Fearing Deportation to Myanmar, India-Based Rohingya Flee to Bangladesh

By Muktadir Rashid   10 January 2019

DHAKA, Bangladesh—Fearing they will be sent to Myanmar, scores of Rohingya people have fled India for Bangladesh in recent weeks, officials here said.

At least 74 Rohingya who had been living in Hyderabad as well as locations in the Indian states of Jammu-Kashmir, Rajasthan and Punjab for several years are now in Cumilla and Feni after entering Bangladesh via the Indian state of Tripura.

About half of the refugees are children, including infants and toddlers, the officials said, adding that the Rohingya were sent to the UNHCR transit camp at Gundum, in the Naikhongchari sub-district of Bandarban district, adjacent to Cox’s Bazar, which is currently home to a huge Rohingya refugee population.

Police in Cumilla district said they had detained 48 Rohingya at Brammanpara and Cumilla district headquarters on Jan. 1 alone. They had come from Jammu-Kashmir, Rajasthan, Hyderabad and Punjab through the northeast Indian state of Tripura.

Mohammad Rezaul Karim, the chief of the largest of the Rohingya camps, Kutupalong in Ukhiya sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, said the Rohingya were trafficked to India six or seven years ago, and were now afraid of being deported to Myanmar. Indian authorities have recently begun sending Rohingya back to Myanmar.

Officials of Bangladesh’s Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commission said they have started working on the issue. All of the recently arrived Rohingya are now under the supervision of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Cox’s Bazar.

Shahjahan Kabir, officer-in-charge at Brammanpara Police Station in Cumilla, said the detained Rohingya had been living Indian cities for six to seven years, where they were employed in various menial jobs.

According to local media, India, which is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, arrested 230 Rohingya in 2018. Rohingya in India fear deportation to Myanmar, so the Indian police crackdown had prompted an exodus to Bangladesh, Shahjahan Kabir said.

He said the influx in recent weeks was not the first. Two dozen Rohingya traveled to the Brammanpara area via Tripura in two phases in 2018, the police officer said, adding that all were detained and handed over to authorities in Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladeshi police officials said the Rohingya had been able to enter the country due to poor policing by border security officials during Bangladesh’s elections  on Dec. 30, 2018. Borders Guard Bangladesh (BGB) officials based in Cumilla said they had instructed their officers to tighten security along the border. “We have asked our troops to be more vigilant to prevent any trespassing,” said a senior BGB officer based in the Sarail region. He spoke on condition of anonymity, as he is not an authorized spokesperson.

Amnesty International (AI), among other rights groups, has blasted India for forcibly repatriating Rohingya to Myanmar while persecution of the group is ongoing in Rakhine State. AI India said in a statement on Monday that the Indian government’s expulsion of Rohingya asylum-seekers to Myanmar showed a disdain for international law.

On Jan. 4, UNHCR stated that a Rohingya family of five sent back to Myanmar the previous day were asylum-seekers registered with the agency in India. “The fact that the government ignored UNHCR’s requests for access to the family, who were registered as asylum-seekers, is deeply concerning. The government’s actions indicate a blatant disregard for the international refugee protection mechanism and the mandate of the UN Refugee Agency,” Abhirr V P, AI India’s senior campaigner, said in the Jan. 7 statement.

He added: “The expulsion of asylum-seekers and refugees amounts to a violation of India’s obligations under customary international law, which prohibits governments from returning people to a territory where they are at risk of serious human rights violations.”

Since August 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya women, men and children have fled a campaign of violence by the Myanmar security forces and sought refuge in Bangladesh. According to UNHCR, there are an estimated 18,000 Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers registered with the agency in India. UNHCR issues ID cards to registered refugees and documents to asylum-seekers in India, which are meant to help prevent arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation.