More than 1,000 Rohingya have entered Bangladesh from India since early December, adding to a humanitarian challenge that Dhaka faces in accommodating hundreds of thousands of refugees who are sheltering in the southeast, a senior Bangladeshi official said Thursday.
The number of Rohingya arrivals from India has climbed sharply in recent weeks amid a crackdown on immigration by that country’s Hindu nationalist government, sources told BenarNews.
“Some Rohingya have been coming from India since May 2018. The flow has increased recently and a total of about 1,300 have come from India since the first week of December,” Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s commissioner for Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation, told Benar. “They have been housed in a transitional refugee center at Ukhia in the Cox’s Bazar district under the supervision of UNHCR.”
“They entered Bangladesh through different points of the porous border and have carried ID cards provided by the UNHCR in India,” he said, referring to the U.N. refugee agency.
Some of the newcomers and advocates for refugees said Rohingya were making the long trek to southeastern Bangladesh from as far off as Indian Kashmir, fearing that India would deport them to Myanmar – as was the case with five Rohingya sent back there by Indian authorities on Jan. 3.
A Rohingya husband and wife who led their five-member family from India to a camp in Teknaf, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, spoke to BenarNews about their journey.
“We had fled Myanmar and took shelter in India 10 years ago. We had been living in Keraintela in Jammu-Kashmir in India,” said Nur Alam, the husband.
“The Rohingya people in Kashmir became panicked as the Indian government recently arrested some of them and deported them to Myanmar. For this reason, many of the Rohingya are fleeing from India and entering into Bangladesh,” he said.
Nur’s wife, Sanjda Begam, said her family did not want to return to Myanmar.
“Myanmar is not livable for us. We have learned that the Myanmar forces are engaged in a battle with the Arakan Army, so we cannot go there. Many other Rohingya are also trying to take shelter in Bangladesh from India,” she said.
Fears of expulsion
In India, the leader of a New Delhi-based NGO, the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, said Rohingya feared the Indian government.
“After five Rohingya who held refugee status were sent back recently, many with refugee status in India feel that they could all be sent back to Myanmar against their will,” Kyaw Min told BenarNews. “The reason for the flight to Bangladesh is fear.”
Sanjeev Verma, commissioner of the Jammu division in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, said some Rohingya may have left their Indian shelters voluntarily.
“If some families or members have left Jammu, it is not by force, it is by their own free will. They do not face any pressure from authorities to vacate their shelters,” he told BenarNews.
In Guwahati, a city in northeast India’s Assam state, a border security official said no movement of refugees had been noted.
“We maintain a 24-hour strict vigil,” said Border Security Force official who requested anonymity.
The refugees can travel through the Indian states of Assam, Tripura or West Bengal to reach Bangladesh, which shares borders with them.
Abdul Motlob, a leader at the Leda refugee camp in Teknaf, said the Indian ID cards were issued for Rohingya who left the country.
“We have come to know that the Indian government has been pressing the Rohingya to receive the new identity cards and the Rohingya are not interested,” he told BenarNews. “It has become a new fear factor for them.”
For decades, Rohingya have faced persecution in Myanmar, which refuses to recognize them as citizens and falsely labels them as “Bengalis.”
Concentrated in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, they began fleeing in unprecedented numbers after the army launched a brutal offensive in August 2017. It followed deadly raids carried out against Myanmar government security posts there by Rohingya insurgents.
During the exodus at least 720,000 Rohingya fled to southeastern Bangladesh to join about 300,000 already living in the camps.
Abdur Rahman in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Jhumur Deb in Guwahati, India, and Mohammad Amin Pirzada in Srinagar, India, contributed to this report.