“Why host the UNHCR office if India doesn’t want to follow UN norms” 

Kiren Rijiju’s statement this month that India would deport all Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar is as brazen as it is unprecedented in Indian history

NH Photo
NH Photo

Dhairya Maheshwari

Human rights campaigner and Delhi Minorities Commission head Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan has come down heavily on Centre for its brazen attack on longstanding United Nations conventions, in the wake of Minister of State (MoS) Kiren Rijiju earlier this month announcing that India would deport all the Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar, irrespective of them being registered by UN Refugee Agency.

“Why are they hosting the UN Refugee offices in India if they don’t want to follow the UN Convention,” Khan asked, adding that “40,000-odd Rohingya Muslims settled in India couldn’t pose any security threat as being made out by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

“Most of them are illiterate. They don’t have the money. How could they pose a security threat. The only reason they are in India is that they are fleeing persecution back home in Rakhine state,” Khan said.

The UNHCR has issued identity cards to around 16,500 Rohingya Muslims till now, according to Reuters.

NH Photo
NH Photo
The identity card issued by UNHCR to a Rohingya Muslim refugee settled in India

Mohammad Salimullah, 29, is one such Rohingya Muslim. He lives next to a sewer near Kalindi Kunj in Delhi, in a shantytown settlement of 47 families called Kanchan Kunj. Salimullah says that he has been in India since 2012, after he fled persecution at the hands of Burmese security forces in his native Rakhine state.

“We are obviously living in fear since Rijiju’s made those remarks. We are just hoping that the Indian government lets us stay. The conditions here are much better than what they are in Bangladesh or Myanmar,” Salimullah said.

Salimullah informs that the level of threat to the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar presently is much higher than what it was in 2012.

“I talk to my relatives on the phone. They say that getting out of Myanmar has become much more difficult now as the army has tightened security at the border. It has also become much more difficult to get into India and Bangladesh due to tighter border rules,” Salimullah says.

He further tells that it is not just the Burmese Army anymore that’s spearheading the persecution of Rohingya minorities. “What’s happening now is that the Buddhist hardliners in the government are dressing themselves up in army fatigues and carrying out raids on homes of Rohingya Muslims,” he said.

“They take away our money, rape our women and carry out all sorts of atrocities with full impunity,” he tells.

Commenting on the ongoing developments, Voice of America (VOA)’s Kolkata-based correspondent Shaikh Azizur Rahman, who has covered the Rohingya exodus extensively for the South China Morning Post (SCMP), said that India had always abided by the principle of non-refoulment as per the international law.

“Even if they did it in the past, they have done it in utmost secrecy,” he said.

He recounted that nearly 400 refugees had set sail from Myanmar for Thailand back in 2009-10, only to be intercepted by the Thai Navy which diverted the small vessel to Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

“While Bangladesh accepted nearly half of them after they were found to be Bangladeshi citizens, the rest of them were kept in a jail in Port Blair,” he said.

He said that the fate of those refugees was now unknown.

“They disappeared mysteriously. But I didn’t publish the story since I couldn’t confirm their whereabouts. They may be settled in India, they may have died,” he said.

Rights campaigner Khan noted that this was the first time that a government minister was making such provocative statements that were in clear violation of the international law.

Saying that the Indian government wouldn’t have dared to announce such a drastic step if the refugees were Sikh or Hindus from Pakistan, Khan said that the present government could carry out its threats of deporting Rohingya Muslims.

“They have a domestic gallery to please,” he said.

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Published: 21 Aug 2017, 5:38 PM