New Delhi: “I can’t tell you where I am, but I have left Nuh fearing attacks,” a Rohingya refugee said. He had left his home because of the communal violence in the area over the last few days.
After the tensions and violence, including attacks on Nuh’s Muslims, their properties and places of worship, the Rohingya have faced fresh threats and fears.
Talking to The Wire from a refugee camp in Nuh, Mohammed Alam is worried about what the police will make of his 21-year-old son, Mehboob Rehman, an employee of the Daji Development and Justice Initiative.
On August 4, Rehman was picked up from his office and hasn’t returned since. Alam recalls how the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) officers arrived at their camp in Nuh’s Siddiq Nagar to take Rehman away. After they were told that Rehman was at work, they picked him up from his office. Rehman quietly obeyed and walked away with the officers.
On the same day, another Rohingya Muslim, Saiful Islam was also picked up from the camp at Siddiq Nagar in Haryana’s Nuh town, about 100 km from the city. Islam, 26, is a father of two and a daily wager. His family is also uncertain about his whereabouts.
Jiabul Alam, Islam’s relative, said that the FRRO officers told the community at the refugee camp that they had a list of at least 17 locals they wanted to arrest, and had gotten only two so far.
While the Haryana government has decided to bulldoze houses and shops belonging to locals, the Rohingya are also facing the same fate. In Nuh’s Tauru, shanties in Rohingya camps were also bulldozed on August 3. Local police have said that they have identified suspects related to the Nuh violence from among the Rohingya refugees who were allegedly involved in the violence in the area, also claiming that these refugee camps, where the Rohingya have been living since years, were in fact encroachments.
Mohd Abdullah, a Rohingya student who has left Nuh, feels that his community is cursed. “Wherever we go, just because we are Muslims, we are harassed,” 32-year-old Abdullah said.
Abdullah also added that the Rohingyas are scared, terrorised and feel utterly trapped in the situation. “Why are we being made sacrificial goats in order to suffice the conscience of those holding the government accountable? And we are not concerned with any Hindu-Muslim issues, we are already refugees, why would any of us create trouble in a country giving us asylum?” he asked.
As a community, the Rohingya are largely Muslim refugees from Rakhine State who fled their homeland due to religious persecution by the Myanmar government in 2017. Over 16,000 UNHCR-certified Rohingya refugees reside in India. The government estimates that at least 40,000 Rohingyas are present across India.
Amid snapped internet, restrictions on movement and being attacked, Rohingyas feel more helpless and devoid of rights than ever.
On this helplessness, Sabber Kyaw Min, founder of the India-based Rohingya Human Rights Initiative in New Delhi, said, “In view of the Nuh violence, we as a community have come under fire again. Rohingya have been living in Nuh since 2014, and in all these years, not even once has even one of our community members committed a crime.”
The violence that happened, Min explains, has not just shaken Indians, but the Rohingya too. “Believe me, when this happened in Nuh, all of us were mentally prepared to be used as scapegoats. We know how much groups like the Bajrang Dal detest us. If Indian Muslims are not safe, how can we Rohingya be safe?” asked Min.
Locals told The Wire that an approximate 2,000 Rohingya lived in Nuh, and now they are even more vulnerable since they fear being targeted for the violence they were not a part of
Preceding these detentions and harassment, on July 24, the Anti-Terrorist Squad of Uttar Pradesh ‘raided’ refugee Rohingya habitations in Mathura, Aligarh, Meerut and other locations in the state and arrested more than 70 persons, including women and minors.
According to lawyers representing the detained refugees, they have been charged under sections of the Foreigners Act, despite the UNHCR identity cards they possessed. In Mathura, the UNHCR cards of 30 women and children left behind were also confiscated by the police. They face a food crisis as their families’ sole male earners have been taken away.
Even on July 19, more than 270 Rohingya refugees being held in a stadium turned into a ‘holding centre’ in Jammu since 2021 were fired upon and teargassed, allegedly causing the death of a baby. These refugees in detention had reportedly started a fast unto death protesting their detention in April this year and tried to break out of the holding centre. The Wire has captured how the mother of the child was taken to the burial in chains.
Owing to this, 47 advocates, researchers and activists have written to the Government of India to release all detainees who are asylum seekers or recognised as refugees by the UNHCR and are being arbitrarily being held in different parts of the country, and desist from arbitrary arrest merely on the basis of ‘illegal entry into the country’ without following the procedure established by law.