Rights Groups Raise Concerns as India Starts Steps to Deport Rohingya

Jaishree Balasubramanian
New Delhi
181012-ID-Rohingya-1000.jpg A Rohingya boy takes a nap under a tree after a fire razed a Rohingya camp in the Kalindi Kunj area of New Delhi, April 15, 2018.

India has started taking biometric data from Rohingya Muslims, officials said Friday, raising concerns from rights activists who warned that the move could lead to the deportation of thousands of refugees who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar.

Many Rohingya who hold identity cards issued by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) have been asked to fill up nationality verification forms by India’s Home Ministry, a police official in Delhi told BenarNews on Friday. In India, such verification forms ask for biometric information.

“While many are registered with the UNHCR, this activity is to verify those who are new and don’t have a UNHCR refugee card,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

UNHCR has issued about 16,500 of those cards to Rohingya in two settlements in India – in the northern city of Jammu and in Delhi. But India does not recognize those cards and has refused to categorize the Rohingya as refugees.

Last week, India’s Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, ordered state governments to identify Rohingya refugees in their regions and collect their biometric details.

“Advisories have been issued to states. They need to identify the Rohingyas, take their biometrics and send us a report,” Singh said, adding that the biometric reports collected by states would be sent to Myanmar through diplomatic channels.

Singh’s statement sparked criticism from rights groups and created tension within the Rohingya community.

Ranjit Sur, vice president of Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, told reporters that Singh’s statement may lead to arbitrary collection of biometric data from Muslims.

“Sending back Rohingyas to Myanmar is likely to endanger their lives,” he said. “They left their country because they felt insecure. We will oppose such initiatives.”

Hundreds of thousands of the stateless minority Rohingya fled their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state beginning in August 2017 to escape a counter-offensive launched by the military, and which a U.N. fact-finding mission concluded was possible genocide.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have settled at refugee camps in Bangladesh, but thousands who fled earlier bouts of violence in Myanmar rode trains and fled to India via Bangladesh.

India’s move to verify biometric details of the Rohingya came as it ramped up efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants.

Amit Shah, president of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), during a rally in September vowed to deport illegal immigrants and likened them to termites “who eat away at the country's security.”

“For us, [the] vote bank is not important, the country’s security is,” he said.

Early this month, Indian authorities handed over seven Rohingya to Myanmar authorities at the border town of Moreh in Manipur State after allegedly “reconfirming” the willingness of the refugees to be repatriated.

Acting on its promise

With India’s general election is expected to take place in May 2019, many Rohingya have expressed fears that the nationalist Hindu government will act on its promise to deport them.

In the northern city of Jammu, Rohingya refugees told BenarNews they were worried about their security because business groups and political parties had demanded their eviction.

“I feel safe here. But if I fill up the nationality verification forms, my family and I may be sent back to Myanmar and I don’t want to go back,” said Ahmad, a 54-year-old refugee in south Delhi.

Another refugee, Mohammad Usman, complained that local residents would often look at Rohingya “as suspects involved in terror, drug trafficking and other illegal acts.”

“We are looked upon We are helpless and have nowhere to go,” said Usman, 45, who has been living in Jammu since December 2009 and works in a soap factory in Samba district.

“Nobody would like to leave his home and face hardships in another country but, sadly, some people are running a malicious campaign to throw us out,” he told BenarNews. 

UNHCR said it was aware of reports that Rohingya refugees were being asked to fill up nationality verification forms, printed in Burmese with English translation. The document includes personal details, including the person’s name, place of birth, religion, eye color and national identity.

Authorities prepare to expel 23 Rohingya

Meanwhile, a police source in Guwahati city, in the eastern Indian state of Assam, told BenarNews that authorities had completed verifying the immigration status of 23 Rohingya Muslims, who would be deported soon.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said the Rohingya men, who had agreed to be returned to Myanmar, were in three detention camps in Assam.

About 40,000 Rohingya are living in India and a majority of them are in the cities of Jammu, Hyderabad, Kanpur and outskirts of Delhi, Indian officials said. Most of the Rohingya have been living in India during the past few years, authorities said.

During the past two years, extremist Hindu groups have targeted Rohingya refugees in India and called for their eviction, according to Human Rights Watch, which slammed India last week after the deportation of the seven Rohingya to Myanmar.

“Forcing any Rohingya back to Myanmar now puts them at grave risk of oppression and abuse,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s South Asia director. “The Indian government has disregarded its long tradition of protecting those seeking refuge within its borders.”

Jhumur Deb in Guwahati and Mohammad Amin Pirzada in Srinagar contributed to this report.


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