'Don’t have much choice’: Rohingya face deportation
- Several thousand Muslim Rohingya immigrants, fleeing Myanmar to escape persecution, have been staying in the Union Territory for years now.
Trepidation prevailed in Jammu’s Bathindi locality a day after authorities in the Union Territory began the process of identifying illegal Rohingya immigrants in the region and sent 169 people to a holding centre in Kathua district late on Saturday night.
Facing the prospect of deportation and an uncertain future, scores of Rohingya immigrants gathered with their luggage outside Mecca Masjid in the area on Sunday morning; some looking for safer lodging in the suburbs, while others said they were considering leaving Jammu.
“Our family members didn’t return home on Saturday evening. In many families, either the men or the women have not returned. Under such circumstances, how could others stay here?” asked Rafiqa Bano.
Asif Khan, a resident of Burma market in Jammu, said: “Many among us didn’t return home last evening. The police action has caused fear.”
Several thousand Muslim Rohingya immigrants, fleeing Myanmar to escape persecution, have been staying in the Union Territory for years now. According to official data, nearly 5,700 Rohingya immigrants were settled in and around Jammu.
“We will go back when peace returns to our country,” said Sufeera, 28, who said her uncle and brother had been sent to the holding centre, leaving her alone with her children.
Another refugee, 48-year-old Sadiq, said members of his family had also been detained. “We have been told that we will be deported,” he said. “They took mother and father ... Who will take care of them?”
On Saturday, the J&K administration started the verification process of the Rohingya. By late evening, 169 immigrants without valid travel documents were sent to a jail in Kathua, which has been declared a holding centre.
On Sunday, dozens of queued up outside the stadium for verification following police orders.
“This was done under section 3(2)e of the Foreigners Act. Due process of law was followed in this exercise. These immigrants were not holding valid travel documents required in terms of section (3) of the Passports Act,” Jammu IGP Mukesh Singh said on Saturday. On Sunday, he told AFP that after verification, details will be sent to the ministry of external affairs to be taken up with Myanmar for deportation.
An estimated 40,000 Rohingya have taken refuge in parts of India over the years. Fewer than 15,000 are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Another immigrant, Kafiullah, who runs a grocery kiosk to make ends meet, said he will have to follow the government’s order. “We don’t have much choice with us,” he said.
On Sunday, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s J&K president Ravinder Raina said that illegal Rohingya immigrants were being sent to the holding centre following Myanmar’s assurance to take them back. “Myanmar’s external affairs ministry has assured India to take back its people, not only from India but wherever they live in other parts of the world,” he said.
Former deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Kavinder Gupta, too, said on Sunday the “deportation of Rohingya was on the BJP agenda since long... Now, the time has come to deport them.”
With inputs from agencies