On the 6th of March 2021, 168 Rohingya refugees were rounded in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and detained. They are at imminent risk of forced repatriation or refoulement to Myanmar, where the military junta is currently engaged in serious human rights violations and the killing of unarmed civilians across the country.

The arrests in J&K are clearly designed to spread fear and insecurity throughout the Rohingya refugee population of India. Rohingya refugees in J&K were rounded up for “verification” at Maulana Azad Stadium in Jammu where they were required to provide biometric and biographic data, including information about relatives at risk in Myanmar. During the verification, 155 refugees were chosen at random by police and detained. Later the same day 13 more refugees were arrested. The following morning police with vehicles were deployed near several refugee settlements. These acts of intimidation caused many refugees to flee from their homes. Many are now in hiding, in fear of detention, family separation or deportation. 72 of the displaced Rohingya were arrested and detained while seeking protection outside the UNHCR office in Vikaspuri, New Delhi at 3am on 11th March 2021.

All the detained refugees from J&K are in possession of either valid or expired refugee cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There have been significant barriers to updating refugee registration due to covid-19 restrictions and internet blackouts in J&K. UNHCR registration should provide protection from detention and refoulement to Myanmar. However, refugee protections in India are rapidly deteriorating.

According to UNHCR’s data, there are around 19,000 Rohingya refugees including approximately 350 in detention. Some Rohingya have been arbitrarily detained in India for 7-10 years, unable to secure release. Access to UNHCR and legal representation is detention is limited. India’s ruling party, BJP, has labelled Rohingya refugees “illegal immigrants”. Since 2017, coinciding with the genocidal violence against Rohingya in Myanmar, BJP has sought to identify all Rohingya with the express purpose of deporting them to Myanmar. They have further sought to identify and locate all Rohingya and Bangladeshis in J&K for the purpose of removal.

This has occurred against a backdrop of increased anti-Rohingya rhetoric in the popular press and increased levels of harassment from the police. The police detained approximately 60 refugees in Assam, West Bengal, and New Delhi between November 2020 to January 2021. In Haryana, refugee families faced police harassment, which displaced them from their homes. In mid-February, a boat full of Rohingya refugees was found in distress in Indian waters. 8 Rohingya on board died. By 23rd of February, the Indian Navy had provided humanitarian assistance to those on board. However, they have still not been allowed to disembark and remain at sea.

Co-founder of Free Rohingya Coalition, Nay San Lwin, said “Rohingyas have survived genocide in Myanmar. They sought safety in India – and now they are facing another round of persecution simply for being Rohingya. Being threatened with deportation to Myanmar, while the coup group shoot innocent civilians on the street is horrifying.”

There is an increased urgency to improve refugee protections in India for all persons from Myanmar, as the military coup group intensifies their assaults on civilians. Last week 19 Myanmar police who had refused orders to use violence against protesters crossed into Manipur seeking refuge. India has since increased security on these borders to prevent further crossings, raising further concerns about the right to seek asylum and refugee protections.

Free Rohingya Coalition calls on the Government of India to cease all attempts to deport, detain, harass and intimidate Rohingya refugees in India. Rohingya must be given access to UNHCR registration and protections. Additionally, refugee data must not be shared with the genocidal military regime in Myanmar.

We also call on UNHCR, to stand-up and speak-out on the core principles of refugee protection for Rohingyas in India. As a matter of urgency, they must better access and advocate for all detained Rohingya and those at risk of refoulement. Additionally, there is an urgent need to improve access to refugee registration and emergency assistance. We urge the UN to increase support and resources to UNHCR India, so that they more effectively carry out their core protection mandate.

Media Contact:
Nay San Lwin | +4917662139138 | info@freerohingyacoalition.org

Photo: Rohingya refugees carry their belongings as they leave a Rohingya refugee camp in Jammu on March 7, 2021. (Photo by Rakesh BAKSHI / AFP)

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