Rohingya families in Kashmir fear separation as India cracks down | News about Rohingya

It has been more than a year since 12-year-old Inayat Rehman’s mother and sister were detained by Indian police along with 150 Rohingya refugees in the southern Indian city of Jammu in Kashmir.

Their arrest was part of a government crackdown on the Rohingya after a persistent campaign against the predominantly Muslim ethnic group, with local politicians and media reports calling them “illegal” residents, “parasites” and a national “security threat”.

The United Nations says nearly 40,000 Rohingya fled India to Myanmar, most of them in 2017, when military repression began in the country with a Buddhist majority. The UN said the repression was carried out with “genocidal intent”.

Refugees, many of whom are believed to be undocumented, have taken refuge in camps and slums in several Indian cities, including the capital New Delhi. Approximately 5,000 of them settled in Jammu, including Rehman’s family.

But Rehman is now alone after his mother and sister were detained and sent to a local jail to be deported back to Myanmar.

“I miss my mother,” Rehman told Al Jazeera as he sat in front of the shack of a Rohingya neighbor who now cares for him.

“Our house was also destroyed after my mother and sister were taken away,” he said, referring to the removal of their barracks from the landowner, as there was no one to pay the $ 13 rent.

Fears of separation

Many other Rohingya were separated from their family members after that repression and deportation against the community.

In March this year, 37-year-old Hasina Begum was separated from her three children and husband and sent back to Myanmar after many years in Hira Nagar Prison in Jammu, where Rehman’s family members are also being held.

Another Rohingya man, Jafar Alam, was also detained and deported back to Myanmar recently, activists told Al Jazeera, adding that he had been separated from his six children and wife.

Kashmir Rohingya
Rohingya children in a makeshift school in a refugee camp in Jammu [Al Jazeera]

According to the Rights and Risk Analysis Group (RRAG), an independent rights group based in New Delhi, at least 354 Rohingya are currently being held in India on charges of “illegal entry”. Most such arrests are in Jammu.

Rohingya human rights groups have told Al Jazeera that the Indian government has deported 17 refugees since 2017 and plans to deport in violation of the no-return principle, which states that refugees should not be deported to places where they can to face persecution.

Rehman’s neighbor told Al Jazeera that his mother had asked police to detain him as well so that the family could remain in custody together. “But they refused,” she said.

In fact, the fear of separation from families is greater among refugees than the fear of being deported back to Myanmar. Fear has forced many to leave Jammu, with many families unsure of where their next destination will land.

Kashmir Rohingya
A Rohingya woman breaking walnuts in her barracks in Jammu [Al Jazeera]

In the last three weeks, dozens of Rohingya families have fled Jammu on their way to neighboring Bangladesh, home to nearly a million Rohingya in the world’s largest refugee camp.

“Most of us are planning to leave,” Mohamed Arif told Al Jazeera in Jammu, adding that Rohingya families spend “sleepless nights” fearing police could detain them at any time.

“After the police arrived, the barracks were emptied. People do not want to be separated from their children, as many do. Separation is the most inhumane part of this repression, “said Arif, a father of three.

Arif arrived in Jammu in 2012 with his father, brother and cousins. On April 1 this year, his father, brother and two cousins ​​were detained and taken to the Hira Nagar Prison Detention Center.

“My father is over 70 and he is ill. When I met him in prison, he told me to leave with my family immediately, as they could detain us at any time. “This pain of separating families from each other is worse than death,” Arif said.

“We know we are not safe anywhere. When we leave, we can be detained anywhere. For us, there is no justice, no voice in this cruel world, no condemnation, no leader, “he said.

Religious profiling

In India, the Rohingya are facing increasing surveillance, arbitrary detention, interrogations and summonses by the security services. They say they are being targeted because of their religious identity, as they are predominantly Muslim.

The repression against the Rohingya is mixed with the growing campaign of xenophobia and hatred against Indian Muslims by the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party and related Hindu supremacist groups.

India has defended repression and deportation, arguing that it has not signed the 1951 UN convention, which describes the rights of refugees and the legal obligations of countries to protect them.

Last year, the Supreme Court of India refused to intervene after activists filed a petition against the decision to deport the Rohingya.

The BJP-led government defended the move, saying the refugees were “involved in criminal activities” without offering any evidence.

“They came here from far away countries and we cannot allow them to settle here. This is a security threat to us, “Ashok Kaul, a BJP politician in Jammu, told Al Jazeera.

“We will pack them in vehicles and send them back. The process of deporting them will continue. The position of our party is clear on this issue. “

Kashmir Rohingya
Rohingya children play in a makeshift shelter at a refugee camp in Jammu [Al Jazeera]

“I can’t think of losing him”

The constant threat of deportation has left the displaced ethnic minority with an uncertain future.

Mohamed Javed, 15, came to Jammu when he was three after his parents fled the persecution in Myanmar. His father, a health worker, died in 2018 after a long illness. After passing his X-Class exams despite the difficulties, Javed says he does not dream of becoming a doctor or an engineer like other people his age.

His only dream is to live with his mother Sajida Begum. And to do that, he has to leave Jammu.

“I am not afraid of death. My only fear is that I may be separated from my mother if any of us are detained, “Javed told Al Jazeera at his makeshift house in the Narwhal area of ​​Jammu.

Kashmir Rohingya
Sajida Begum in her barracks at a refugee camp in Jammu, India-ruled Kashmir [Al Jazeera]

Begum says she is just as worried. “He is my whole family in this world. “I can’t think of losing him,” she told Al Jazeera. “There is nothing that I can do about it. I can’t work because I’m standing around him to protect him. “

Many Rohingya Al Jazeera interviewed in Jammu said they would not be granted refugee status, despite being registered with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. As a result, they are treated as “illegal immigrants” and face further resettlement.

Dozens of temporary houses in Jammu, where Rohingya has lived for years, now lie flat after refugees fled repression by Indian agencies. Many of them had to sell all their belongings.

Muhammad Islah, 70, says six members of his family have fled the city to escape repression, but he does not know where they are.

“We have no contact with them. “We don’t know where they are and whether they have reached any safety,” he said.

Ali Johar, co-director of the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative, told Al Jazeera that by violating deportation arrangements with Myanmar, where a military coup took place last year, India was violating international law.

“It is sad that India is doing this to the Rohingya when the world is seeking justice for them. “We are afraid that these deportations will divide families,” he told Al Jazeera.

“In addition, they legitimize the Myanmar military coup group, which is an occupying force and does not represent the people of Myanmar.”

Meenakshi Ganguli, head of Human Rights Watch (HRW) for South Asia, said the Rohingya are among the most oppressed communities in the world.

“Instead of defending the Rohingya who have sought refuge in India and joining international efforts to ensure their safe and voluntary return to their homes, the Indian authorities are targeting them and causing them further suffering,” Gangouli told Al Jazeera.

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