India to Deport 40,000 Rohingya Refugees Despite Protest From UNHCR, Human Rights Bodies
NEW DELHI: It was expected, and is now official. Minister of state for Home Kiren Rijiju confirmed in the monsoon session of Parliament that the government will deport the 40,000 odd Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar in the face of persecution, assault, killings and rape. This Muslim community was driven out of the state, and has now been alerted by the Modi government of the decision to ‘deport’ them back to the country that many international human right bodies has accused of carrying out a genocide against the Rohingyas.
Right wing organisations like the Dogra Front, the Shiv Sena and others have been protesting against the Rohingyas for a few months now---more specifically from the start of 2017---demanding their deportation. Communal politics bent on irrevocably dividing Jammu and Kashmir into segments found a new target in Jammu. The right wing parties, with Bhim Singh and his Panthers Party being the first off the block,recently whipped up a campaign for the eviction of the hapless Rohingya Muslims who had taken refuge here from Myanmar state brutality six years ago.
The BJP legislators of the state have raised the issue in the Assembly demanding action against the ‘Rohingyas and the Bangladeshis.’ Ironically the Jammu and Kashmir government, of which the BJP is a part, has stated that the issue is humanitarian. At least for the moment.
In a new first hoardings appeared all over Jammu with the clarion call “Wake Up Jammu” urging that Rohingyas and Bangladeshis be evicted from the state. Bhim Singh who has taken flip flop political positions is now pursuing an unabashed sectarian agenda, with the J&K National Panthers Party taking ownership of the campaign. The Shiv Sena has also joined in, with the BJP in the lead. (For more details on this read here )
Reuters first confirmed the Indian government’s decision a few days ago, maintaining that the government will also be deporting the 16500 Rohingyas who have been registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in India. Rijiju in an interview with the news agency said, “They are doing it, we can’t stop them from registering. But we are not signatory to the accord on refugees.”
And added, “As far as we are concerned they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is an illegal migrant will be deported.”
The UNHCR’s India office has stated categorically that it had not got official word from the Indian government. And made it clear that the principle of not sending back refugees to a place where they face danger was considered part of customary international law and binding all all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not.
The army junta and a silent political regime in Myanmar have unleashed the worst kind of violence on the Rohingya Muslims with hundreds and thousands having fled, on makeshift boats, on foot, seeking some sanctuary. Those who reached India are reported to have come through Bangladesh. The media has carried reports of many trying to reach South East Asian countries, in rickety boats, starving without food and water, sick as they begged to be accepted as refugees in a world that has become indifferent to the plight of persecuted minorities.
The Congress government seemed to have turned a blind eye to the presence of the refugees, allowing them to settle even as the UNHCR went ahead with the registration. The BJP government, committed to ousting all illegal immigrants as Rijiju said is now moving to implement this with Bangladeshi’s and Rohingyas on its immediate target list.
India has said that it is in talks with both Bangladesh and Myanmar to firm the deportation plan. But Myanmar itself is not going to accept the Rohingyas back easily and this resistance is not going to make it easy for the hapless community that might find itself back on the high seas, caught between two regimes not exactly known for compassion for the minorities.
Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch's South Asia director, has been quoted by Al Jazeera as saying, "India was part of the council that authorised a fact-finding mission after tens of thousands of Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh from Mynamar, following a security operation in which hundreds were killed and raped.So India is aware of the risks of abuse, and India has an international obligation to protect them."
Ganguly said she was worried about attacks on the Rohingyas living peacefully, and in abject poverty in India, by vigilante groups. She wondered how the government would round up and expel the thousands of people scattered all over India.
The Citizen has carried several reports about the Rohingyas in India, their difficulties, and their stories of how they were made to leave the country they had called home. They had just started to find life again, and now find themselves facing a highly uncertain future again. The women are in tears, and the men scared out of their wits.
We republish photographs of the Rohingya refugees in Delhi recently taken by Nawal Ali Watali: