Police in New Delhi detained dozens of Rohingya refugees when they came to the office of the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) seeking protection from what they described as harassment by police.
More than 200 Rohingya refugees in the northern city of Jammu were detained last week and the police identified the refugees as “illegal immigrants," according to a statement issued by authorities. The police said the refugees will face deportation to Myanmar, where they had previously fled what has been described by advocates as genocidal violence.
After the refugees in Jammu were told that more Rohingya would be detained from the area and that those who hold the UNHCR-issued ID cards would not be spared, some Rohingya families, afraid of being arrested and deported, went to the UNHCR office in Delhi seeking protection.
“We have detained 88 Rohingya, including some women and children,” a police officer from the Vikaspuri police station in Delhi told VOA. “Police will act against these illegal immigrants from Myanmar. They could not show their passport and Indian visas. So, we have detained them,” said the officer who refusing to give his name, “they are in police custody now.”
The government of Myanmar revoked the citizenship rights of the Rohingya in 1982.
Since then, the minority Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh and other countries, including India, largely to escape discrimination, violence and poverty. Last year an estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees lived in India, scattered across several states.
However, an anti-Rohingya sentiment has been increasing in predominantly Hindu India after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in 2014. Leaders from BJP and other Hindu nationalist parties have since been demanding that the Rohingya refugees be expelled from the country.
Stateless Rohingyas from Myanmar have no way to travel to any country legally, and their status as refugees is not always recognized, as is the case in India. India did not sign the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention and thus treats all Rohingya entering the country as illegal immigrants. There are a few hundred Rohingya currently jailed in India. In the past three years, India deported about 100 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
The UNHCR issues identity cards to registered refugees to help prevent their arbitrary arrest, detention and deportation. However in India hundreds of Rohingya refugees have been arrested and jailed, despite holding valid UNHCR cards. Almost all of the estimated 220 Rohingya refugees who were detained in Jammu last week carried the UNHCR refugee ID cards.
A Rohingya community leader in Jammu said the refugees who have been detained in Delhi are afraid of deportation to Myanmar.
“One of the arrested Rohingya said to me over the phone that they are being held in a jail-like detention center. ‘To avoid detention in Jammu we came to Delhi seeking protection from the UNHCR,’” the refugee told a community leader who spoke to VOA. The leader who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal by the police said the refugee told him they are in a state of limbo “‘Now we have been detained in Delhi. We are very anxious, shall we be deported to Myanmar.’”
UNHCR has voiced concern over Thursday’s detention of 88 Rohingya refugees who traveled to its office in New Delhi to seek assistance, Indrika Ratwatte, director of the UNHCR regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement.
“UNHCR is seeking immediate access to those who have been transferred to a government facility at this stage. We urge the Indian authorities to ensure appropriate care and support to these refugees, among whom are a number of women and children.”
Abul Hashim, a Rohingya refugee in Jammu said that everyone in his five-member family had UNHCR ID card but still he was afraid they would all be arrested and deported.
“People holding UNHCR cards are also being arrested. We are extremely scared of being arrested and deported to Myanmar. Myanmar is still very unsafe for Rohingya. We cannot return home yet,” Hashim told VOA.
“The UNHCR has failed to protect us from being identified as illegal immigrants and arrested in India. This is very disappointing for all Rohingya refugees in India,” he added.