Nepal cannot harbour Rohingya refugees

Shyam Dahal

Shyam Dahal

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have been drawing international attention these days. Rohingya Muslims are minority groups of Myanmar who are being brutally suppressed by the military. Rakhine state is the main place where Rohingya people have been residing for decades.

They are not treated as citizens of the country and are deprived of fundamental rights. Myanmar government believes they are immigrants from Bangladesh who came to Myanmar during the high noon of the British Empire. The 2014 consensus did not recognise Rohingyas as citizens of Myanmar and it has made them stateless people.

The recent military crackdown has compelled them to leave the country. It is believed that this military crackdown is the response to attacks on Burmese security personnel in August 25 by Rohingya insurgents known as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The military crackdown has been so devastating that Rohingyas had to flee their places to become refugees. They have moved to different countries including Nepal.

According to United Nation High Commission for Refugees, more than 412,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August. United Nations Security Council has condemned the violence against Rohingyas. The council has called for a de-escalation of the situation, reestablishment of law and order, protection of civilians and a resolution of the refugee problem. It has welcomed Bangladesh’s efforts to help the refugees and support from the UN and other international efforts. UN secretary General Antonio Guterres has directed the government of Myanmar to end ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslim minority and suspend military action and end the violence.

In search of safety and life, Rohingya refugees have entered Nepal through Bangladesh and India. Although Nepal has not signed the UN convention on Refugees, she has sheltered around 250 Rohingya refugees who reside in Kathmandu. They came to Nepal via India. The open border between Nepal and India has proved a boon once again for these kinds of refugees. Before Rohingyas, Bhutanese refugees were sent to Nepal via India. Open and often porous border has allowed these people enter Nepal.

Nepal has finally been able to settle Bhutanese refugees after more than 20 years by sending them to eight different countries with the help of the UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration. Still, about 11,000 Bhutanese refugees are in Nepal. Their settlement is a big problem for Nepal and now Rohingyas are here, adding another responsibility for Nepal.

Although Nepal has refused to recognise them as refugees, the UNHCR has provided a piece of land for them in Kathmandu and has verified 147 among them. A hundred applications are still pending to recognise them as Rohingya Muslims.

Being a small state, Nepal hasn’t been able to guarantee the basic needs for all Nepali citizens and new refugees are gradually becoming causes of headache for the government.

Yes, Rohingyas have their rights. Human right is the basic right of all people but it varies according to the situation. A country’s national interest trumps human rights. Rohingya refugees have right to seek for asylum in other countries in the face of systematic persecution but Nepal cannot provide them shelter because of its status and national interest.

Till date, Nepal has identified Bhutanese and Tibetan as refugees and if Rohingya Muslims are also added to that list, it might create social problems and increase security threats. Due to open border, flow of Rohingya Muslims will increase. If Nepal fails to identify them as refugees, they might create a rebel group which can create security threats to Nepal. If they are suppressed, terrorist organisations like Islamic State and Al-Qaeda can enter Nepal to defend them.

Nepal does not seem to have any plans regarding Rohingya refugees. It is a mistake. The open border with India has been a curse in terms of flow of people. Not only refugees but illegal activities in border areas have posed threats to Nepal. The case of Bhutanese refugees, criminals getting shelter in India, Indian people coming to Nepal and getting citizenship are some instances caused by the open border.


It has been estimated that there are about 40,000 Rohingya refugees in India and that country is about to deport them. If they move to Nepal, then it will be a serious threat for the country.

Nepal should have strict surveillance on the border so that Rohingyas do not enter Nepal. It’s appreciable that Nepal has now started monitoring the border and refused to allow Rohingyas into the country. Recently, about 400 Rohingya refugees were stopped at Birgunj border. Nepal should draw UN’s attention and assist that organisation in making plans for the settlement of these refugees.

The writer is pursuing Master in International Relations and Diplomacy from Tribhuvan University.