Days after the Central Government told the Supreme Court not to interfere in the deportation of the Rohingyas as it’s the executive’s prerogative, Home Minister Rajnath Singh hit back at those criticising the government’s decision. Speaking at a seminar organised by the National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi, Singh said that the Rohingya Muslims are not refugees, but illegal immigrants.“The Rohingyas are not refugees. They have not come here after following proper procedures. No Rohingya has applied for asylum. They are illegal immigrants,” he said, according to a PTI report. In public discourse, the terms ‘immigrants’ and ‘refugees’ are often used interchangeably. However, both terms are distinct, not just in meaning, but as per the international law as well.
Immigrants are people who leave one country to settle in another. It could be for a variety of reasons, including better education, quality of life, etc. These are mostly driven by economic factors. If they choose to return home, their protection and rights are guaranteed by their government. Also, immigration laws vary from country to country.
Refugees, on the other hand, are people fleeing persecution or conflict in their home country. Their status is defined and protected under international law. According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, "Refugee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”.Rohingyas are fleeing from their villages in the state of Rakine, on the west coast of Myanmar. The military establishment is accused of committing human rights violations. Reportedly, villages have been burned down, people have been tortured, raped and even mutilated by government forces. The Home Minister, in an apparent reference to the national address of Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the country “has no problem in taking them back.” Suu Kyi in her address said, “Those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted with any problems." She offered no solutions to the military campaign in Rakine.