in places as far away as Jammu and Kashmir. Since the coup in Myanmar and the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi, the internal political situation inside the country has deteriorated further. While the Western States and the United Nations (UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency, n.d.) have criticized the Junta regime, regional giants like China and India have maintained a tight-lipped stance because of their geopolitical interests (Taufiq, 2019).

The Security Question

The Rohingya do not have much optimistic prospects. The community faces potential, and prolonged, statelessness. The conflict in Myanmar has no end in sight. For the community chances of return to normalcy look bleak. It is due to the lukewarm international attention and entangled geopolitics of the states involved. Both the countries, Bangladesh and India, who have received bulk of refugees, have been, by and large, uncomfortable about providing havens to them. The Indian State views Rohingyas as a security risk (often a high one), if not an outright threat (The Hindu Bureau, 2022). Indian concerns increasingly emerge out of the belief that its lenient attitude towards the Junta regime and its defiance in not criticising the Junta regime ought to raise negative sentiments within the radical elements of the community. However, this stance is mainly maintained by the ruling political party. In the upper echelons of the Indian Security establishment, the awareness regarding the complexities is much more nuanced, but the dominant view remains to see the issue as part of the larger security picture of the Indo-Pacific. Myanmar is a pivotal state in this context. It connects South Asian countries with greater Asia, especially South-east Asia. It also harbours significant channels for the illegal drug trade, another major security concern for India. In the evolving geopolitical scenario, India has to choose its options carefully.

For Bangladesh, concerns are more or less similar. The difference is that Bangladesh actually contains more than a million refugees. For India, the number remains in the thousands. The narratives around security gain primacy. Where do Human Rights fit in these narratives? Are Human Rights violations and volatility in security two different situations? What explains the friction between the two (if it is there)?

Humanitarian Cost of the Rohingya Crisis

The expulsion and displacement of the Rohingyas are viewed as one of the most widespread violations of human rights in the whole region. The conflict dates back to ethnic clashes between the Rohingya Muslims and the majority of Buddhists in and around the region of Rakhine. The State of Myanmar maintained radical elements in the community that carried out armed attacks against the forces. It is important to mention that Myanmar has remained a military state for most of the 20th Century. The pro-democracy movement under Nobel laureate-politician Aung San Suu Kyi led to the formation of the first democratic government in the country. Incidentally, her government was toppled in a coup, and she was imprisoned under a barrage of charges leveled against her. However, even under her short-lived democratic government, the situation remained more or less the same for the Rohingya. The majority and the military state have been accused of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in the country and of carrying out the persecution of the community (Human Rights Watch, 2022).

For the refugees in India and Bangladesh, the risk is all-encompassing. On one hand, the refugees have little incentive to return. On the other hand, it is noteworthy to mention that countries like India and Bangladesh are populous countries. While India has not been overly responsive to the plight of Rohingyas, in parts of India, where the Rohingyas settled, they were able to earn supportable wages and acquire education. Recently, a refugee Rohingya woman graduated from college. Men usually engage in low-paying jobs. The issue is that only a small proportion of the refugees are documented according to the UNHCR guidelines. Most of them reside in the country illegally. Similarly, in Bangladesh, the government has deported a large number of refugees back to Myanmar. This proves detrimental. The deportees get separated from their families and face long-term persecution or imprisonment in either of the countries.

This is particularly problematic for the women and girls of the community. The UN Resolution 1325 recognizes women as constructive agents of peace and basic survivors of the conflict.

Rohingya women are at increased risk of sexual violence and forced separation. They are also at increased risk of exploitation and trafficking for sexual and domestic slavery. Women also become the majority of the dispossessed and the displaced.

Sexual violence has been reported within detention centres/camps, it includes both non-partner violence (NPV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) (Abdelkader,2014).

The international community needs to take the plight of affected women and girls into consideration. It is about supporting peace initiatives. The lack of proper redressal mechanisms is also quite telling of the seriousness with which the humanitarian costs of the conflict in Myanmar have been approached.

So, Should Security be the Only Consideration?

Due to the dire living conditions of the refugees, the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh and India has garnered significant interest in wider academic and humanitarian circles. Accordingly, more than one million Rohingya Refugees reside in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar (Inan and Islam, 2020). There are numerous health concerns related to food, shelter, cleanliness, and access to medical care for these refugees (Inan and Islam, 2020). The population density in Rohingya camps is forty times higher than the average Bangladeshi density (this is particularly concerning given Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world). This underlines the precarity of the situation the Rohingyas face in already testing times. The situation is even worse in India. The Indian State does not consider the Rohingyas refugees as such. The State largely views these refugees as ‘infiltrators’. More than forty thousand Rohingya refugees reside in detention centres and camps across the eastern and northern parts of India. The dimension of Security is an important consideration. The fact is, though, that there were still some other issues that required attention. The States’ treatment of the Rohingya situation remains stuck in politics. For instance, in comparison, India has shown more hospitality to the Tibetan refugees, even though India firmly supports the One China Policy, though the issue still remains contentious between India and China. However, one can witness an unexplained antagonism against the Rohingya refugees. Surely one group of refugees cannot be more vulnerable than the other. From being accused of petty crimes to being accused of dangerous acts of terrorism, the Rohingyas get to be painted as a security risk in a rhetorical sense as well. For instance, in Jammu and Kashmir, the Rohingya settlements have been viewed with suspicion by local political parties. A score of them in Jammu have accused the Rohingya settlements of being an attempt to change the demographic landscape of the region (after 1946 violence, Jammu became a dominantly Hindu region). In Bangladesh, while outright religious rhetoric is not in place, the bias is more economically situated. Bangladesh is not in a position, economically and politically, to house more than one million refugees on an indefinite basis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, due to fears of deportation/detention and a lack of proper resources, the Rohingya refugees could not even gain access to basic healthcare in both India and Bangladesh.

Although India’s position is quite understandable, the state has been evasive in offering even vague condemnation. This is even more serious in the case of China. The inability of regional powers to look beyond their interests has made Myanmar more defiant in its advance against the Rohingya. This, in turn, escalates the infiltration attempts in both Bangladesh and India. Thus, mass violations against one community become an inevitable threat to regional security (Hossain et al, 2021). The whole conflict is getting pushed into a vicious cycle where the Rohingya emerge as the vanquished from all sides.


One has to understand the underlying power structures to get a better outlook on the conflict. Myanmar's society is ethnically fraught, and the Rohingya community has suffered relentless persecution and violence over many years. In the name of geopolitical interests, grave human rights violations go unpunished and even unacknowledged. The regional powers have withheld the pressure to put a stop on the State’s measures against the community. This further fuels the refugee crisis in the said countries, especially India and Bangladesh. It underlines the necessity of offering a clear stance in such times. The state of Myanmar has not been able to act as a neutral provider of Security for every group there. The idea of bailing out a certain binary within the labyrinth of conflict can lead to lots of issues. The issues are about justice as a denominator and common factor across the length and width of the country.


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Bhattacharya, Snigdhendu. 2023. “Tibetans To Rohingya Muslims: All Refugees Are Not Equal In India.” Https://, July 21, 2023.,among%20India's%20most%20privileged%20refugees.

Hossain, Ismail, Isahaque Ali, Azlinda Azman, Iftakhar Ahmad, and Nafiul Mehedi, 2021. "The rohingya refugee crisis: a threat to peace and security in south asia", The International Journal of Community and Social Development(4), 3:353-371.

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