On July 24, the Uttar Pradesh Police’s specialised counter-terrorism unit, called the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS), led a late-night crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in different shanties and camps across the western part of the State. The police said that the refugees had been residing there without proper documentation.
The police arrested 74 Rohingya Muslims, comprising 55 men, 14 women, and five minors. The police said that they had entered the country from Myanmar and Bangladesh illegally before reaching Uttar Pradesh.
The Rohingya were arrested from Mathura (31), Aligarh (17), Ghaziabad (4), Hapur (13), Meerut (2) and Saharanpur (2). In Mathura, the police’s eight-hour operation commenced at 2 a.m. in Thana Jaint area, with the Mathura Police and the UP ATS joining hands.
The Mathura Police claimed to have received inputs about a maulvi who was providing training to Rohingya children. In a release, the UP Police said: “These Rohingyas had been residing in slums for a long period, with a notable presence of children among them. The authorities received information that a maulvi was providing various kinds of training, including Urdu lessons, to these children.”
While the police claimed that 74 Rohingya Muslims had been detained, the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, a Delhi-based organisation that speaks for the rights of Rohingyas, claimed that some 200 people had been taken into custody. In a statement, the organisation described the arrests as “arbitrary” and “unlawful”.
It added: “These actions are not only a breach of international humanitarian and human rights law but also undermine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states ‘everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’.”
It also said: “Those detained have sought asylum in India, not committed any crime. Rohingya refugees living in India are survivors of one of the worst genocidal violence in recent times and they seek refuge and protection from Indian authorities.”
Speaking to Frontline, Sabber Kyaa Min, director of the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, said that mass detentions were not uncommon for Rohingyas in India. “Most of them held UNHRC verification cards of their refugee status. It did not protect them from arbitrary detention,” he said.
The UNHCR issues identity cards to registered refugees across the world to protect them from arbitrary arrests and deportations.
“The situation of Rohingya refugees is deteriorating with each passing day,” he said, while urging authorities to protect the safety and dignity of those arrested and the international community to speak up. “Rohingyas are survivors of genocide, not criminals,” he added.
India policy criticised
Human rights groups have criticised India for its attempts to deport the refugees instead of offering them asylum. As the country does not have a refugee or asylum law, Rohingyas are often the target of police raids and arrests. There are no refugee management programmes either.
The arrest of 74 Rohingyas in UP has also sparked a wave of fear among the refugee community in the country. At least 18,000 Rohingyas in the country are registered with the UNHRC. According to the UNHCR, the asylum-seekers primarily live in urban areas, and 46 per cent of them are women, while 30 per cent are children. Many live in Delhi, Jammu, Telangana, and Haryana. Most of them are undocumented and not entitled to basic healthcare and education facilities.
A Rohingya Muslim residing in a slum in Ghaziabad in UP, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We are refugees who had to escape our homeland for fear of being killed. We came to India with the hope that because it is a secular country, it would shelter us. But it seems that no country has any place for us; even the Indian government isn’t empathetic towards our lives.”
Many have fled their shanties that they called home and are in hiding due to fear. Rohingya Muslims, according to the UN, are the world’s “most persecuted minority”. They experienced a horrible ordeal at the hands of Myanmar’s military, experiencing what the UN labels as “ethnic cleansing”. Thousands fled their homeland in 2017, fleeing targeted killings and violence in the shadow of genocide. Many Rohingya sought refuge in India. More than 5,000 sought refuge in Jammu after the 2017 military crackdown against them in Myanmar.
Detention and deportation
In March 2021, while the world was still coming to terms with the losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities in Jammu detained more than 200 refugees to deport them to Myanmar, even as human rights activists raised concerns about the risks involved. The number increased to 269 over the next years.
They were put in Hira Nagar jail, described by the police as a “holding centre” for illegal Rohingyas living in India. The authorities claimed that they would be sent back to Myanmar. As of date, only two, Jafar Alam and Hasina Begum, have been deported; the others, including their family members, continue to remain behind bars.
When the Central government started a campaign to record biometric data in 2019, hundreds of Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh fearing detention and deportation.
Action against the Rohingya Muslims has intensified since the BJP came to power in 2014, with their campaigns demanding the expulsion of Rohingyas. After the BJP’s win in the 2014 general election, anti-Rohingya sentiment has grown in the country as its party leaders continue to use the removal of Rohingyas as a campaign tactic.
With the Rohingya crisis emerging as one of the most pressing humanitarian challenges of the 21st century, India faces a significant moral responsibility in responding urgently to the plight of the Rohingya Muslims.
Fazal Abdali, a refugee rights lawyer based in New Delhi, said that the detention of Rohingyas was “unlawful”. He said: “Despite the Rohingyas’ cooperation with local authorities, the police have arrested them. Those arrested include vulnerable individuals such as women, children, elderly, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women.”
He also said that the Supreme Court must intervene to protect the rights of Rohingya refugees. He added: “No credible evidence has emerged to substantiate any alleged involvement of Rohingya refugees in acts of terror or grave criminal offences.”