A ROHINGYA refugee Hasina Begum, who had taken shelter in the Jammu province along with thousands more like her, was deported back to Myanmar on March 15 this year, India Ahead has learned.
Begum was arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir Police early last year and later shifted to Hiranagar Jail which has been designated as a “holding or detention centre” for the refugees.
PK Modi, Jail Superintendent, confirmed the deportation of Begum in an exclusive conversation with India Ahead. “One has been deported. Her name is Hasina Begum. There are over 200 more. When more deportation orders come in, we shall send them back too,” he said.
On reports of selectively choosing people to be detained and deported among thousands in Jammu, he said, “It is the choice of government who they choose to deport. We have many families that are detained here. They are in the jail along with their children.”
Abdul Kalam, who is a Rohingya refugee and works as a translator besides being a primary school teacher at a self-run community school in a refugee camp in Jammu, said, “235 refugees have been detained by the government since last year. This includes women and men. They are innocent and have had no criminal record. They have children back in Jammu who have been left without support.”
Kalam added that last year three refugees were arrested by the J&K Police after fake Aadhar Cards and PAN cards were found in their possession, according to reports.
“Later, they fed the police with money or whatever, they were released. Following that, 235 more were arrested. They did not do any crime at all,” he said adding after the arrest at the local police station, they were sent to Hiranagar Jail.
In Jammu’s Bathindi area, thousands of Rohingya refugees have been stationed in shanties for over a decade. Sustaining their livelihood through daily labor and rag picking, the persecuted minority has been under continuous pressure from various groups, including the government that they should be deported back to Myanmar.
Over 7 lakh refugees, all of them Muslims had fled to countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, in search of safety after an “ethnic cleansing” was initiated against them by Myanmar’s Buddhist regime. The UN has called this a persecuting attempt with “genocidal intent”.
The family of Begum is unaware of her deportation. In a video statement, her little daughter Noor Begum said that her mother was shifted to an “unspecified location.”
Holding her mother’s refugee card, provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Noor said, in a video statement, “I request the UNHCR and the local government of Jammu and Kashmir that please don’t send back my mother alone to Myanmar. The cruel regime in Myanmar will kill her, their men will rape her. Who will take care of me?”
She added if the conditions were peaceful, we would have gone there with our whole family. “But once any of us goes back, the Myanmar government will simply kill us,” she said from a shanty, unaware Hasina has been deported.
In October of 2018, seven of these refugees were deported by the Indian government. This was followed by a severe backlash from the UN. UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters at a press conference in 2018 that the UNHCR was “greatly concerned for the safety and security of seven Myanmar nationals who were deported from India”.
“On learning of their detention and the planned return… the UNHCR requested the Indian authorities to grant access to this group to assess their need for international refugee protection,” he said adding that they did not get any response from the authorities.
This was the first batch of these refugees to have been deported back. Seven were staying in Assam since 2012, and the Indian government said they had been sent back after they expressed “willingness” to go.
“The UN refugee agency is concerned that they did not have access to legal counsel, were not given the chance to access asylum processing and have their claims assessed in India,” he said.
Ahmed, a Rohingya refugee in Jammu who works as a mason, said, “The police has been unnecessarily harassing the refugees.” Earlier, in 2018 as well, they were detained by the police on various pretexts be it theft or arson, the refugees said.
“They come, search our shacks, and question us about any lost goods, even if a theft has taken place somewhere far away from where we stay,” a refugee said.
In September 2017, J&K police had reportedly detained 13 Rohingya refugees after a carcass of a dead cow was spotted near the refugee settlement.
Reports said that at least 13 refugees, including two women, were allegedly assaulted in the Channi Himmat police station that year. Without being produced before a court, they were kept in police custody for days.
“We were beaten with rods and belts. We wailed, asking the police how someone can hurt the religious sentiments of a native when he is a refugee himself, that too one who has been exiled for his religious identity. But they kept torturing us,” Noor Hussain, who was arrested along with others from outside their mosque told this reporter.
“My infant son kept crying, but the policemen showed no mercy,” said a woman who was detained with her four-day-old infant.