New Delhi: The Delhi Police had on March 11 detained at least 71 Rohingyas who were protesting in front of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New Delhi against plans to deport them and seeking protection from arrest.
About 40,000 Rohingyas, who face persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, had crossed the borders into India after a military-led crackdown in 2017. Several million have been displaced and live in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Many Rohingya refugees live in camps and slums in different cities and regions across India including Jammu, Hyderabad, Nuh and the capital New Delhi. Only about 17,000 of them are registered with the UNHCR.
The controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed by parliament in 2019, provides a pathway to Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians. However, Rohingya, who are Muslims, are not eligible to seek Indian citizenship under the CAA.
Why were they arrested?
The arrests first took place on March 6 in Jammu, where about 200 Rohingyas were sent to a centre to facilitate their deportation from the country. The protesters in Delhi, who were arrested near the UNHCR building in Vikaspuri, had come to the national capital from Jammu to seek protection from deportation on March 10. Early on March 11, the police detained about 71 protesters from the area.
ACP Tilak Nagar (Vikaspuri) confirmed to The Wire the detention. Jammu inspector general of police (IGP) Mukesh Singh told The Wire, “The list of those Rohingyas who have been sent to the holding centre will be sent to the Ministry of External Affairs, who will in turn hand it over to the Myanmar government, who will verify their identity. They will then be deported and sent back to their country.”
In 2017, the Indian government had announced that it would deport all Rohingyas. BJP’s Kiren Rijiju had said in parliament that the Central government had directed state authorities to identify and deport “illegal immigrants”, including Rohingyas.
UNHCR card fails to provide any relief
Rohingyas claim that the detained persons are all UNHCR cardholders, which proves that they are refugees. The protesters had come to Delhi to seek protection from arrest at the UNHCR, but received no response.
However, Jammu IGP Mukesh Singh added that UNHCR cards do not entitle Rohingyas to refugee status in India. The UNHCR had issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingyas in 2017 to help “prevent harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation [of the Rohingyas.]”
India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which outlines the rights of refugees, as well as the legal obligations of states to protect them. It also does not have any domestic laws to protect them.
Delhi-based Sabber Kyaw Min from the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative said, “The UNHCR is acting helpless at a time when the Rohingya need their intervention.” He also expressed concern for the detained women and those children who have been left alone back in Jammu while their parents were under detention in Delhi.
A UNHCR representative told The Wire that the body is “aware” of media reports of the detentions and is “following up with the relevant authorities to find a way forward”.