India deports over 1,000 Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh

The deportation comes despite repeated requests from different rights organizations to the Narendra Modi-led government about honoring the principle of non-refoulement.

January 21, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Over 40,000 Rohingya refugees are believed to be in India. Photo: HT

Days after India’s lower house of parliament passed an amendment to the Citizenship Act which grants citizenship status to Hindu refugees coming from neighboring countries, as many as 1,300 Rohingyas were deported to Bangladesh. This is despite repeated requests from different rights organizations to the Narendra Modi-led government about honoring the principle of non-refoulement.

Rohingya community leaders in India confirmed that hundreds of families of the community were dispatched from India, earlier this month to Bangladesh, and in the coming days, many more would be asked to leave. This was considering Hindu nationalists continue to perceive Rohingyas as “security threat” and the far-right government has maintained its policy on repatriation.  “I want to [ask] the international organizations whether the Rohingyas are registered under the United Nations Human Rights Commission or not… they are illegal immigrants in India,” Kiren Rijiju, India’s minister of state for home affairs, had previously said.

Similarly, another Indian Legislator, Raja Singh in August 2018 stated that “…India does not require such “pests”. I’m requesting the central government to send them outside. If Rohingyas and Bangladesh migrants do not go back, they must be shot dead.” Since 2016, different anti-refugee campaigns were also launched by groups associated with Hindu nationalists, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and National Panther Party.

More than two hundred Rohingyas were arrested in the last year and thousands more faced immense scrutiny from intelligence agencies. Overall, the situation for Rohingyas in 2018 remained highly uncertain due to the repeated harassment and violence the members of the community have had to undergo in different States of India. Scores of them were even beaten up by cow vigilantes in incidents such as the lynching in Jammu.

Prior to this, in September 2017, around 20 members of the right-wing Hindu nationalist group (associated with gau rakshaks meaning the cow vigilantes) barged into a refugee camp on the outskirts of Mujeri village in Ballabhgarh, a small town to the south of New Delhi. They attacked and abducted a number of male refugees, also tearing the clothes off two women who resisted. The attack followed the sacrifice of two buffaloes for Eid al-Adha. When villagers spotted the buffaloes, they confronted the refugees and threatened to kill them if they complained to anybody.

UNHCR spokesman Firas Al-khateeb in January admitted that refugees coming to Bangladesh are mostly from India, “Very small numbers coming in are from Myanmar,” he said.

The Citizenship (Amendement) Bill, 2019 will grant nationality status to people belonging to minority groups such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians, living in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have stayed for six years in the India. The announcement of this bill, however, has created ripples across India’s northeast region where human right groups have categorically opposed it, terming it communal in nature and against the terms of the Assam Accord of 1985. “20 lakh people will become Indian if this bill is passed by the parliament,” a peasant organization fighting against the bill in Assam, Krishak Murti Sangram Samiti, noted.

However, as far as giving citizenship or residential permits to Rohingyas who continue to face persecution in Myanmar and elsewhere, there is no consensus within the government. At present, government numbers show around 40,000 Rohingyas are living in asylum across different States. Of these, 16,500 refugees are believed to have obtained the United Nation High Commission for Refugees identity cards. But refugees say that even these permit cards haven’t saved them from harassment, arbitrary arrest and deportation. This is because the Indian government doesn’t recognize such cards and rejects the United Nations position that deportation of Rohingyas will account as violation of the principle of refoulement.

“Forcibly returning people seeking refuge to a place where their lives will be at constant risk is unacceptable and unconscionable. In the past, the Indian government has stated that the Rohingya people being returned to Myanmar had consented to their return. But it is difficult to take this at face value, when authorities dub all Rohingya people as ‘illegal immigrants’ and do not allow the UNHCR access to detainees,” Abhirr VP, Amnesty International Campaigner in India, noted.