The detention of some 220 Rohingya refugees in the northern India city of Jammu, followed by a police statement that they would be deported to Myanmar, has triggered a panic among the Rohingya Muslim community who fled genocidal violence in Myanmar and took refuge in India.
Police have told Rohingya refugees living in slums in Jammu city that more Rohingyas are to be rounded up and deported. The refugees have urged the Indian government not to send them back to Myanmar where, they say, their very lives would be in danger.
“My husband has been detained although he has a UNHCR (refugee ID) card. Police said along with other Rohingya he would be deported to Myanmar. No Rohingya want to return to Myanmar now. Myanmar is still unsafe for us,” Minara Begum, a Rohingya woman living in Kiryani Talab of Jammu, said after her 28-year-old husband, Abdul Ali, was detained Saturday.
“I am very worried if my husband will ever be able to return to us. He worked as a day wager and was the sole breadwinner for the family. I cannot make out how I will live alone with our two little children now.”
Minority Rohingya Muslims have for decades fled to neighboring Bangladesh and other countries, including India, largely to escape discrimination, violence and poverty. Last year it was estimated that 40,000 Rohingya refugees lived in India, scattered across different states. Around 6,500 of them live in Jammu.
However, an anti-Rohingya sentiment has been surging in predominantly Hindu India after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in 2014. The ruling party regards the Rohingya as illegal immigrants and a security risk. In 2017, in Jammu, local BJP leaders launched a campaign demanding all Rohingya who live in slums and eke out their living by doing menial jobs be expelled from the city.
On Saturday, police in Jammu called some refugees saying that their biometric details would be collected. After the refugees reached the spot, they were detained. Police also arrested some other refugees from their slums in Jammu and the neighboring Samba district. The refugees are being held in a nearby detention center.
Mukesh Singh, the local inspector general of police, said that after the nationality of the detained Rohingyas is ascertained, they would be deported to Myanmar.
Fearing arrest, hundreds of Rohingya refugees planned to flee Jammu looking for safety. However, witnesses say police surrounded their camps and did not let them move out.
“Three of my relatives have been detained. Police said that UNHCR card cannot save any Rohingya from deportation and that eventually Jammu will be free from all Rohingya. I fear my family will be arrested soon. It will be terrible if we are arrested and then pushed back to Myanmar,” Azizur Rahman, a Rohingya refugee, who lives in a Jammu slum with his three children and wife, said to VOA.
“Like many other Rohingya families in Jammu we planned to set out for Delhi from where we decided to go to Bangladesh. But police stopped us. We are not being allowed to leave our camp.”
Mohammad Sirajul, a Rohingya youth community leader living in a refugee camp in Delhi, said that the ongoing crackdown on the Rohingya refugees in India is unfair from a humanitarian point of view.
“Since all Rohingya are stateless in Myanmar none from our community can have a Burmese passport. Police in India are asking for our passport and Indian visa. How shall we produce passport and visa when we are stateless?” asked Sirajul.
“We fled Myanmar to escape a genocidal campaign against our community there. The entire world identifies us as the ‘most persecuted minority in the world’. But we are being hounded in India.”
Rights groups say conditions in Myanmar are still not conducive for the ethnic Rohingyas and they have called on the Indian government to halt plans to deport the refugees.
Any plan to forcibly return Rohingya to Myanmar would put them back in the grip of the oppressive military junta that they fled, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
“Myanmar’s long-abusive military is even more lawless now that it is back in power. The Indian government should uphold its international law obligations and protect those in need of refuge within its borders. The increasingly brutal repression by Myanmar military, following the coup, puts any Rohingya returnees at serious risk of abuse,” Ganguly said.
“Instead of putting more lives in harm’s way, India should join other governments in pressing the military junta to restore democratic rule.”
Hong Kong-based rights activist Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman said Rohingyas are being hounded in India because they are Muslim.
"India has hosted non-Muslim refugees from many neighboring countries for decades, providing safety to them. Even refugees from the majority Buddhist community in Myanmar are living peacefully in India. But in an aggressively proactive move, India is preparing to deport the Rohingya Muslim refugees who survived genocide and lost their ancestral homes and assets in Myanmar," Ashrafuzzaman, liaison officer of Asian Legal Resource Centre told VOA.
"The actions by the Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government clearly indicate that their policies are discriminatory against Muslims."