New Delhi: As many as 250 houses that were built by India for displaced Rohingyas have been lying unused in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, ThePrint has learnt.
The prefabricated houses were handed over by Indian Ambassador to Myanmar Saurabh Kumar to the Myanmar government in July this year. The move was an effort to convince Rohingya refugees, who had to flee alleged ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, to return to their homeland.
“There is nobody to claim these houses. The Myanmar government has failed to expatriate the (Rohingya) refugees. So the houses are vacant or may be put to some other use,” a senior official told ThePrint.
According to sources, some of these houses may have been given to a few displaced Buddhists in Myanmar.
The housing project was part of an agreement signed between India and Myanmar in 2017. India had accepted the project under the Rakhine State Development Programme (RSDP) and $25 million was allocated for a period of five years.
They were built in three locations — Shwe Zar, Kyein Chaung Taung and Nant Thar Taung — in northern Rakhine.
‘Citizenship Act may dispel Rohingyas from India’
Largely based in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, Rohingyas started facing forcible displacement in 2015. They are considered stateless entities as the Myanmar government does not recognise them as an ethnic group. While many escaped to refugee camps in Bangladesh, others also travelled to India, Indonesia and Thailand.
Nearly 40,000-50,000 Rohingyas are currently living in India, and the Narendra Modi government has been urging them to return to Myanmar since 2016. According to sources, these refugees may now be “pushed back” under the amended Citizenship Act. The government is also wary of the fact that many Rohingyas have settled in Jammu and Kashmir, which is already a “troubled zone”.
New Delhi, said sources, was also upset that some of the houses built by India in Myanmar may have been given to displaced Buddhists.
Rajiv Bhatia, former Indian ambassador to Myanmar, said, “The problem arises because of lack of development in the Rakhine State. The houses were rapidly constructed and handed over. It was meant for displaced people in Rakhine State…”
Meanwhile, India has also made it clear to the Bangladeshi government that it will not ask Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas who continue to languish in its Cox’s Bazar district. Sources said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had raised the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during her visit to India in October but was told that New Delhi will not discuss it with Nay Pyi Taw.
“India did all it can to help Bangladesh by urging Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas. But beyond a point, Bangladesh has to solve its own problem,” said Bhatia, who is also a distinguished fellow at the Gateway House.
Rohingya genocide accusation
Earlier this month, Myanmar civilian leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi defended her government from allegations of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.
A lawsuit was filed by Gambia in the world court alleging that Myanmar has carried out mass murders, rapes and arson against the Rohingyas. It was alleged that Myanmar had violated the 1948 Genocide Convention and more than 700,000 Rohingyas are said to have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Gambia fought the case at the behest of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which includes 57 member states.
During hearings in the case, which concluded on 13 December, Suu Kyi was condemned for her silence on the plight of Rohingya refugees. But she defended her government, saying Rohingyas were not targeted with “genocidal intent” — something which UN investigators had earlier accused the Myanmar government of.