Rohingya Refugees in Jammu Say They are Reliving Deeply Traumatic Experience of Myanmar

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Rohingya children whose parents have been detained along with 170 other refugees at their camp in Jammu. Photo: Clarion India

GROUND REPORT

There is an urgent need to carry advocacy with all levels of government and litigation at all courts to release those detained arbitrarily

Fazal Abdali | Clarion India

As of 9th March 2021 there are a recorded 27 settlements with around 1,783 families i.e. around 7,600 individuals belonging to the ethnic minority group of Myanmar known as Rohingya residing in various settlements in Jammu, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2009, a few Rohingya families moved to Jammu to explore livelihood options, where they started working with Reliance Communication Ltd as contractual labour. Contractors of Reliance told the community about the need for more manual labour to build the optic fibre network in Jammu. The peaceful and harmonious environment along with better livelihood opportunities led to the initial settlement of Rohingya in Jammu. From the very beginning the refugees shared their details with the local police and the Crime Investigation Department.

Following which all members of the community were asked to provide their details along with photographs to the local police station for verification every month. The verification was carried out meticulously with the pictures of Rohingyas scrutinised by the Police. During these monthly verifications, the community was also required to provide the police with information about any new arrivals. The authorities would also keep a list of Rohingyas in the state, which would be updated on a regular basis. Furthermore the Crime Investigation Department (CID) would verify the details of each individual from the community including very specific details that included – name, father’s name, UNHCR Card Details, country of origin etc.

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by Advocate Hunar Gupta at the High Court of Jammu in the year 2017 demanding eviction of Rohingyas from Jammu. This was followed by a number of campaigns with highly inflammatory slogans, such as “identify and kill Rohingya” resulting in the exodus of some Rohingya Refugees to other states. Various Rohingya community leaders filed an impleadment application as an affected party in the PIL.

According to the application, there were twenty-three settlements comprising about 1,600 families i.e. around 7,000 individuals were residing in Jammu.

However, in the month August, the government of India issued a deportation order against Rohingyas. This was immediately challenged in the Supreme Court of India. Mohd Yunus, a Rohingya from Jammu, challenged the deportation order. The High Court of Jammu thereafter deferred the case till the pendency of the case before the Supreme Court.

According to community leaders of the Rohingyas in Jammu, in 2017, the government authorities asked them to fill a basic information form of six pages. This included their personal information such as – name, father’s name, country of origin, address in Myanmar, year of visit in Jammu, etc. Thereafter, in 2018, the government authorities initiated a biometric data collection of the Rohingya in which all the Rohingya who were staying in Jammu cooperated with the government agencies.

Rohingyas have been amicably living in Jammu along with the host population since 2009. The local police and the CID concluded their last verification on the 1st of March 2021.

Current situation

On the 6th of March 2021, at around 9:00 am, the police called Rohingyas to Maulana Azad Stadium, Jammu, for their biometric verification. The leaders were provided with a list by the respective police station (which included the following information name of the person, father’s name, UNHCR Card Number). In addition, the Chairman of the Rohingya Community in Jammu was asked by the Senior Superintendent of Police and Station House Officer of the Police Station to mobilize members of the community.

In good faith, the Chairman cooperated with the state authorities and mobilized all the members of his community to the Maulana Azad Stadium. The leaders requested the authorities to let the elderly, women and children from the community fill the forms in their respective settlements. According to statements by the Chairman, the request was immediately rejected and the authorities started detaining members of the community. This led to a lot of disruption within the community. Though the Chairman tried to approach the Senior Superintendent of Police and the District Collector, they continued to maintain absolute opaqueness and no information about the detained refugees were divulged.

The eventual result of the “drive” as mentioned by the government authorities was the detention of Rohingya who had valid refugee cards issued by the UNHCR, India. All the detained Rohingya including children, women and elderly were taken to Harinagar Jail, Kathua. Media houses and news channels reported detention of around 168 Rohingya.

However, the actual number of Rohingya detained is presumed to be more than 200. The leaders of the community also said that details of the detained Rohingya could not be collected as the whole community is now under the fear of getting detained. Due to the above apprehensions they are unable to carry out a formal survey of the persons detained.
The following day, the 7th of March 2021, police authorities visited the settlements in buses with a clear indication of wanting to detain more persons. Though the community opposed such a move vehemently, by showing their refugee status in India, the police refused to budge. The whole community felt completely helpless and had reached a point where they were ready to give up their lives. All the Rohingya came out of their respective shanties en masse with their entire luggage, requesting the authorities to detain them and deport them back to Myanmar.

On 8th March 2021, community leaders were called for a meeting by the police, where the authorities assured that there would be no further detentions. Acting in direct contravention of their statements made earlier in the day, the community reported further arrests of 28 Rohingya from Bari Brahman, Jammu. The paralyzing anxiety and uneasiness felt by the Rohingya community in Jammu can be ascertained by the continuous presence of police and non-stop calls from various authorities.

Some members of the community have said that they seem to be reliving their deeply traumatic experience in Myanmar. A single mother was arrested and detained by the authorities leaving her disabled child to fend for himself. Similarly, a Rohingya father started crying and was showing the copy of UNHCR card of his 27-year-old son. He was clueless about what steps he has to take to see his son. The father simply wondered as he was unsure if he was still in India or whether he had been deported to Myanmar. According to one of the community leaders, more than 10 detained Rohingya are above the age of 65 and a number of women are pregnant. The authorities have been asking the community leaders to ask the family members of the detenus to come to Harinagar Jail.

Police Officials and CID continue to reach out to the leaders to provide them with assistance. However, the officials refuse to provide any information on the reasons for the detention drive. Community members have been requesting the authorities to at least release the elderly, women and children.

One of the officials, who requested anonymity, said that only a few people know about the order. Furthermore, the Jail was emptied 3 days prior to the drive being conducted. Neither the SHO nor the SSP or any other police officers have any information about the drive or details surrounding it or where it is to lead to.

Way Forward

Data was collected about 88 Rohingyas detained, which also included one Noor Sehra from Bantalab settlement who is known to be pregnant and is in the possession of a valid UNHCR Card at the time of detention. There is an urgent need to carry advocacy with all levels of government and litigation at all courts to release the detained Rohingyas. Now, more than ever international community need to issue statements condemning the steps taken by the government with the immediate release of the Rohingyas.
The Civil Society in the country should strive to provide assistance in any form or manner that is possible to the community residing in Jammu.

– Fazal Abdali is a Delhi based lawyer working on refugee rights

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