Close to 170 Rohingya refugees living in different refugee camps in Jammu city of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir were taken into the Hiranagar sub-jail after being declared as “illegal migrants” under Section 3 (2) e of the Foreigners Act on March 7. The move triggered panic among the thousands of Rohingya refugees living in dilapidated camps in the region.
Reports say many of the Rohingya refugees in Jammu and Kashmir are now either planning to flee from the region or seek refuge with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC). Currently, there are almost 40,000 Rohingyas living across India.
“The arrest spree has terrified us. We face prosecution wherever we go. My father [Abdullah] and brother [Mohammad Fayaz] were detained on Saturday. I haven’t heard anything from them ever since, just that we were informed that those who are taken into custody are being kept in a separate section of the prison,” Mohammad Ilyas, a Rohingya refugee living in Jammu, told Peoples Dispatch.
According to the refugees, the mainstream media is largely responsible for worsening the plight of the Rohingyas in India. According to Ilyas, most media outlets in India have linked the Rohingyas to “terrorism and other criminal activities.” This has created a mass hysteria and led to hate campaigns against the migrants living across northern India. Ilyas claimed that in Jammu, there have been hate campaigns led by Hindu right-wing nationalists against the refugees who are looked upon with ‘“suspicion and hatred.”
Recently, the Jammu and Kashmir administration notified the setting up of “holding centers” for migrants living in the country without relevant documents.
According to eyewitness accounts, the police team asked refugee leaders living in temporary settlements of Narwal and Bathindi areas of Jammu region to send refugees to the nearby sports stadium for general verification. However, nearly 170 refugees were later held inside Kuthwa jail for violating the Foreigners Act.
“We are illiterate people. We were told to come in groups so we went there not knowing police were planning to arrest most of us,” Ilyas said.
Hundreds of thousands of members of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar have fled the country fearing persecution by the military. The Rohingyas in Myanmar have been denied citizenship and other basic rights and have faced decades-long structural abuse by the Myanmar government. They have been subjected to “forced labor, confiscation of lands, rape, torture and summary execution.” These crimes have been confirmed in the Physicians for Human Rights’ 2013 report. Even after the transition of power from the military to a civil administration under Aung San Suu Kyi, violence against the Rohingyas continued.
While the Rohingyas have been persecuted since the 1990s, it was after the conflict between the Myanmar military and rebel outfit Arakan Army escalated that a mass exodus of the Rohingyas out of Myanmar was witnessed. Between 2012 to 2017, over 730,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar fearing state persecution. They took refuge in different neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Malaysia.
According to Ali Johar, who heads the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative as co-director, the refugees continue to fear for their lives even after escaping the genocide. “There has been a rigorous hate campaign launched against persecuted Rohingyas in Jammu ever since 2017,” Johar told Peoples Dispatch.
“Despite all of the refugees having registered cards issued by UNHCR, they were taken into holding centers of detention, which is not just inhumane but tells you a lot about India being the largest democracy,” Johar said, adding, “Families are being separated now. Since male members of the family were mostly taken into custody, this means the earning members of the family now remain detained. Now will anyone tell what their children will do now?”