Officials in Rohingya refugee camps of southeastern Bangladesh are reporting new arrivals from India, days after New Delhi deported five Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar.
Many are coming as far away as Jammu and Kashmir, India’s northernmost and only Muslim majority state, where some Rohingya say police surveillance of their community has increased in recent days.
An official at Kutupalong camp in southeastern Bangladesh told BenarNews that more than 100 Rohingya refugees had recently arrived there from India.
“We do not know the actual number, but we are trying to get it. However, it’s true that more than a hundred Rohingya arrived in the camp recently from India, and it’s unusual,” Mohammad Rejaul Karim told BenarNews.
Among that number were 48 people who entered Bangladesh from Tripura state in northeastern India, were arrested across the border in Comilla district, then sent to Cox’s Bazar district for processing in refugee camps there, officials said.
“Those Rohingya entered into Bangladesh from India fearing forced deportation to Myanmar by the Indian government,” Abul Fazal Mir, the Comilla deputy commissioner of police, told BenarNews.
“They informed us, they fled to India from Myanmar three years ago and were living in Jammu and Kashmir state.”
India deported five Rohingya to Myanmar on Jan. 3, and another seven in October, as part of a central government crackdown on illegal immigration.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled in recent years from Myanmar, where they have been stripped of citizenship and subjected to violence described by some U.S. and U.N. officials as ethnic cleansing.
The journey south
Rohingya leaders at Shamlapur, Unchi Prang and Tombru refugee camps also reported small numbers of new Rohingya arrivals from India.
In Shamlapur, Mohammad Azizullah, a Rohingya refugee who said he had left Jammu and Kashmir in the first week of January, described a three-day journey to Kolkata. He entered Bangladesh by sneaking across a canal in West Bengal, then took a bus to Cox’s Bazar.
Azizullah, who was carrying a UNHCR card issued in India, said he was originally from Maungdaw in western Myanmar, but had lived with his parents in Bangladesh more than a decade ago.
“I came to know Rohingyas would be evicted. This news terrified me and 11 years later I came back to Bangladesh again,” Aziz said, adding he hoped to bring his wife and children from northern India.
Firas Al-Khateeb, a communications officer with UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar, confirmed the trend.
“In Bangladesh, UNHCR is observing that among the recent new arrivals who approached the transit center, there are individuals who say they are Rohingyas moved from India. UNHCR is in touch with our office in New Delhi to try to ascertain their identity and to understand the circumstance that may have triggered their movement,” Firas said.
About 7,000 Rohingya refugees live in the Hindu-majority region of Jammu, which is relatively peaceful, unlike adjacent Kashmir, where a separatist insurgency is raging.
Rohingya living in the Narwal area outside Jammu city confirmed that six families had left for Bangladesh about 10 days ago, including Gafoor Ahmad and his wife Maryam.
“Gafoor told me that he felt insecure and feared deportation after a recent crackdown by Jammu police and stepped up surveillance. He told me that he will make efforts to reach Bangladesh to ensure safety and security of his family,” Nasrullah Karim told BenarNews.
"Gafoor, who polishes shoes for a living, also found it difficult to feed his family of five including two grown up daughters. He would often complain of not finding enough customers. This could be one of the reasons that may have forced Gafoor to travel to Bangladesh," Karim added.
Various refugees also described a recent police “verification drive” and identity checks.
“They asked refugees to report and inform concerned police station if any member went out for work outside the limits of their police station. They also wanted them to submit lists every month of number of members staying in different areas,” he said.
Sanjeev Verma, a divisional commissioner of Jammu police, said he was not aware of refugees crossing into Bangladesh.
“I do not know if any refugee has left Jammu out of fear. The community members will not be harmed as long as they abide by the law of land and do not resort to any unlawful activity. They have been provided basic facilities and need not worry,” he said.
A senior police official who requested anonymity said that the verification of refugees was a routine matter. “It is mandatory for police to keep a track of their number in the city,” he told BenarNews.
In New Delhi, human rights and refugee activists did not want to comment on the issue. An activist told BenarNews that she knew about refugees crossing into Bangladesh after reading media reports. UNHCR did not comment.
Jesmin Papri in Dhaka and Jaishree Balasubramaniam in New Delhi contributed to this report.