Authorities in Jammu detained over 200 Rohingya refugees in early March and are threatening to deport them to Myanmar, the state from which they are fleeing. India claims that the refugees are considered “illegal immigrants” and explains they are in the process of deporting the detainees back to their home country, despite the continued severe violence against Rohingya Muslims in the region. The government claims that the detained refugees did not have valid permits of residency, despite many of the detainees having UN-issued refugee identification cards. The Indian government claims that refugee identification cards are not considered valid in India.
The recent mass detention of refugees is a part of the latest crackdown by the Indian government, which started in West Bengal this year after officials started to claim that Rohingya refugees were “illegally becoming Indian citizens,” according to The Guardian. The Hindu Nationalist government of India, run by the Bharatiya Janata party, has stated that they believe Rohingya refugees are illegal immigrants and a security threat, calling for the mass deportation of Rohingya refugees. There have since been ‘verification exercises’ throughout refugee camps across India in which refugees are checked for identification and permits of residency.
A ‘verification exercise’ was conducted on March 14 in Jammu, during which refugee camps were raided and refugees were summoned by police and detained, continues The Guardian. Those who were detained were taken to Hiranagar jail outside of Jammu and are being prepared for deportation. The Indian Government has stated that the reason for the deportation of the refugees is that they did not show adequate citizenship documents for India or Myanmar. Most Rohingya refugees are considered stateless, as citizenship for Rohingya peoples was revoked in Myanmar in 1985, and most refugees only applied for refugee status from the UN and did not apply for Indian citizenship.
Many human rights groups and lawyers both in India and abroad have condemned the Indian government’s actions. They are calling the deportation of the Rohingya a violation of both international law and the guidelines of the UN’s International Principle of Refoulment, as the government is attempting to send refugees back to a state in which they will be physically unsafe and at risk of being exposed to genocidal violence. Ravi Nair, a human rights lawyer in New Delhi, has filed a petition against the detention and deportation of the refugees, which is now pending in the Indian Supreme Court, Al Jazeera reports. According to CNN, the Indian government still stands firm in its claim that the deportation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar does not violate the UN’s guidelines. The government has also argued that India was not a signatory to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, which protects and outlines the rights of refugees, and therefore should not be held to it.
The mass detentions, refugee camp raids, and threats by the Indian government that more refugees will be detained and deported have sparked panic throughout Rohingya refugee communities across the state. France24 reports about the proliferation of videos of Rohingya refugees attempting to flee from camps to avoid returning to Myanmar. In response, Indian authorities have encircled some of the camps and are preventing refugees from leaving, causing many refugees to flee into the forests. Some refugees fleeing from camps are now trying to seek help at UNCHR centers across the country. However, according to VOA News, the situation has only worsened as refugees seeking aid from the office UNCHR in New Delhi were detained by police outside the building.